A few years ago I was walking down a street in Austin, Texas with a friend during SXSW. We passed a huge outdoor concert that Fuse or VH1 or one of those large corporate entertainment companies was putting on. The show was ending as we were passing by the exit, so we stopped and watched as hundreds of white people left. They looked like locals and not like the throngs of jaded label execs that usually populated the streets at that time of the year. I asked one couple who had just performed.
“Macklemore,” they replied in unison, beaming. “It was so awesome.” We were disappointed.
I was reminded of this story when listening to EarthEE, the second full-length album by Seattle’s THEESatisfaction. In comparison to the hip-hop that is offered to the masses these days, I fear for the duo of rapper Stasia “Stas” Irons and singer Catherine “Cat” Harris-White.
Why? Because the album is so unique. It feels too good to be successful in today’s repetitive musical scene. The meticulous details of the pair’s musical arrangements incorporate the butterscotch smoothness of jazz inflections with the careful application of old-school hip-hop beats. The seductiveness of Cat’s vocals perfectly mirrors the not-rapping-but-truth-telling softness of Stas’s delicate pronunciation. These two women are not concerned with simply replicating an alternative hip-hop blueprint—à la Floetry or their direct musical predecessors Digable Planets—but more with paving their own way.
In “Blandland,” which one can assume is a direct response to the Macklemores of the world, THEEsatisfaction seamlessly weave in political themes without disrupting their flow: “Pandering and meandering Neanderthals / Going home crying more than Niagara Falls… they take jazz take soul take hip-hop / Then blame the Nigga every inch and every drip-drop…Your shit is garbage / My shit’s god.”
The only issue with this album is where to listen to it. It cannot be spun in a club atmosphere or as background music while you are preoccupied with doing something else. It begs the listener to sit down and ponder, as there are so many beautiful musical passages and too many perfect collaborators (like Meshell Ndegocello on “Universal Perspective”). With so many lyrics of wisdom, EarthEE caters itself to those who are already in the mix. This album is highly recommended, as its afro-futuristic, honest, and raw philosophy is too delicious to deny.
Related Reading: Meshell Ndegocello Talks About Her New Album and Her Restless Soul.