After catching the attention of Ishmael Butler, the Digable Planets and Shabazz Palaces artist who now does A&R for Sub Pop, Seattle rapper Porter Ray was quickly snapped up by the legendary label. “Ishmael had me in a trance growing up. Watching everything he was doing with Digable Planets was dazzling. Ishmael believes in me. He and Sub Pop have given me a great opportunity and I don’t take that for granted.” While he’s grateful and maybe a little in awe (he and Ismael grew up in the same neighbourhood), Porter’s managed to turn in a measured, thoughtful debut that makes good on the promise Sub Pop saw.
The picture he draws of Seattle and his life are vivid and they act as deliverance from a turbulent youth and early adulthood. He saw his father die, his brother killed, his first child born and that child’s mother incarcerated. The album, Watercolor, lives these trials out on Seattle’s metropolitan streets. “I grew up in the Central District of Seattle, Washington. Before it became overly gentrified, it was a very jazzy place with a lot of flavour”, he tells us via email. “The African American community in Seattle is very tight knit. The language, the fashion, the people and their personalities all had a very large impact on myself and my music. I want to immortalise that flavour through my music.”
As a rapper, Porter’s storytelling skills drive his lyrical content. He tries to “paint pictures”, never sounding overexcited or too energetic, opting for beats which create unique moods. Now his sound his pinned down and his debut album is ready to drop on 10 March, Porter has his eyes on the grind. “I’m going to spread the album as far as I can, with hopes of touring nationally and internationally. You can expect much more music and visual content from me throughout the year – I want to shine a larger light on Seattle’s rap scene and continue to grow as an MC.”
Describing any rapper as streetwise or enlightened through struggle is a hackneyed narrative but with his effortlessly smooth tone and considered lyricism, Porter Ray definitely carries himself with the striking presence of wisdom. “I think any rapper’s role, young or old, in America, or anywhere in the world, is to use our voices and our influence to raise awareness about what’s going on in our communities and our countries.” Having caught the eye of his idols, he’s now turning his attention to us. “We have the power to effect real change in the future.”
Watercolor is released 10 March via Sub Pop
Mick Jenkins / Ab-Soul