Chaucer Barnes is a name that comes with a lot of expectations attached to it. It's an epic name, a name fit for a monumental figure. If, when you just now read that name, you pictured in your head an eight-foot-tall black poet who breathes fire and craps hand grenades, then you wouldn't be far from an accurate description of the emcee who bears it. As he describes himself while fronting the live hiphop band Copacrescent, on their new release So Selective, "Chaucer Barnes is the new truth."
Barnes came to live in Portland by way of Baltimore, Maryland, and Greensboro, North Carolina, and the extent of his travels is evident in his lyrical content and style. On So Selective Barnes reveals himself not only to be an emcee who can get the party hype—on tracks like the opener "Do My Thing"—but also as one of the best storytelling lyricists in recent memory. The content, wordplay, and easy cadence of the tracks "The Times" and "Spy Vs." could open the most jaded hiphop head's ears. Making a great story rhyme is not only a test of a writer's imagination but also his capacity for brevity and variation in pattern. Barnes' obvious mastery of these areas could draw comparisons to some of the greatest ever to attempt the style, Black Thought of the Roots and Nas among them.
The drums, guitar, bass, and keys that round out this quintet give the emcee a frame to stand out in, but that said, I can't help but think that without a frontman like Chaucer Barnes, Copacrescent would be a bit lifeless; like the Pogues without Shane MacGowan or the Talking Heads without David Byrne. Still, as long as they are together Chaucer Barnes and the band he fronts form one of the most interesting hiphop groups ever to call Portland home. Here's hoping that the fans give them a reason to stay here for a long time to come.