Respect is the second full-length album from Seattle rapper Fatal Lucciauno. Released on influential regional hip-hop/R&B label, Sportn’ Life Records, it poses a markedly different version of Pacific Northwest rap than what most listeners outside of the area code are accustomed to. Blue Scholars and Macklemore (probably the two most visible hip-hop artists from the region) are proper delegates of the area’s hustle to the rest of the nation, but their socially conscious, easy-going styles are only one part of Seattle rap’s story. Fatal Lucciauno’s represents another: the distinctly street-oriented, gangsta perspective that may still be unfamiliar to heads who think it’s all pristine coffee shops and Microsoft Windows in the upper left corner of the map. For those unaware, Respect is a vital introduction to the other side.
The album begins with “Larry Mizell Jr (Intro)” an opening track that provides further context for Respect within the parameters of Seattle’s impossibly tight-knit hip-hop community. Mizell is an area MC/radio host/DJ/journalist/music historian, generally regarded as the authority on all things Seattle rap. His co-sign carries cachet, in other words, so to hear him spit affirming bars for Lucciauno is fairly significant. It’s also certainly not without merit. Fatal is that rare West Coast gangsta rapper worthy of all the stock criticism leveled by the genre’s arbiters (misogynist, homophobe, drug dealer, harbinger of gratuitous violence — you name it, it’s here) who somehow manages to elevate the often insidious nature of his music to something resembling a ‘hood spiritual’. It’s all due to a believability stoked by the slow burn of Fatal’s MC approach. Most of the time you get the sense he’s just talking about his life in your ear rather than trying to find his rightful place in a multi-billion dollar industry.
Fatal refreshingly avoids overwrought bluster on tracks like “War,” a menacing West Coast slow crawl that’s unmistakably Dre-inspired (Kuddie Fresh produced the track causing Scott Storch much gnashing of teeth, I’m sure). The rapper warns in a near hush, “You don’t wanna war with me,” letting the heavy piano and wailing police siren play lieutenant to his crime captain. On “Black Hoody Rap” (featuring labelmate, Spaceman), producer Bean One pairs the usually dubious rap/rock hybrid arrangement with thematic strings worthy of a film score. Fatal’s affecting rasp plays well against Spaceman’s hyperactive gnarl, and the result is the album’s best track.
Elsewhere, on “Gotta Go” (featuring Sportn’ Life R&B singer, Marissa), relationship melodrama is dispensed of in favor of brutal, in-the-moment honesty. Fatal blatantly tells wifey that whatever fuss she’s looking to make is trivial compared to the wrath of enemies (both lawful and otherwise) waiting for him around the proverbial corner. His threat of physical repercussions is enough to make someone unfamiliar with this type of passion squirm, namely because it’s handled so matter-of-factly. Fatal Lucciauno often defers to emotions gathered strictly from instinct (or perhaps former defective conditioning) and the resulting vehemence lends Respect a huge amount of artistic validation. That being said, the album is not devoid of missteps. The curious “Adolph Hitler” aims for provocativeness but comes across as a cheap and cartoonish shock tactic. Likewise, “Better Than You” (featuring Seattle natives Grynch and Thaddeus David) falls short with fairly derivative production and lackluster bars unworthy of the triumphant posse cut it aims to be.
These are minor complaints, though, in the grand scheme of the project. Fatal firmly established himself on his first go ‘round, 2007’s The Only Forgotten Son, a triumphant street tome that set him at odds from the liberal politicizing and organic Golden Era echoes that have set the tone for most of popular Seattle rap since 2005. As a Pacific Northwest native (now New Yorker), it’s quite difficult to view hip-hop emanating from my home through anything but backpacker-colored glasses. Maybe then for the sake of clarity it’s better to set regional delineations aside for a moment and appreciate Fatal Lucciauno’s Respect for what it is: the tell-tale sign that all of our cities, regardless of their overarching (and overreaching) status quos, are populated by street soldiers whose stories deserve the dignity of being told, regardless of how unattractive the truth is.