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.
One of the most effective traits of a villain is the fact that they generally tend to go their own way, regardless of cultural trends, public opinion or, you know, moral boundaries and whatnot. From Magneto (wanting to eradicate the human race for being oppressed as a mutant) to noted self-proclaimed villain MF DOOM (having the audacity to wear a metal mask with NBA jerseys), scoundrels are a completely self-governing bunch. The same could be said for uber-talented Seattle producer/sometime MC Sax G.
Long, long ago, in a galaxy not very far away, after spitting a verse in a barbershop cypher with local legends Vitamin D and DJ Topspin, Sax became a rapper. Working the local rap scene for a while, he was urged to send a few songs to an unknown recipient via email; the beneficiary was an assistant of famed producer 9th Wonder. Sax was then brought down to North Carolina to work with 9th and his label, Jamla Records.
This is where the origin myth gets interesting.
Sax was invited by 9th Wonder to rap on a track the latter was working on, Sax declined. He instead worked on ambient, experimental beats; a canyon jump from the chopped-up-soul aesthetic of 9th and his Jamla compatriots. According to Sax, 9th seemed unimpressed by the aesthetic of the beats he was making, so he ended up going his own way. This particular rejection of the beaten path ended up leading to his emotive debut album, Tu Me Manques, an immersive hybrid of hip-hop, electronic soul, and funk; flourishing with synths and French poetry and lyrics about sleeping with the heater on instead of two warm bodies sharing a bed.
Edit: Here is Sax's full account of his time working alongside 9th Wonder in his own words:
I was given an email and asked to send some of my rap songs in. A few days later I was hit up by 9th about coming down to North Carolina to record at his studio which was called Bright Lady Studios. Here’s where I think the confusion starts. I had already moved to Atlanta and started working on Tu Me before ever linking up with 9th. Also, moving to Atlanta was a blessing in disguise for me because 9th was down there often to record Rhapsody’s first album. So one day when the whole Jamla squad was in Atlanta they called me to come through. I met up with them, sat in on a few sessions and even recorded some tracks. But my mind was fully focused on beats and I was just so nervous in the studio that I could tell that 9th was probably like “yeah, he’s not ready”. So I tucked tail and went home. After a few more horror stories (family stuff) I picked myself up and went hard as hell with the music.
Tomorrow’s New Villain, out 3/9 (if you’re reading this article on its published date, that’s literally tomorrow), displays a wide range of Sax’s talents. As on Tu Me Manques, his vocal presence is used sparingly; he appears only as a rapper on the flirtatious, braggadocious, and not-surprisingly introspective romp “Camouflage Demo” and “The Fate of Edmond Dantes,” a nonplussed rebuke of jilted folks from his past. “They say, ‘Sax, you changed, you don’t act the same,’” he says on the latter, “Well, I don’t really understand your point of view/But honestly, I don’t see the point of you.”
Comfortable to express himself mostly from behind the boards, Sax cedes the microphone to a variety of guests with some pretty sensational results. “Sax’s Heartbeat 3,” the latest of its series (check out "Sax's Heartbeat" here and "Sax's Heartbeat Too" here), is guided by the gorgeous jazz club vocals of Christine Urbina, while Georgia Anne Muldrow and SassyBlack team up on “Starruh,” a twinkly-eyed midpoint between the Ummah-era J Dilla (back when he was known as Jay Dee) and the less anxious moments of Flying Lotus.
"Untitled” plays like a session of Seven Minutes in Heaven if the closet floor were an actual cloud. The vocals of Kristin Henry of NAVVI (whom in the interest of full disclosure I should point out is the wife of kexp.org contributor and former Throwaway Style columnist Dusty Henry) barely raise above a whisper, adding tremendously to the track’s starlit vibe.
But what’s a celebration of villainy without the bad guys? Outlaw offers a price on your head on “The Last Outlaw / 8D8 Posse,” with blurry synths adding an eerie touch to what could have merely been on the headnod-worthy end of standard-issue East Coast rap beats. (If you’ve ever listened to more than one DJ Clue mixtape in the mid-90s, you know exactly what I mean.) Mykestro offers a wildly dexterous verse on “The Tragedy of Lord Vader,” admiring a new lady friend’s breast augmentation (“But she tough, ooh,” he offers as a counterpoint) and lounging poolside while still threatening to go upside someone’s head.
On the lead single, “League of Shadows,” Buffalo rapper Conway the Machine continues his campaign of terror on hip-hop’s underground -- chugging cognac, “smoking out the zip, getting half-baked,” farming out executions, and pistol-whipping fake-tough rappers in front of their bodyguards. He looks at the stars on the inside roof of his Rolls Royce Wraith and compares his heartthrob status to Bad Boy dynamo Ma$e in 1998 (the peak of said status) while Sax -- like he does on “The Tragedy of Lord Vader” -- chops a breezy R&B sample so profoundly it could easily pass as a cutting room floor extra from Volume 5 or 6 of Madlib’s Beat Konducta series (the installments dedicated to the fallen Dilla).
It’s difficult to say Tomorrow’s New Villain is an improvement on the approach of Tu Me Manques, because for the most part it’s a completely different approach. Sure, it’s just a guy making beats -- almost as simple and arguably more effective than “it’s just a guy and a guitar” -- but the terrain surveyed between Sax G’s debut and sophomore albums have variant sets of emotions, divergent sets of principles. After all, villains do generally tend to go their own way.
Grouper Shares New Song, "Parking Lot"(!!!)
As evidenced by the parenthetical exclamation points in the sub-headline, my excitement could hardly be contained when I was notified this morning that Kranky had released a predictably sad and gorgeous new tune from Grouper, the nom de guerre of Portland resident Liz Harris.Much like 2014's Ruins, "Parking Lot" uses Harris' vocals, a piano, and what sounds like a very big room to devastating effect. Spoiler Alert: There will be a lot of words in this column about Grouper upon the April 27th release of Grid of Points.
Mount Eerie's 2017 album, A Crow Looked at Me, was a stunning and devastating document of loss. On Now Only, Phil Elverum attempts to move on with his life while recognizing the grief that is still -- and will likely always be -- with him.
SassyBlack talks about Quincy Jones, debunking the myth that there's a lack of women producers, and how vast blackness really is.
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 …
Hardly anyone on the Seattle electronic scene does intimacy quite like NAVVI does. In the two and a half years since they started asking about our weekend plans, the duo of Brad Boettger and Kristin Henry has worked slowly and steadily on perfecting the tug of war that makes their vision of relatio…