Tacoma’s rap scene is an especially active storm at the moment, running off new energy and infrastructure built in the past five years. One person to credit is rapper/producer Noo (pronounced “new,” not “Nooooooooo!”), who last year put out one of Tacoma’s best albums, Inner G, with producer 10.4 Rog. Quality music aside, Noo’s work as a community organizer helped set the stage for this moment—specifically the open mic he used to host at the Vinum wine bar circa 2011.
“There was no venues in Tacoma at the time,” he says on the phone. “Except Jazzbones—gotta respect Jazzbones.” Indeed, there was no Real Art yet—the important all-ages Tacoma venue similar to Seattle’s Vera Project—and Hell’s Kitchen had closed, a venue that often welcomed Tacoma rap. “So I went to this coffee and wine spot and started this open mic. ILLFIGHTYOU came through. The Breaklites came through, the Peasant Boys—Jrm and Jai—a lot of the homies. Everybody who’s on the scene at this minute, they peeked their head in there.”
That wine bar is now closed; the current eye of the storm is ETC Tacoma, a streetwear boutique that hosts open mics and podcasts, and where folks generally kick it. Noo doesn’t make it out much, regretfully. Nonetheless he’s a factor in the scene in his own chilled-out lane. His new EP, Everything Before Was Practice, stands tall and portends a big year for Tacoma rap as a whole.
The record’s highlight is “Well Aware,” a smooth cloud-banger. Competing for top honors is “Nike Box,” with a similar foggy and modern sound. These songs are foils for Noo’s more traditionalist tendencies—he started producing as a DOOM/Dilla guy in 2004, evident in his looped beats and wordplay-heavy raps. “Mean Kid” features a keyboard-sampling beat Noo made in 2012 but “didn’t want to fuck up,” so he didn’t touch it for five years. Given the hyperproductive climate, he’s letting it fly. So what if the track isn’t trendy?
Noo says Tacoma rap was too internal and tentative pre-2011. It occurred in bedrooms and basements and stayed there. Now, bolder commitment is surfacing in a diverse array of styles. Noo’s own angle is unrelated to the trap/flex/goth/punk music of Tacoma vanguard like the :30 crew, Ghoulavelii, or Sleep Steady. He doesn’t sound like Bruce Leroy, who doesn’t sound like Fice, who doesn’t sound like King Leez. And while Noo is very fond of 1997-era rap, he also sounds nothing like the most important Tacoma rap group from ’97, Black Anger, or the active rappers on Black Anger’s Du4self Records, like J Mar.
But one thing everyone shares: They’re out here doing it for real. “Tacoma, Seattle—I like that we’re all celebrating ourselves right now,” Noo says. “It’s definitely the right time to show out. Not time to hide shit or keep shit anymore. It’s time to show our cards.” soundcloud.com/noomakesmusic