The Real World of Travis Thompson
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Let's begin with "Corner Store," a Macklemore track that features Seattle-area rappers Dave B and Travis Thompson. It is a part of a 206 hip-hop tradition that, as far as I can tell, was initiated in 1989 by Sir Mix-a-Lot's "My Hooptie." Macklemore's "Thrift Shop" and Grynch's "My Volvo" are, among other tracks, a part of this tradition, which is defined by a brazen break with hip-hop materialism (and materialism in the Madonna sense). This business of bragging about a lifestyle of bling and endless Benjamins is, in this line of PNW hip-hop, abandoned for an ordinary world of beat-up cars, secondhand clothes, and small, neighborhood businesses that sell cheap booze.
Jake One produced "Corner Store," and on November 15, 2017, the track was performed live on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. That was the moment I was introduced to Travis Thompson, a rapper raised in Burien.
The video for "Corner Store" is actually not centered on Macklemore but on Thompson. This is his world. He is an underage rapper trying to score beer with a fake ID. It doesn't work. The store owner (played by Macklemore) was not born yesterday. He knows a minor when he sees one. Thompson then pays an adult loiterer (played by Macklemore) to buy the booze. This scheme works until Thompson and his friends find themselves being pursued by two cops, one of whom is played by Macklemore.
At the end of the video, Thompson returns home to his white mother (again, played by Macklemore) who puts one and one together when she finds her boy's discarded fake ID on the doormat. This last scene (Thompson returning home) is of great significance. Not only does Macklemore convincingly look like a white woman, but Thompson's real mother is actually white, whereas his father is Native American. Thompson is biracial.
But the mood and milieu of the video's conclusion (working-class home, working-class single mother, the blues of a working-class teen) seem to come straight out of a TV show whose first season streamed in 2021, Reservation Dogs. Thompson is already a part of this world of sometimes bored and often mischievous Native American teens. And so it is not surprising that he actually appeared in episode 8 ("Stay Gold Cheesy Boy") of the show's second season.
Thompson, a nonprofessional actor, convincingly plays a young man who meets one of the show's main characters, Chester "Cheese" Williams (Lane Factor), in a group home. Cheese wound up in this awful situation because he was arrested with a weed-growing adult, Uncle Charley (played superbly by another nonprofessional, Nathan Apodaca—he is famous for the viral TikTok video that shows him doing these three memorable things at once: drinking Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice, listening to Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams," heading down an Idaho road on a skateboard).
The second season of Reservation Dogs is less comic and more serious (and moodier) than the first. And though the Thompson character is a bit of a clown, he is also faced with real and serious problems. He's fathered too many children, has no health insurance to treat his pressing peeing problem, and he has no future ready for him when he leaves the foster home, which is run by Gene (Marc Maron), a neurotic middle-aged white man. There is, however, little difference between the Thompson on Reservation Dogs and the reality Thompson describes in the Pacific Northwest hip-hop masterpiece, "Need You."
The world we enter in this beautifully booming track is very down-to-earth. These are not the First World problems of a tech and gentrified city. The rapper comes from a place, the suburbs, settled by a large number of POCs displaced by obscenely overpriced houses in Seattle. He has "children to feed," and faces multiple daily challenges to make ends meet. But despite all of this, there is still in him a zone of serenity, a serenity that's reflected by the beat's airy melodies. Without this inner zone, it is hard to imagine how the rapper could make room for some laughter and an appreciation for the simpler, but still invaluable, things of life. What will Thompson's next big move be?
Travis Thompson opens for Logic: The College Park Tour on Thursday, June 22 at WaMu Theater, 800 Occidental Ave S, 8 pm, $55, all ages.