Justin Carroll-Allan is pretty, pretty good.
The Pacific Northwest’s burgeoning rap label EYRST Music has just released two new tracks from its most interesting rappers, Myke Bogan and Maze Koroma. Born from an unlikely partnership between producer Neill Von Tally and ex-Washington Wizard Martell Webster, EYRST Music has been painstakingly carving out a space for hip hop in Portland since its inception, a city long overshadowed by indie rock and a bad reputation for not supporting hip hop.
Myke Bogan’s release is a remix to “Suun,” originally from 2017’s Pool Party. Featuring the twinkling vocals of former Portlander Little Warrior, this version of “Suun” adds another layer of melancholy to the already bittersweet song about the cost of being yourself, how following your dreams can often result in distance and alienation from those you love. Pool Party, released last August, subverted the genre of the feel-good summer anthem. Rather than crooning about getting stoned and loving life, Bogan’s stoner songs felt closer to that episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm when Larry David gets stoned, locks himself in the bathroom, and yells at his reflection in the mirror.
Maze Koroma’s new song is “Rewind,” and features the inimitable Von Tally. Of the deeply talented EYRST crew, Koroma is one the most compelling. Koroma has a passion for experimentation and ability to chronicle accurately what it feels like to live in a world with the internet. He did this nearly perfectly with last year’s It’s Complicated, It’s All Happening so Fast, Even Though I Can’t Keep up with You, You’ll Always Be My Sunshine. “Rewind” contains Koroma’s fresh-faced confidence and penchant for word play. It’s a good introduction to a rapper whose catalog you need in your life.
It’s worth restating that these rappers call Portland home, and are working hard to build a community in a city not known for treating its hip hop scene well. For most, the idea of rappers coming out of Portland is new. Sure, we’ve all heard “Caroline.” We know Aminé’s from there, but many have assumed that he was the lone exception, a comet that won’t appear in Bridgetown for another 75 years.
Aminé’s certainly the first rap star to rise from Portland, but that’s certainly not for lack of trying (or talent). Rap veterans like Cool Nutz, Lifesavas, and Illmatic battled promoters and police to be treated fairly, to be regarded the same as the bands playing every mold-harvesting metal bar or punk space. For years, despite the city bragging about diversity and inclusivity, hip hop shows were all but outlawed. This has improved slightly over the past few years, though last year a sold-out Mozzy/OMB Peezy show was cancelled for no good reason. EYRST Music is changing the culture in Portland, and the hometown section of the roster is helping shape a city aesthetic that’s full of big, bright, experimental sounds that are willing to subvert the conventions of rap.