If Brooklyn producer The Range and Atlanta rapper Rome Fortune have any one thing in common, it's an unfettered line of sight towards a marvelous horizon. Both artists make music that is wrought with present-tense turmoil, but the future always looks brighter - and not only that, it looks magnanimous. The Range does it with atmosphere. His new album, Potential, out now on Domino, is built around samples of Youtube artists, struggling to get noticed, struggling to maintain some semblance of self while looking towards the dream. The Range reigns this collection in brilliantly, accenting the struggle and showing the brightness of the self-knowledge beyond. Meanwhile, Rome does it with poetry. His debut studio album, Jerome Raheem Fortune, out now on Fool's Gold, bleeds personal narrative. It tells the story of a man struggling to see the big picture in a world where just making ends meet seems arduous. But around the corner, beyond all the distraction and nonsense, there is true fulfillment. It's really no surprise that the two reach a shared place with The Range's remix of Rome's "Paid Back Loans", where the two give us one of the best tunes of the year. Rome's foundation sets the stage with timeless wisdom, then The Range builds on it with swirling texture and a euphoria that can really only come from understanding. Thus, it makes perfect sense that these two are co-headlining a tour together, working off of each other's immense energy, making their appearance at Barboza maybe the most inspiration basement show all year. Together with a DJ set from local electronic act Zoolab, Rome Fortune and The Range gave a modest crowd something they could brag about for weeks.
You've probably seen Zoolab (Terence Ankeny) rocking a set at one of Seattle's many electronic-friendly venues before. He's opened for a diverse rising acts swinging through town, including Com Truise and Mas Ysa, and has also appeared at Capitol Hill Block Party. Zoolab is easy to fall in love with. His productions cover a variety of styles, exploring the spectrum from the likes of Machinedrum to the threshold of pop. And when you combine all of that with a willingness to throw a last minute DJ set where one is needed, it's not surprising the guy has no shortage of work. I've seen Terence DJ at Kremwerk before, rocking a techno-heavy set and riding each track into the next like one continuous wave of consciousness. But with tonight's headliners, he switched it up and threw quite an excellent set of much brighter, hip-hop forward productions, including some Evian Christ and brand new material from Brooklyn rap pioneer Le1f. Zoolab's set got the night started on the right foot and proved that, like one of the two headliners of the evening, he has serious range.
The Range's new record Potential is one of those where, after giving it a couple listens, you really can't come away from it unaffected. There's something about the honesty and the vulnerability of both his production tactics and the relatively unknown artists he samples that makes his shimmering electronic music feel so much more human than the competition. You'll have no difficulty finding yourself in "Copper Wire" or losing yourself in the euphoria of "Florida". It's just immensely moving stuff - there's no other way to put it.
That being the case, it's really no surprise that The Range (James Hinton) has the same effect in person. After a humble intro and specification that this was his first ever show in Seattle (!!!), he queued up "Loftmane", the opener off of debut LP Nonfiction, and it was off to the races from there. Hinton flipped one track to the next on a mixer, and otherwise, just rocked out and lip synced every word to his tracks with the rest of us. Hinton's light setup was simple but effective - a pair of projectors, one behind and one ahead projecting onto a transparent screen, moving through alternating psychedelic landscapes and samples from the Youtube videos that Potential pulls from. Getting to hear some of these deeply personal clips with the faces of their speakers projected over top Hinton singing them himself with equal conviction made it all the more real. If you think about it, The Range's discovery of these clips and synthesis with his own creation makes it a communal experience for all parties. Every track generated mass applause - it was obviously past due time that The Range made his Seattle debut. But surely, after a solid hour of tunes and most of his discography laid on the table before us, he made it count.
Jerome Raheem Fortune is the kind of personal narrative rap record that puts others to shame, not only for its honest and its conviction, but for its true embrace of personal style and eclecticism outside of a trendy pop standard. Over the course of 12 tracks, Rome Fortune goes from grounded to coke-fueled party and party backlash back to grounded again, this time renewed in the honesty of the day to day. In the same amount of space, he has rap-heavy groove tracks, sung R&B ballads, and dance-floor bangers, all working in excellent cohesion with each other to make an incredibly well-rounded LP. Given the range that Rome works with on this album, it's no surprise to see him signed to Fool's Gold. And as we heard for ourselves towards the end of the set, the Fool's Gold roster is definitely one that Rome can play off of with ease into his own sense of style.
On stage, Rome is all swagger - not arrogance, but true confidence and projection onto the crowd. Working through one track to the next, he gave individual lines to individual people in the audience, rhythm and cadence working perfectly together to accentuate one line to the next. After crowd participation heavy "Blicka Blicka" ended with raucous applause, I heard the woman next to me whisper to her friend, "Damn, I wish he was my life coach". Same. "Heavy As Feathers", the "low-point" transitional banger on the album, translated incredibly well to the live stage, letting Rome play into the irony of backwards perspective in real time, with flamboyant dancing and incredible charisma. By the time he reached his closing numbers, every person in the crowd was convinced. There is something really incredible about the balance between character, lyricism, and presentation with Rome Fortune, and a lot of hip-hop acts could take a lesson or two from his book. To close out, Rome chose "Dance", the obvious go-to for dance jam on his record, but instead of going with the album version, he chose one of many Fool's Gold remixes, specifically the excellent Promnite remix, whose hard house undertones shook Barboza like it was the last show they'd ever play there. One studio album deep, Rome is far from his utmost potential. He and The Range both are the type of artists you want to see work for years and years, just to come back to your city and wow you with new highlights. That is absolutely what both of these artists did this evening.
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