Another boost for Sub Pop's hip-hop legacy
Seattle – and it’s legendary grunge label Sub Pop – are on a good run, but not for what you’d expect. THEESatisfaction became Sub Pop’s second most significant hip-hop signing from its home city, after Shabazz Palaces’ hypnotising ‘Black Up’ became the label’s surprise trump card of 2011. Their female counterparts in THEESatisfaction, aka Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White, featured heavily in Shabazz’s set-up both live and on record, and are peddling their own brand of fantastical soul on their first effort, ‘awE naturalE’.
Like ‘Black Up’, it’s a relentless barrage of experimentations with funk and neo-soul, swinging from the more radio friendly hip-pop of ‘Queens’ to the surreal, atmospheric offerings of ‘Juiced’ and ‘Deeper’. On standout song ‘God’, Shabazz’s frontman Ishmael Butler repays the favor of THEE’s contributions by lending his dense and often gloriously nonsensical rhymes to a choppy afro-beat track. The sheer vastness of different sounds they dip into just about manages to stay in the realm of luxury rather than sounding muddled, with the duo unafraid of throwing in eardrum-bullying bass reminiscent of alt.hip-hoppers MF Doom and J Dilla, or taking the edge off with half-rapping, half-singing rolling harmonies that make you long for the vintage soul of Erykah Badu.
Lyrically, there’s nothing too groundbreaking to analyse. Their deft wordplay definitely induces the feeling that they’re striving for status as urban bards, yet more often than not they’re checking off the usual themes of sex and relationship dramas. Which, taking into consideration the duo’s self released efforts like ‘Snow Motion’ and ‘Why We Celebrate Colonialism’ that delved into African-American activism and the civil rights movement of the 1960s, does leave ‘awE naturalE’ feeling like a break from the self-conscious political stance they first explored.
That said, the record is delivered with a pleasing and cheeky feminista attitude. That’s welcome, though unfortunately still not exactly hard-hitting in a genre where female rappers are often reduced to rhyming about their genitals. ‘awE naturalE’ won’t leave Catherine and Stasia being hailed as forces to watch on the rap battleground, but they certainly have flair as lyricists, and deliver their non-conformist rhymes without the expected brashness that’s becoming tiring among certain lady lyricists today.
All in all, this isn’t an album you can listlessly slam on to get yourself ready for a night out, but it is a satisfyingly rich project, which solidifies Sub Pop’s new found status as hip-hop cavaliers. It’s a romp of fearless experimentation, which leaves you curious as to what THEESatisfaction’s new take on soul can offer in the future.