West Seattle native and rising rapper Mackned had a banner year, selling out local venues like the Crocodile and Neumos. He reached a significant peak of local fame touring and working with Key Nyata, former co-leader of the Thraxxhouse collective. In 2015, it seemed as if each month Thraxxhouse would bless the web with another banger. Ned and Key sculpted a unique dark sound that served especially well as a soundtrack to the dreary Seattle winter. Key’s airy, cosmic synths and understated, hypnotizing style fused with Ned’s bassy, hard-hitting trap drums and sharp delivery, creating a series of hits that played like spiritual ballads for the lonely.
Mackned’s brand-new album, Born Rich, is a major shift from that previous work. In collaboration with talented electro/soul trio The Flavr Blue, Ned experiments with a variety of subgenres on this nine-track LP. He veers away from the confines of the rap genre toward alternative music and synth pop. Perhaps Key Nyata’s recent departure from the Thraxxhouse collective has prompted Ned’s crossover venture and given him more musical mobility.
The most abrupt change is on “Fanta Blue,” a shockingly positive, bubbly psychedelic funk track with a Parliament feel and a slapping kick track. The chorus, performed by The Flavr Blue’s singer/producer Lace Cadence, is immediately catchy. The track is reminiscent of Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk”—an interesting development for an artist who built a reputation from moody, downcast tunes both under his own name and as his AutoTuned existential alter ego, Hurt Cobain.
Continuing the trend is the jewel of Born Rich: “G Funk,” aptly named for its West Coast flavor, buzzy wobbling bass, and staccato piano track. Ned’s voice sounds smooth, and the track’s rock drums give it an alternative sound. It’s a fun summer song, and hearing Ned rap and sing in such a positive, upbeat way is an exciting transition.
The project opens more potential and possibility for crossover collaboration, and acts as a strong bridge between two local music worlds, but it remains to be seen if the new cheerful Mackned is here to stay. Shortly before the release of Born Rich, Mackned’s father passed away. Ned memorializes him by dedicating the album to his memory—its physical booklet reads “R.I.P. Tony Gable,” and Ned’s most recent neck tattoo is “R.I.P. DAD” in black ink. With his continually evolving and expanding artistic personas, Mackned has created a sonic palette that can encompass a range of moods and tones. One of the things that keep him interesting is guessing which part of that spectrum comes next.