Rik Rude, the MC for Fresh Espresso and Metal Chocolates, once rapped that he "feels like a million bucks in the '80s." I bring this up because there's a batch of new local recordings that have production values that do indeed sound like "a million bucks in the '80s." Should I say it? I will: These records—Brothers from Another's EP Tacos on Broadway, Romaro Franceswa's self-titled LP, and Havi's LP Self-Portrait—sound money. Meaning, they sound like they were made with the support of a big corporation that has a major studio (a million channels, booming microphones, enough space to fit an orchestra) on a tropical island. But all of this is just an illusion; the albums were instead made in small studios, one of which (Tacos on Broadway) was in someone's house (Parker Reddington's of Flavr Blue and State of the Artist). But you will never be able to tell the difference between the studio in the Bahamas and the studio on Beacon Hill. We now live in an age where rappers and producers can find no excuses for not making a record that sounds like a million bucks in the '80s (according to the CPI calculator, a million bucks in the '80s is about two million today).
Tacos on Broadway EP
Let's begin with Brothers from Another, a crew that comes down to two rappers, Tiglo and Cole, who were fortunately/unfortunately on XXL magazine's list of Seattle's "New New" rappers, and who also happen to be students at four-year universities (our paper's head rap critic, Larry Mizell Jr., describes BFA's mode of hiphop as "fresh-faced college shit"). The EP has three interludes and five full tracks—one of which features Sol, a rapper who graduated from the University of Washington and was awarded a grant to travel the world for nine months (Sol left for this tour—traveling "to the places that people told him not to go"—almost exactly a year ago). The EP is produced to perfection (clean sound, clear raps, crisp details); it has beats that never let you down, and rhymes that never go heavy on you, but flow as naturally and playfully as a day in the sun. True, it's college shit (Tiglo and Cole rap about being young, dealing with the pressures/pleasures of university life, and spending time with friends at popular local spots), but good college shit is always better than bad street shit.
Romaro Franceswa's new self-titled album is an excellent example of good street shit, and the streets that taught this talented young brother are found in Federal Way. The album is dense, is ambitious, and contains 12 tracks—on the first listen, five seduced me, three appeared to have the potential to grow on me, and the rest were either too hard or too pop-friendly for my tastes. Altogether, Romaro Franceswa stands as another great achievement for its producer, BeanOne. One would think that after almost 20 years of relentless beat-making, BeanOne would start to show some signs of wear, tear, and exhaustion—but he does nothing of the sort. Just listen to the track "Bounce," and you will find the energy of Romaro's youth fully matched—indeed, encouraged—by the youthful energy of a beat produced by a veteran of the 206 game. Also, BeanOne has a long record of producing, from his basement, albums that sound like, yes, "a million bucks in the '80s."
Self-Portrait is an album produced, arranged, recorded, and written by its rapper, Tacoma's Havi. Though Havi obtained a BA in English from the University of Washington in 2010, you can't classify his music as college shit, nor really as street shit—Havi is not into the whole gangster realism, guns, and bitches thing. Havi's zone is instead somewhere between the open sky of the imagination and the ground of everyday life. The goal of his raps is to achieve clarity without sacrificing poetry, and the function of his beats is to provide a lush and sometimes very dramatic (strings, piano, flutes) background for his stories and concerns. My first listen of this polished album, I fell in love with four tracks—one of which, "Social Network," might very well be the first rap record to present a consciousness that's fully shaped by cyberspace. Facebook, hiphop websites, uploading images, downloading MP3 files, news feeds, likes, smartphones, laptops, clicking this, clicking that... all of these soft machines and activities are integrated into the mind (a node in the net) of an animal that expresses its emotions—love, hate, envy, spite—like no other animal. As for the sound of Self-Portrait, you would think it was made in some massive and grand studio, but, of course, it wasn't. Our age has democratized big production values.
This article has been updated since its original publication.