MAZE KOROMA isn’t going anywhere. The 24-year-old Portland native has seen a parade of rising rappers leave his hometown over the past few years, including Tope, Glenn Waco, and Luck-One (now known as Hanif). But he’s not following them, at least not anytime soon.
“I’m trying to build a foundation,” Koroma says. “I’ve thought about leaving [but] I just want to make sure that I have my skill set first. Right now I just feel confident about what’s going on here.”
Listen to Koroma’s Osiris EP and you can practically hear the North Portland emcee’s confidence pouring from the speakers. Just six tracks long, Osiris is an efficient amalgam of sturdy rhymes, wavy beats, and a finely tuned aesthetic, right down to the vintage video-game cover art. Along for the ride are a small handful of guests, including Zoo? and Slick Devious, Koroma’s cohorts in local hip-hop collective Renaissance Coalition.
RenCo, as the group is known, formed when its members were just out of high school. But Koroma’s interest in rap stretches back further, to a childhood spent falling asleep to Jammin’ 95.5 FM and regular trips to visit family in New York, where his mom lived before moving to Oregon. (His parents are originally from Sierra Leone, but Maze—whose given first name is Komeh—was born in the US.)
“New York culture definitely influenced me a lot. I’d go there and just try to soak it up, listening to New York radio and freestyles on [tastemaking rap radio station] HOT 97,” Koroma says. “My mom would get mixtapes there and bring them back and try to sell them in Portland. She wasn’t into hip-hop at all. She was just a hustler, trying to find ways to make it work.”
In elementary school, Koroma was a voracious reader and was selected for the lead role in a Christmas concert. In high school, he’d freestyle for friends over Nas and Lil Wayne tracks, eventually downloading beats from the internet and recording his own songs at his friend’s dad’s house. At 17, he had his first mixtape together called The Progress Report.
“When I started doing it, I just kind of dived in headfirst,” he says. “I’d write every night. I was so excited because I felt like I’ve always had this vessel of creativity, I just needed something to focus on to get it out. I felt like I’d found what I was really supposed to do.”
During his senior year, Koroma released his second tape, The Progress Report 2: Higher Learning, and word began to spread. “I wasn’t doing packed shows or anything,” he says, “but people were listening.” He met Zoo?, and the two started making songs together. They worked with Vursatyl from Lifesavas and freestyled at Ural Thomas’ Sunday jam sessions. Somewhere along the way, RenCo was born, and the group connected with EYRST, the music/fashion startup formed by Martell Webster and Neill Von Tally.
Which brings us to Osiris, an EP that finds Koroma unfurling raps that somehow feel both laidback and hyper-focused, while psychedelic, synthy beats by Von Tally, Bryce Lang, Mikey Fontaine, and Stewart Villain wheeze along in the background. Throughout Osiris, Koroma skillfully brings together an old-school flow with futuristic sounds that capture the ears and the imagination.
That’s the idea, of course.
“If you don’t pick good beats, it’ll end up very bad for you. So I want a beat that tells its own story and that speaks to me. It makes me want to paint over it,” Koroma says.
“When I make something, before I put it out, I listen to it like, 500 times,” he continues. “If I know that I won’t get tired of it, I know it’s something that’ll last. A classic. I’m very into things that will last.”