Larry Mizell, Jr., The Stranger
December 1st :: "My Philosophy - Hip Hop Ya Don't Stop"
"[Especially] since summer, there's been some great local music dropping [this year], some classic LPs," says Gabriel Teodros, half of Abyssinian Creole (the other half, Khingz, is in Europe at the moment). True, 206 rap fanatics have been treated to a series of dope albums from their own backyard; let's hope our scene and our city's notoriously low self-esteem will improve accordingly. As we creep closer to a real breakthrough, you can peep Seatown heads bumping joints from Framework, Grayskul, or Macklemore, rocking those ill new "The North West" hoodies from local clothier Crisis Clothing (www.crisis1.com) while blowing the best of the local horticulture. It's a beautiful thing.
If you've been around the scene or have caught some shows over the last few years, then you've probably noticed one or both of the members of Abyssinian Creole—the latest to contribute another classic album to the town's wealth—doing their thing. Teodros and Khingz are easily two of Seattle's most recognizable figures—having dropped their own solo albums Sun to a Recycled Soul and Mi Vida Negra, respectively—and, interestingly enough, they sport very different styles... Gabe's the spiritual backpacker slinging CDs out his backpack, who'd rather build with his neighbor than battle him; Khingz (AKA Khalil Crisis) is the universally feared battler, whose vicious, acid-tongued bars brought him first place at the inaugural Brainstorm battle.
However, the easy chemistry between the two on their debut LP, Sexy Beast, dispels such perceptions. "Me and Khalil have been homies for a long time," Gabe recounts. "He was in a group called Maroon Colony—one of the only live hiphop crews around at the time—and I was in 500 Years. We ended up doing a lot of shows together, and based on some of the conversations we'd been having, I asked him to get on 'Gold.' He told me I was the only other MC he was willing to work with at the time, just because he knew I was dependable."
While the distance between their mindsets is not as wide as many would believe, physically, the two are miles apart, as Khingz now calls Oakland, California, home. "It's hard... we miss a lot of show opportunities and whatnot," Gabe laments. "We actually recorded this album in real short spans, whenever Khalil came back through town, we'd just go knock out 10 songs." The results of these sessions were pieced together by the LP's sole producer, Kitone.
The younger brother of a longtime friend of Gabriel, Kitone started making beats at age 11; Sexy Beast's warm tones and old-school soul are testament to Kitone's craftsmanship on the Yamaha Motif. "Basically, Gabe had one of my beat CDs when he and Khalil were in New York, and they ended up wanting to write to every one," says the young producer.
The sound was there, but what would they call it? "Abyssinian Creole? That came from both of our backgrounds," Gabe relates. "Abyssinia is one of the older names for Eritrea, and Creole is from Haiti; it's like bridging the oldest African nation to the newest African tongue." Fitting, considering Gabe and Khalil first collaborated on the cut "Gold" off of Recycled Soul, which touched on the state of the continent.
Sexy Beast kicks off in style with the slinky Eastern vibes of "Abyssinian Creole," with Khingz proclaiming that "rap won't die till I do/it lives and survives you/despite you, just to spite you." AbCreole's magic derives from the balance between Khalil's braggadocious jewels and Gabriel's heartfelt honesty, plus the soulful swell of Kitone's boardwork, resulting in intimate, upbeat songs that feel as familiar as your next-door neighbor. For examples, peep such cuts as "The Ultimate" and the Moka Only-featured "Same as I Ever Was." Two of the town's finest—Blue Scholars' Geologic and Macklemore—check in as well on "The Elixer" [sic] and "Crushes Heaven," respectively; the collaborations (all too rare in local rap) are just part of what makes this album so distinctly Seattle. Columbia City, Beacon Hill, and the Vista all get namechecked in the ebullient "Southside," which will touch anybody whose youth revolved around Rainier Avenue.
"I have a lot of love for the South End," Teodros proclaims. "It's getting really gentrified now. I go there and feel like an outsider. Anywhere you see the Starbucks and the Subways start springing up, you know it's over." Seattle is changing around us, but I don't think it's over. This one feels like a beginning. recommended