His beats are made for walkin’. courtesy sabzi

Townfolk is a series of hiphop instrumentals by Sabzi, a local jazz pianist and a hiphop producer for Blue Scholars, Common Market, and Made in Heights. Started in earnest last October, Townfolk has so far generated 14 albums, the most recent of which—Rainier, Yesler, and Delridge—are the names of "206" streets that are built into the core of my being and mode of urban thinking/dreaming. The albums each contain 20 short and almost long tracks, and every track is either serious or silly, or serious and silly at the same time. Because I love my city, and love walking in my city, and love few things more than walking and listening to hiphop instrumentals in my city, I recently walked along Rainier Avenue South while listening to Rainier, up Yesler Way while listening to Yesler, and down Delridge Way while listening to Delridge.

I will first describe my Rainier experience. As anyone who lives in this part of South Seattle well knows, Rainier Avenue is not friendly to pedestrians. It's way too busy, too jammed, and too ugly. The sidewalk sometimes runs out, and you are walking on toxic dirt or polluted grass. And certain intersections are so huge and cluttered by signals and impatient cars that crossing forces one out of the music and into the unhappy business of getting to the other side in one piece. Despite all of these disruptions at intersections, disruptions caused by what has to be the worst traffic engineering in the city, and the unremitting disagreeableness of the long avenue, an avenue that is cruel to cars and indifferent to pedestrians, I was able to determine the main pleasures of Rainier: There's the bopping "Beard Patrol" with its zappy bass, the contemplative "Rappers and Televangelists Aren't That Different" with its churchy piano chords, and the dazzling "Splendor," which is all about the art of space and bass, space and beats, space and chords. Finally, "20th and Jackson," a track that the local rapper Khingz used on "Good Again" (on From Slaveships to Spaceships, 2009), has a bass with a heavy drop, guitar licks that are softly echoed, and drums that crack and snap. (Note: 20th and Jackson is the former location of Hidmo Eritrean Cuisine, which played a significant role in Sabzi's hiphop career.)

As I approached the Mount Baker Station, the remembrance-of-things-past mood of "20th and Jackson" made the slick and new train that smoothly emerged from the Beacon Hill Tunnel seem to be moving in slow motion. And as it came to a rest on the platform, I felt the need to see a lonely face in one of its windows, a face I would look at for a moment before the train resumed, again in slow motion, its southward trip—were they heading to Rainier Beach? To the airport? To another country?

On December 14, 2006, a Pacific storm hit Seattle with incredible force. Trees were uprooted, trees fell on cars, and trees fell on homes. The next day, I walked around the Central District surveying the damage: An apartment building had a huge chunk of its roof blown off, garden and deck furniture littered the streets, and on Yesler Way, people walked up and down in a daze. I thought of this storm as I walked up Yesler listening to what proved to be my favorite album in Sabzi's 206 series, Yesler.

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The record is a solid system of beats that are held together by the gravity of this beautiful core: "5Times," "Yakuza Weekly," and "Firebug." "5Times" is just a phat beat begging for a sick spitter. "Yakuza Weekly" captures the magic of cinema. And "Firebug" has a rolling Punjabi beat and an international flavor that reminds listeners of the concept that frames the Townfolk project: It's about the globalization of the local, how a city like ours is in reality many cities, many worlds, many cultures. Sabzi is an Iranian American, he makes beats for Geo (a Filipino American), he was once a regular at Hidmo (an Eritrean restaurant), and the last time I saw him (on July 1), he was leaving the Station (a cafe owned by a Mexican American). It's not so much that the world has become global, but the local has become global.

Delridge is the brightest, happiest, lightest collection in the 206 series. The poppy track "Airporters" best captures the album's generally positive mood. However, West Seattle's Delridge is a profoundly sad street. The reasons for this sadness have nothing to do with the street itself (Delridge is often busy, but not as unattractive and congested as Rainier) but only with me and my very personal memories. When I walked down the street listening to this album, I felt the need to hear something less bright and much more dark. Nevertheless, "WE$TFLAME," a silly track that takes a quick piss on early-'90s LA gangsta hiphop, was a perfect match for that obnoxiously huge American flag on Andover and Delridge. That flag seems to hog all of the wind; that flag never fails to get on my nerves. The flag and the silly gangsta tune made me forget for a moment the ghosts on Delridge Way. recommended