Throwaway Style is a weekly column dedicated to examining all aspects of the Northwest music scene. Whether it’s a new artist making waves, headlines affecting local talent, or reflecting on some of the music that’s been a foundation in our region; this space celebrates everything happening in the Northwest region, every Thursday on the KEXP Blog.
In a revealing Instagram post, Seaan Brooks shared his mindset going into the recording of his newest album, Heaven Only Knows: “I started writing this album after J passed, at that period of time I didn’t even wanna do this anymore. After more life lessons and loss, I picked up the pen to finish this project again in July because I had no other way to vent the emotion. Just know it was tough. Many of doctors visits for my seizures... a car crash, and many of nights in the hospital, binge drinking even was forced to see a therapist.”
“Heaven only knows what we’ve been through this year and heaven only knows what’s next.”
The Hilltop rapper’s work is deeply existential (last year’s If All Else Fails was written not in the looming shadow of death, but practically right in its face), but if you lived in the Tacoma neighborhood pre-gentrification (or any of its ilk), your work would scan as occasionally preoccupied with the concept of death too. Death lurks around every corner in the hood, posted up beneath streetlights and mean-mugging every passerby. Being constantly on guard, being constantly under the threat of danger informs your existence; you become intimately aware of the fact that life is temporary.
Clattering percussion opens the album, the pulsating basslines of L. David’s beat for “Walk With Me” vibrating the furniture. Coffins line the background, bricks of Top Ramen softens in the bubbling water on the stove. Brooks alludes to twisted up fingers in his videos and the devil hardening his soul, but of course, it’s more complicated than that. When you grow up in an environment which offers experiences more harrowing than kids in the neighboring areas like the Stadium District or the North End could even imagine, it sends a person’s soul many ways.
But somehow, the threat of death doesn’t discourage him from living life on his own terms. Brooks suffers from epilepsy and had a seizure behind the wheel in 2016, totaling his car and nearly ending his life. On “Try That (Interlude),” his doctor suggested he stop drinking, and his inner dialogue spoke, “Fuck her, I pour it by the liter.” There’s something about feeling 27 and invincible; you see all the shit you’ve survived, and realize you may be on borrowed time, and welcome the threat of death because of it. In “Grave,” he alludes to his epilepsy (“My life been gone”) and the fact that people think he’s crazy for preferring to get killed with his chain on instead of giving it up.
Over crisp beats running the gamut from darkness settling over the streets on the way home to afternoon cruises, Brooks operates with writerly introspection; the combination of which is profoundly reminiscent of the ethos of the artists on Top Dawg Entertainment – Brooks himself existing between the space of Isaiah Rashad and Overly Dedicated-era Kendrick Lamar. Skipping stones over the submerged-in-ocean bounce of “Wipe Me Down,” he denotes the myth of a hood pass and watching his uncle summoning another man’s blood with his fists. Thunderous bass and a dreary movie score-esque loop underscore “Headlock,” where Brooks spits, “Whole family ignorant, fists raised and militant” before dropping a bit of advice from “my OG that put the knife to his neck.”
With death permanently settled in the fabric of the buildings surrounding Brooks, he seeks solace in his belief in a higher power, disclosing on “Stunt,” “I only fear two things, my mama dying and god.” To open “Cake,” he evokes the image of Jesus Christ “chilling in brothels with his disciples, throwing bread, turning that water to wine/’Cause I don’t think he hung out with no saints, either.” Immediately after, a wisecrack: “And I don’t think he look like Drew Brees either.” He’s well aware that the gun that protects him might jam, that he may get caught outside the function and shot up. The images of picket fences only existed in the conversations of others; all he saw was his “favorite auntie cracked out” and his cousin spending the first moments of eternal slumber in an open casket.
Closer “Lambo” operates as a symbol, not just of wealth or success, but a fulcrum for creating physical distance from his struggles and setbacks. A loved one he hasn’t spoken to in a while, whose girlfriend is eight or nine months pregnant; others in prison or in the ground. His uncle imploring him to slow down – his advice being drowned out by multiple lady friends, the liquor forming gemstones in his stomach, the violence surrounding him, the sounds of this symbol he’s created for himself crashing along the side of the road or into another vehicle in the depths of his imagination.
A Hip-Hop History of Seattle with Crosscut Live is Happening Tonight
Along with talks and performances by Gifted Gab, Porter Ray, Vitamin D, KEXP's Gabriel Teodros, and Upendo Moore, the November installment of the Crosscut Live series will feature Seattle hip-hop legend Sir Mix-a-Lot and longtime collaborator Ricardo Frazer discussing coming up in the Central District, breaking ground in Seattle's music scene, and their legacy in Northwest hip-hop culture. Tickets to this event are available here.
Sub Pop Revives Their Singles Club
If you managed to keep up with our (ambitious and exhaustive) coverage of every Sub Pop release leading up to SPF30, you're already fully aware of the past three iterations of their iconic Singles Club, a subscription service that sends new, exclusive seven-inch singles right to your front door (or your mom's front door, or your work, or your P.O. box, or wherever). This time around, you will get two singles every other month starting in April 2019 until you have all twelve singles. Please note this offer is only for a limited time and once the Singles Club starts, you will not be able to retroactively subscribe. So it sounds like a very good idea to sign up now if you're interested! Peep more details and order the subscription here.
On his new, six-track EP, the Seattle rapper/producer co-stars with a host of rising and incumbent stars of the local rap scene.