YOU DON'T OFTEN see an artist turn his back on the genre of music that gained him acclaim and accolades in the first place. But Sapient has done exactly that. The Portland emcee/beatmaker/producer's latest full-length, Slump, has more in common musically with the Shins or Electric Guest than the new-era hiphop of Kendrick Lamar and A$AP Rocky.
If anonymous internet comments are any indication, this is the most controversial genre jump since Dylan went electric. The difference in this case is that instead of Pete Seeger threatening to chop Dylan's mic cables with an axe, Sapient's naysayers are hiphop nerds with Cannibal Ox records and YouTube accounts.
Those who have paid close attention to Sapient—Sape to his friends, Marcus Williams to his family—shouldn't be the least bit surprised. As Sape himself explains, "In my previous discography I ended my albums with a singing track. An 'indie-rock' song, for lack of a better genre description. I used these songs as a way to flex more musical muscle by not using any samples or raps. In 2007, when Sandpeople released Honest Racket, my solo song 'Synthetique Princess' caught a bit of attention, and my friend and fellow rapper Onry Ozzborn encouraged me to create an entire album of singing songs. I had a pretty steady income of monthly payments from rappers who owed me for beats, so it sort of gave me the luxury to mess around and see what I could come up with."
The result of that luxury culminated with Slump, a 16-song recording that blends synthesizer soundscapes with melodic hooks, percussive acoustic guitar strums, and surreal sung lyrics. While some hardcore hiphop heads may be turned off, the net gain of new fans will likely offset the cynics.
One thing that hasn't changed is the Portland native's fiercely independent take on the music industry. "I think the music industry is just as shady and parasitic as always," Sape says. "But since the internet castrated the major labels, I see the popularity of music being controlled more by what people prefer. So much more open variety. Seems like the mainstream is imitating the trends of independent music pretty well. They have to, since it's easy for listeners to choose what they like, not just choose from what is distributed to the record store in their town, or what's on the radio or TV."
While Slump has forged new musical territory as a standalone album, the question remains how to perform such a complex studio recording in a live setting. Additionally, Sape also faces the challenge of easing his old fans into his new aesthetic without alienating them outright.
He's already anticipated this dilemma. "With the help of my DJ/keyboardist/MPC [music production controller] AED [Anthony DeMarco], we have put together quite a show. We do some dual MPC pieces, break down to some hiphop songs from my last release, Gunwings, then transition into a set of all new stuff from Slump where I will be playing guitar and singing. Then we make our way back to our MPCs and end with some classics from my past catalog," Sape says. "So to sum it up, I will rap and sing my ass off, while also pushing some buttons and playing guitar, accompanied by my manz anem."