My relationship to hip hop has always been complicated by my upbringing as a fourth generation black feminist. I love music and great beats, but lately I’ve found mainstream hip hop to be intolerable.
I’m sick of the word “nigger” and the way hip hop seems hell bent on claiming it as though internalizing racism somehow makes it more palatable. I find equally profane songs filled with repetitive, unimaginative lyrics depicting rape culture and capitalism at it’s worst. I can’t dance to that. I set Pandora to Stevie Wonder and think longingly about a time when artists made music.
So when local musician and hip hop artist Draze asked me to listen to his new mix tape Seattle’s Own, I gave him my disclaimer and a chance to pick someone less likely to write a thesis on the impacts of bad lyricism on the human spirit.
Halfway through the first track, I thought okay, this is hip hop I don’t have to hate. Though there is as much profanity as there are bible references, neither deter from the dope beats and smart lyricism.
The title track, Seattle’s Own, is a vibrant salute to the 206 hip hop scene and includes over 50 shoutouts to various Seattle rappers and recording artists from Black Stax and Thee Satisfaction to Macklemore. Most of the list (Macklemore and Sir Mix-a-Lot excluded) are people you wouldn’t hear on Kube 93 (back when they were actually playing hip hop… RIP) but who are making some creative and filthy albums also worth bumping.
“It feels good to be home. The CD is my home. The south end is my throne and I’m Seattle’s own,” proclaims Draze. From the jazzy horns to the bass line something about the sound, not just the words, seems to capture the vibe of South Seattle.
Seattle’s Own is the long awaited follow up to The Prince of the Thieves, Draze’s debut mix tape as a solo artist, that came out in 2007. Since then he’s has taken time off to focus on his family, but did release a single called The Hood Ain’t the Same. The video, which was a memorial of the gentrification of the Central District, played as part of an exhibit of 206 hip hop at the MOHAI. Though released over a year ago you will find this song on the new mix tape.
Despite repping his city Draze doesn’t pull punches about the things about it that don’t work for him: from passive aggressiveness and gentrification to the fact that as a city with a strong cultural divide between north and south, there are countless talented south end artists that go unrecognized.
“It’s no secret that as African Americans we don’t control a lot of media here,” explained Draze. “So I’m not just speaking for me, I’m speaking for me and a lot of rappers, singers, etc who represent the Central Area, the south end, and even you can keep on moving south to Kent, Federal Way etc, etc in saying that to some degree they don’t give us shine.”
Seattle’s Own is definitely shine worthy. More than a simple ode to the city he grew up in, Draze acts as a griot for the south end and Central District, telling the stories of our communities.
It’s an eclectic body of work, covering everything from the gentrification of the Central District to what it means to be a man. In his track Irony on 23rd street he sums sucintly the controversy over Uncle Ike’s pot shop:
“…Ike is no uncle to me. How many brothers went to jail on this corner from moving dime bags, in a week, he doing what a couple of hundred grand?” he asks, as a saxophone plays a mournful tune. “We was red lined in but now we black balled out so they can sell green. Had to paint the flag on the crosswalk for ourselves.”
The track Seattle Sweeties, Draze’s ode the women of Pacific Northwest, is well intentioned, but the weakest song on the album in terms of content. I’m not as mad about it as Angela Garbes of the Stranger was, but I don’t love it either.
I’m more impressed by his discussion of masculinity: “This conversation about manhood for me it already exists with a ton of men that I engage. The problem is that our sect of community does not have a voice via television, via internet, via all these other areas, right?” explained Draze. “So this is happening in pool halls or when we sit down and watch the game or go to a BBQ, black men, a lot of us are looking and saying man what’s so wrong with being a man. Why is that bad? And we’re even being challenged to find what it means.”
The track Finding My Man, which tackles the issue, is less hip hop and more PSA.
And then suddenly there are marimbas. Each track has it’s own sound, some are more jazzy, some more bluesy with a hint of gospel, some are straight up hip hop with an 80s throw back feeling, but the stand out track is Children of Light guest starring Nya J, Draze’s teenage daughter.
The marimbas are in homage to Draze’s parents, two musicians from Zimbabwe. Dumisani Abraham Maraire Sr, Draze’s father and namesake, is credited with bringing the traditional music of Zimbabwe to the States.
During his childhood Draze left to Seattle to live in Zimbabwe for a couple of years because his parents wanted him to know his culture. As a child of both communities, his hope for future projects is to incorporate more African fusion and to bridge the gaps between what he views as brother and sister communities.
“If I can provide the traditional sound of the marimba on top of a hip hop drum and beat playing the rhythms of a Shona drum and bring them together then maybe I can get these people to see that you guys are both children of the light, you’re the same,” he continues, “The only thing that separates you is time and space and story.”