The Physics - Tomorrow People
Go clicking around Pacific Northwest-focused hip-hop blogs these days (yes, they do exist) and you’ll find a lot is bubbling in the upper-left corner of the map: Blue Scholars have been consciously rocking club venues across the nation for at least the last four years; hyper-experimental rap/electro act Shabazz Palaces is expanding the very bounds of what it means to be hip-hop; XXL Freshman of the Year-er Macklemore is set to release a new LP and embark on a massive world tour; and of course I’d be remiss not to mention how hard this very blog rides for Nacho Picasso and his blunted brand of new era medievalism.
When it comes to hip-hop, the greater Seattle area is experiencing a renaissance. The indie pop and rock acts found in ubiquity since the post-grunge movement drifted through have settled in comfortably at summer music festivals next to like-minded Brooklyn- and Austin-based bands, any regional distinctions in sound blurred by the genre’s reciprocal analog and reverb. That’s not the nature of hip-hop, though. Most rapper’s declarations, initially at least, are hyper-local ones and fittingly so are most things Seattle — the area’s isolated geography lends itself particularly well to the “artisanal.” It seems reasonable then that the 2-0-6 (that’s the city’s predominant area code for those that don’t know) would, in turn, develop a strong hip-hop tradition, and that’s exactly what is happening.
In this critic’s estimation the crew making the best and most consistently “pure” strain of hip-hop in the Town (capital “T” intentional) is The Physics: Principle MCs Thig Natural and Monk Wordsmith and MC/producer Justo, plus back-up vocalists (and real-life couple) Malice and Mario Sweet. With the release of their third full-length album, Tomorrow People, this crew finds itself five records deep into a rap career that has seen little to no exposure outside of Seattle. And while the aforementioned acts are certainly worthy of all the national attention they’ve received, The Physics deserve the same merit; the soulful, funky Tomorrow People may be the album that finally brings it.
The group’s previous LP, Love Is A Business (2011), was a wholly conceived and carefully executed record concerning how The Physics’ very normal lifestyles intersected with a burgeoning music hustle. It’s a familiar story for so many starving hip-hop artists trying to get on, but rarely has it been summarized with such class and brio. Many ofLIAB’s tracks would not have resonated as well if separated from the body of work, which is a testament to how interstitially linked its thoughts were. In contrast, Tomorrow People is much more a set of distinct songs, a different approach but one that doesn’t lead to a decrease in quality or sacrifice in any of the group’s core values.
Like its predecessor, the production on Tomorrow People is steeped in a fresh Pacific Northwest cool as informed by the region’s more progressed hip-hop cousin: Southern California. The majority of beats are provided by in-house composer Justo with some vital assistance from local and industry heavyweights Jake One, Vitamin D and Kuddie Fresh (of Tha Bizness). Thig and Monk’s rhymes feature an easy nonchalance that can only derive from acute self-awareness as a result of advancing age. If you think that’s coded language for “old man rap” you’re only partially right. Tracks like “Take A Win”, “Last Dollar” and “Skylines” find much of their charm within the contradictions of pleasure-seeking as 30-something rappers trying to make it in a younger man’s game. I’m talking about things like drinking beer for both the buzz and the taste; late-night creeps for the thrill of the chase and the dread of having to face work on little to no sleep; and finding your empty wallet as a source of both frustration and pride-inducing analogue for “the hustle.”
Thig and Monk are neither showy MCs, preferring sneaky technical precision and clever brevity over works of lyrical miracles (though if you have any question of whether Thig can go, see “New School Mental”). Theirs is a rhapsodic practice that allows the rolling, animated basslines of “So Funky” and “Days” to speak as loudly as their poetic recitations on achieving dope rapper status and staying there.
The adage “less is more” is rarely as applicable as on the track “Corporate By Daylight”, a perfect example of how synth should be used to complement a beat rather than as an instrument to drown listeners’ ears. And that’s really the best thing about The Physics’ style on Tomorrow People. The music fits in as a companion to life for hip-hop fans who increasingly find it difficult to extract reason and meaning from what much of the younger set is listening to. It’s a counterpoint to most popular rap in the way a strategic midday nap fits inside the cycle of a 24-hour party binge. There will always be a time and place for hip-hop as heedless diversion — and certainly The Physics steez is not all anathema to that — but as the genre ages, as does its audience, the refined sensibilities of crews like The Physics help to fill that essential void where the hip-hop soul has always resided.