"Oh, I've got such a sexy girlfriend," coos Thee Satisfaction's beaming, kinky-haired chanteuse Catherine "Cat Satisfaction" Harris-White, sweeping her arm toward the flygrrl with the high-tops and shades across the stage, MC/producer "Thee" Stasia Irons. "Wish you had one, too, but you don't and I do." The black, female, queer-identified hiphop duo are rocking the Vera Project stage at this past Memorial Day weekend's Folklife Festival, with a locked-in crowd of hiphop luminaries, emo kids, young children, and middle-agers all unabashedly singing along.
"I first saw Cat at an open mic at the UW Ethnic Cultural Theatre," says Irons of her partner in love, life, and music. "I would always hit these open mics because I thought she was hella filthy—her voice was dope. And there was one time I went and she was singing a freestyle song about a girl she liked and a guy she liked, and how she was torn between the two. Turns out she was singing about me."
Not long after that, the two started dating. In the spring of 2008, after Irons returned from a trip to South Africa, the pair recorded their first song, "Sexy Girlfriend," creating the beat themselves in GarageBand. "We didn't know what the fuck we were doing," Irons admits. "And we didn't want to pay anybody to make the beat," adds Harris-White, laughing.
Born of necessity, the rough-hewn tracks of their first mixtape, That's Weird, established them as one of the most promisingly outta-left acts to pop up on the radar 'round here—their jazzy freak-rap science somewhere between Solid Gold, Octavia Butler, and Space Is the Place, but with a bold sound and swagger all its own. Cat Satisfaction's lush singing/scatting blends seamlessly with Thee Stasia's wickedly pointed rhymes and bugged keyboard compositions. With brazen appropriation of tasty jams from fellow weirdos Bernard Wright (gleefully fucking up the same sample that made Skee-Lo an overnight sensation), Michael Jackson ("Killa Thrilla"), and Earth, Wind & Fire, Weird showcased the duo's punk-rock spirit and flagrantly hiphop heart.
Still, the ladies of the Thee have been surprised at how the hiphop community has taken to them as one of their own. "It has a lot to do with us being women," admits Irons. "I mean, two gay men rapping wouldn't get the same reception, at least not right now." "Even still, we were not prepared for the reception," adds Harris-White.
"It's been interesting, because we get a lot of love from the hiphop community," says Harris-White. "But it's kind of slower on the queer side—because we're hiphop, we're black. Maybe they're afraid their shows are going to get shot up, just like hiphop heads are scared their shows are going to get queered up. The thing is, fear is the same all over, no matter who you're fearing. But things are changing. We're performing at the Wildrose, and we're doing Pridefest, which is a big, big, big deal. Sure, it maybe took a little shoving, a little 'hey, we're doing stuff, and we'd like to, y'know, be a part of our community!'"
But as much as Thee Satisfaction occupy these two often-conflicting worlds—this week, they perform at both monthly hiphop mainstay the Corner and a variety of Pride events—they're also above the bullshit, in a whole 'nother orbit, because they're aliens and that's how they roll.
"I'm a sci-fi freak, space geek," raps Harris-White on the solar-sailing posse cut "Cosmic Voyage." "Starfleet sky sheik/Slaying earthlings with my fly technique." Yeah, but space this, space that—these days it seems that there's a whole generation of young hiphop artists who took very much to heart Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III declaration, "I am not like you, I am a Martian"—is anybody even from Earth anymore?
In most of these astro rap fantasies, however, "space" is just another alpha-dog signifier; it implies superiority, a heightened state of fly—and a new frontier to stay fly in. To your average Auto-Tune-loving, scarf-sporting swag trainee, the concept of outer space is like just another mall to hang out at—which, shit, one day might not be far from the truth. But the uncut Andromeda strain, that true black space shit, that real Afro-futurism—that's not the work of the merely material-minded; it's the domain of the downright deranged, cooked up by cats like Saturn's own Sun Ra and slung to the masses' asses straight out the starchild George Clinton's funky diaper. Thee Satisfaction get it instinctively. "My parents saw Sun Ra when they lived in San Francisco way back," says Harris-White. "It sounded [like it was] incredible."
"Of course we connect with that imagery," says Irons. Growing up, Irons and Harris-White both endured their share of static from their peers, an alienation that ultimately gave them a self-assuredness that resonates across all zones. Harris-White, Hawaiian-born and a self-described weirdo all her life, concurs: "We feel a part of that same tradition, like aliens, a part of everything and nothing at all."
"At first I didn't even really want to be a part of hiphop," adds Irons. "Because I don't even listen to a lot of hiphop now. I listen to rock or '80s shit. But now that we're in it, I'm happy to feel accepted by the hiphop community here in Seattle. It's a lot more positive than I thought it would be. Once they hear the music, they tend to just get into it. Thank goodness, 'cause we don't want to walk around with this label like 'Thee Satisfaction: Black, Gay Women.'"
Thee Satisfaction will only see their profile rise with the release of Snow Motion, an EP inspired by the Great Seattle Blizzard of 2008. Recorded while the duo were living in a broke-down palace dubbed "the Madhouse" on 23rd Avenue and Madison Street (where the rats in the walls and ceiling kept them awake), the EP reflects a time when they lost friends to gun violence, suffered death in the family, struggled with money issues, and drove each other crazy with cabin fever. In a significant step up from the rough sketches of Weird, Motion carves crop circles—the duo's natural chemistry is through the roof and beyond. Irons packs more than her share of thoughtfully ill rhymes, and her bouncing, loping, space-boogie productions redshift the duo's black-upliftment sci-fi visions into heretofore unknown territories.
With a debut full-length, Au Naturale, in the works as well as a laundry list of collaborations lined up for friends' albums—including GMK, the Physics, Champagne's Pearl Dragon, Blue Scholars' Sabzi, and the very up-and-coming stunners (and Thee Satisfaction housemates) Cloud Nice—Thee Satisfaction are aiming to craft a positively celestial body of work in the coming months. In the words of another great Seattle group: You better cop a telescope.