My sound is dark and it has a lot of energy,” rapper Shawn Parker tells me in a booth at Tacoma Mall’s Krispy Kreme. “Some of the songs you might listen to, and you won’t get the full vibe. But if you come see me live and watch me perform these songs, you’re going to get that vibe. That’s the reason I called the tape Before the Storm. Because you listen to the music before you see me live. Me live is the storm.”
Before the Storm is one of the latest installments in a flurry of millennial flex music from Tacoma. These trap-heavy projects from artists like Ghoulavelii, Yung Fern, and Bujemane, who will all perform with Parker at The Vera Project this Saturday, are part of a distinctive, cohesive wave of Tacoma hip-hop, a sound that continues to establish itself separately from its contemporaries in Seattle. The traits that define this sound—dark synths, short run times, and mosh-ready instrumentals—are all packed into Parker’s eight-track mixtape.
Like his peers Bujemane and Ghoulavelii, Parker’s latest project features tracks usually under three minutes. The reason? High-energy live performances. Of his upcoming show, Parker says, “It will be jumping. A lot of people like to be in the back with their hoodies on, arms folded or whatever. We don’t fuck with bystanders. If you come to a show and you pay to get in that show, why stand there? Come get it poppin’ with us. We’re raging no matter what.”
Sonically, Parker’s music differs from that of some of his peers, like Yung Fern and CRIMEWAVE, by veering away from heavy-metal influences. While he doesn’t have any connections to metal, he does say he was a skater in high school, so his penchant for Thrasher T-shirts—a ubiquitous wardrobe choice for many of Tacoma’s up-and-comers—stays consistent with the scene’s aesthetic proclivities.
Instead of metal, a surprising but discernible influence on Before the Storm is Dipset. On “Reloaded,” a wavy banger produced by KReam Team, he drops Dipset references in the chorus and quotes Juelz Santana from “S.A.N.T.A.N.A.” on 2004’s Diplomatic Immunity 2, rapping “I’m reloaded OK, the heat’s loaded OK, now we rolling OK.” At 20, Parker was only 8 when that record was released. “I listened to Dipset as a kid,” he laughs. “I was on my Juelz. I was always wearing bandanas.”
“Reloaded” is one of three songs on the record with production by KReam Team, the duo of ILLFIGHTYOU’s Khris P and his brother Lou Swang. “Khris P hit me and was like ‘Check your e-mail I sent you some beats,’ ” Parker explains. “Khris P is a genius on the boards, so I check my e-mail and there was some fire. I started writing as soon as I heard the beats, I barely played them. As soon as I heard one I wrote to it. Heard another one, wrote to it.”
KReam Team also produced “Off That,” a dark electro-synth track with thunderous bass. They teamed with Parker’s in-house producer DJ QJ on album closer “You,” and the fusion results in one of the record’s standout tracks. Parker flits through multiple cadences before delivering a melodious chorus, sing-rapping, “I got this money I don’t know what to do, I save these condoms just to use them on you.” These lines aptly summarize the project: a young MC navigating a world where he’s discovered fast money and an affinity for women.
In many ways, Before the Storm is clearly the work of a young, new artist. Consisting mainly of high-energy tracks about making and spending money, the record is a great break from the harsh realities we’re facing in 2017. Instead of weighing us down with doom and gloom, Parker presents a carefree mixtape full of party music loaded with tales of sex and drugs—perfect for old-timers like me who sometimes need a break from responsibilities, and for youth who just want to party. Shawn Parker With Ghoulavelii, Yung Fern, Bujemane, and more. The Vera Project, 305 Harrison St., theveraproject.org. $8. All ages. 8 p.m. Sat., Jan. 14. firstname.lastname@example.org