FOLLOWING UP a classic release is a challenge for any musician. No matter your next move, there are those who will say it just doesn't measure up. For Portland hiphoppers Ethic and Sapient—members of the Sandpeople crew who together are known as Debaser—that challenge is met and matched with their newly pressed disc, Peerless.
Peerless is the sophomore effort for Debaser, a sequel to 2006's Crown Control. The new album features tracks from as far back as 2007 and feels very kindred in spirit—skillful shit-talking and ridiculously hard-hitting beats abound. Where Peerless does differ slightly is in its instrumentation. On occasion, Sapient inserts acoustic guitar riffs on tracks that jigsaw into his signature rich, baroque schemes. When asked about this minor departure, Sapient says, "I'm trying to go to a more universal sound. Using real instruments and samples and synths will bring people in." He adds, "I don't want to turn anyone away. Through the years I've been trying to bridge the gap." Whether or not the album will do that, Peerless' quality stands head-and-shoulders above the majority of local hiphop recordings and resides on level ground with contemporary national acts.
More so now than ever, Debaser remains focused on crushing the dreams of hiphop wannabes with stellar quality and callous commentary. The Portland rap community, as well as the larger national scene, is flooded with hobbyist emcees and DJs, lamentable for their lack of motivation to turn their pastime into a profession, and their numbing effect on casual audiences. Addressing that phenomenon on the track "Quitters," Sapient sings in the hook, "Giving up won't make you a quitter/so give it up." In conversation, Sapient spells out his philosophy with a cold realism in his voice. "I was always this motivated. We kind of stepped over the Portland scene a little, not trying to do every little show. Everyone comes up from that level, but we had people who were our peers, and they're not any more." More diplomatically, Ethic says, "That's not to say being there is bad, but being stuck there is."