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Douglas Martin gets higher than a Trainspotter.
AJ Suede’s got an interest in the paranormal, the esoteric, and the occult; it’s deeply interesting and not overemphasized in a vintage horrorcore kind of way. There’s an understanding of the depths of spirituality coursing through his music, to the point where he’s had to debunk suspicion of Baphomet worship. One of the highlights of his extraordinarily busy 2018 was Darth Sueder II track “Brujeria,” where he raps about lighting candles and beheading chickens in the shower.
The first two volumes of Darth Sueder, both of which I reviewed for KEXP, showed the young Sith lord embarking on a new path. Previously, he has explored booming bass, Keyboard Kid’s #based, Wolftone stunners and JPEGMAFIA mood pieces from before Veteran came out and everybody started copping beats from him. As adventurous in taste as Suede is, it was maybe an instance of destiny he would rap about acid trips and Elijah Muhammad’s time traveling capabilities over his own far-reaching loops.
Suede has been one of my favorite rappers in my home of the Pacific Northwest even before he looped Ariel Pink and Tamaryn songs and spit bars over them. In the succeeding months since, he has elevated his craft to proportions as spiritual as his subject matter.
III. NO TOBACCO IN THIS SHIT, I SNUCK IT THROUGH THE AIRPORT
I think prolific is an understatement
I don’t think that God is playing favorites, people get lucky
Suede has progressively refined his craft with each of the bumper crop of releases he’s harvested in the two years and change he has lived in the Emerald City, his imagery-laden vignettes sharpening every three or four months. He has honed into his personality, the pitch-black romantic who opens his mind to centuries-old spirituality and psychedelics, who reads religious and metaphysical texts after smoking two joints. Suede’s story would probably be perfect for Euphomet.
Darth Sueder III finds our protagonist sneaking bud past TSA, burning purple punch and tires on LimeBikes, breaking stale Backwoods, sitting in a room staring at candles (his mind only plays tricks on him when he’s on ayahuasca), moving around the town like one of the futbol stars from the Sounders, settling grudges rather quickly, not being too interested with dating locally, and won’t hold a grudge but will toss you a 99 cent pack of Kleenex.
As a beatmaker, he continues to explore new terrain and find his individual voice. Sometimes he goes for the sort of samples instantly recognizable, much like when he looped Built to Spill’s “I Will Hurt a Fly” on Sueder II. I hear a lot of loops which wouldn’t sound too out of place on Rosebudd’s Revenge mixed with the kind of indie rock nerd Easter eggs busting through The Slow Twilight. If you have a good enough ear for beats, you can find choice samples from most anywhere. You can turn it into hip-hop if you can hear it.
Suede’s music is meaningful to people who live in their dark side without having to stew in it. His heart and his gear are as black as a universe with no stars. He plays the planets while understanding gravity doesn’t pull us to a higher power; it pulls us to a greater understanding. The darkness represents a void, to be sure, but it’s also a symbol of freedom. It stays blank no matter what your past has drawn.
IV. MY TOLERANCE IS STRONGER, I’MA POP THIS MUSHROOM CAPSULE
Suede’s individual voice in making beats starts to solidify on Darth Sueder IV, samples matching drums a little more instinctively, music retaining its weird edge while entirely fitting for Suede’s singular presentation.
The shifting currents of moving bodies streaming through a sterile, almost militarized space with myriad duty-free shopping options crowd the breezy “Airport Etiquette,” where Suede acknowledges this will be the only time in life you will ever see him. New York to Seattle, where the near-constant grey skies keep the easily impressionable members of our community in a depressed mood. He raps about coming down from snorting lines and feeling anti-social and Black Dragon pants.
Every hour on the dot is Cheech and Chong time.
Sueder IV opens with an ode to the 10,000 hours Malcolm Gladwell famously evaluated upon in Outliers, fitting for an artist very likely to have ten thousand hours of music floating in the ether before he hangs up the mic. Over a sanguine beat, Suede builds pyramids with Ancient Aliens on in the background (likely smoking weed with his friends and talking shit like Viceland’s Action Bronson version of the show). He offers a reminder that Jesus Christ didn’t spread the word of Christianity during his 33 years on Earth, instead sharing the values of originality, freedom justice, and compassion. Suede observes teachers, foundational tools of our society, being underpaid while pastors drive around in tailored suites and new Mercedes-Benz S-Classes.
Joel Osteen selling tickets in the bleachers.
On “Westlake Station,” Suede raps over a a floating Tamaryn sample about pulling a baddie waiting for light rail transit and later offers to fire his entire bullpen in the pursuit of a goddess, revealing himself as a black-clad inamorata. The Saturday night Cadillac cruise of “Tai Chi” finds the East Coast native smoking DMT and ruefully recalling a story of sending his immaculate 2017 single “Gas Light” to No Jumper, who rejected it because it “didn’t slap.” In turn, he shrugs his shoulders and opines about the blog’s (perceived) tendency to exploit ignorance.
There’s an inherent internal suspicion for people who think they know the heavily tattooed and dreaded-up MC because they’ve heard a few songs, musing this point over the mushroom cloud synths of “Adrenochrome.” He indulges in white powder with some white girls who register as perfect tens. “Some thicker than a Snickers, some bite-sized / Some drown themselves in liquor for a nice time.”
V. IF THEY STOP THIS CAR, WE MIGHT GO TO JAIL
Suede’s 2019 showed an immense amount of growth while still releasing five projects throughout the year. Instead of putting shit out at a stream-of-consciousness clip, each project he’s put out was a little more refined, his heels digging into his individualistic style a little deeper. Each of these projects also happens to be even better than the last — no mere feat of coincidence, but the spiritual sign of growth for an artist — little by little.
Another year passes and still no features from The Fader, though. Still, Suede persists.
And then, as a new decade dawns, Darth Sueder V: Supreme Chancellor hits like a comet, decidedly the best project he’s released yet. It is assuredly the sum of everything he’s strove to create over the first four volumes of the series, with everything he learned on his great 2019 releases (including Finesse the Cube, The Theology of Rhyme, and Black Cube Vol. 1 featuring star-making verse after star-making verse from BB Sun) picked up along the way. He experiments with flow, lyrical range, the blunted allure of his best beats. Reportedly it’s the first album he’s made completely on an MPC. (Only Madlib can make beats on an iPad sound like beats not made on an iPad.) Suede rhymes over beats in 6/8 time in the same cadence Cam used over Heatmakerz beats in 2001.
Opener “Wealth II” is his best calling card since the aforementioned “Gas Light,” the chopped chirping and cooing of its sample a gorgeous background for Suede to unspool an occasionally staccato flow with the same hook as DSIV‘s dusky, piss-stained elevator jam “Wealth.” He engages in his personal rules for Facetime and stands in a goose down jacket, hustling beat packs like dope. “Larp” sounds like the type of beat playing while 200 S.O.B.s are up in S.O.B.’s, featuring another great BB Sun verse (“You Post Malone, I’m post-apocalyptic”) and Suede encourages Target shoppers to keep pistol compartments in their Priuses.
Ancestry is deeply tied to spirituality; most everything we believe comes from the line before us. In “Hold Paper, Not Grudges,” Suede scribbles about the power in his blood and richness of his heritage over the chirping organ line popping up every eight bars, mentioning his uncle’s work hanging in the Smithsonian. The generational strength carries over to the next track, the weepy strings and flowing guitar of “Suede Family History.” He traces the legacy he comes from, radicals and artists and scrappers and city-dwellers feeling the burden of ancestral weight. Nephews, cousins who are more like brothers, a 13-year-old dragging from packs of cigarettes on the terrace. The song has a prevalent “flipping through photo books with your grandmother” vibe, which blends perfectly with the sands of time from centuries ago washing over Suede’s music.
And so it goes, the stoned mystic dwelling Seattle streets smelling like went through a zip for breakfast exploring the contours of space and time and his own mind, over a fascinating and endlessly replayable selection of self-made beats. Sleep is the cousin of death, the rising star of the Northwest rap scene is undead in perpetuity but also finds the beauty in the eternal darkness.