Last month’s Blue Scholars/Common Market showcase at Neumos saw a throng of Seattle’s finest hip-hop talents take the stage for three blistering nights of urban music. It was a who’s-who of the town’s most impressive artists, but by the end, one of the biggest buzzes generated wasn’t about the headliners, but about Dyme Def, who commanded the room on the final night for 30 minutes of raucous, sweat-drenched rap bliss.
Backed by their producer/DJ BeanOne, the trio of Seattle rappers had the crowd especially amped up by 9:30 p.m. (which is either really early or really late to be amped for anything) with their high-energy raps and bounce-house stage presence. When they got into the call-and-response section of their set, they divided the room in two and had the capacity crowd screaming louder than they had for anyone else that evening. Highly respected local music figures such as Jake One, DJ B-Mello, and J. Moore, the latter two of radio station KUBE 93, along with several other notables, admitted they’d attended that night mainly to see Dyme Def.
That’s a heck of a cosign for a group of 23-year-olds from Renton who are still finding themselves musically but who have a wide fan base among young music lovers regardless of genre, much of it based around strong talent and smart branding.
Comprising MCs Brainstorm, S.E.V., and Fearce Villan, the trio lives on that thin line between cockiness and confidence. Yeah, they’re arrogant, but in a playful way. They’ll rap about you, your mom, and stealing your girlfriend all in the same verse. Their songs include “Full of Myself” and “My Nuts,” and they once had a logo sticker that read “If I was you, I’d hate me.” They fully embrace rap’s boasting tradition, but they’re comical enough with their punch lines and prose that it works.
“It’s not about being bigheaded,” Fearce says during a recent chat at their record label’s SoDo loft. “That was kind of our way to get everyone’s attention. But I’ve noticed that a lot of hip-hop lovers kind of like that. The bragging thing, that’s what hip-hop was based around when it first got started.”
One path they’re thankfully steering away from is exaggerating who they are at their core, or rapping about having fat wads of cash or being drug kingpins. “We ain’t got nothing to lie about,” Fearce adds matter-of-factly. “We’re just a bunch of nerds. We don’t say we have a bunch of cars, or live in a fancy place, or plan to kill a bunch of people, ’cause that’s not us. We don’t have anything to portray.”
Brainstorm, the group’s most animated MC, backs it up a little bit. “I will say it hasn’t been that way the whole time, though,” he adds about their early days as start-up rappers following similar clichés. “But through maturity, you start to find your lane. You realize people appreciate you more for being truthful in what you’re talking about.”
Hanging with the group’s three MCs in person adds a deeper perspective to Dyme Def’s braggadocio. In reality, they’re a bunch of self-admitted “goofballs” who love to chase girls, play ping-pong, and go bowling. And they’re just as competitive with each other in a bowling alley as they are in a recording booth. They’ve been rapping since they first started at Renton High School, eventually transferring to the alternative Black River High School to pursue music. Their initial gigs at age 16 were at roller rinks and parks, but they’ve spent the past nine years developing a friendship that’s far deeper than music. Although in their songs they constantly outduel imaginary opponents, according to them they’re most likely trying to out-battle each other. It’s that competitive edge and constant one-upmanship within their own crew that makes their finished product much tighter, and it’s partly why so many local blogs and DJs around the city, in addition to various national outlets, are championing their music now.
The public originally began paying attention to them after their first album hit shelves: 2006’s Space Music, a 17-track disc that has its share of hiccups, but which announced that a new force in Northwest hip-hop deserved to be heard. By the time they released the follow-up mixtape, 2008’s 3 Bad Brothaaas, their cohesiveness as a crew of competent lyricists had improved significantly. Magazines like The Source and FADER began taking notice as well. This year, they’ve made a conscious effort to release a steady stream of free material via the Web. Most of the downloads they’re giving away—songs like “Def to the Record,” “Not Even Jets Can Fly,” and their most recent, “Put the Beat Up in a Sling”—are better than what a lot of people would try to sell. It’s a tactic that’s helped keep a buzz attached to their name into 2009. If Blue Scholars and Common Market are the city’s two most exportable rap acts, Dyme Def has firmly planted itself in third place, with hopes to move up the ranks soon.
This week, their latest EP, Panic, is set to be released. It’s a notable improvement over everything else they’ve put out officially. BeanOne produced four of the songs, while Brainstorm, who says he’s been teaching himself how to make beats for the past two years, produced “Not That Dude,” “Foot Up on the Gas,” and the title track. Lyrically, Panic is a departure from the “look at me” raps, and showcases the songwriting versatility they need to make a leap forward. Panic is a concept disc, with all seven tracks loosely related to the current financial crisis.
“It’s called Panic because with the whole recession, everyone is losing their jobs left and right, they’re in a panic.” S.E.V. says. Although certain jabs at Bush and gas prices feel dated, the beats are more adventurous and the creative growth is evident.
A few weeks from now, they’ll be heading on the road for their first national tour, a brief but exposure-filled 13-date stint with New York–based rapper Saigon. He’s a much larger draw on the East Coast, but considering Dyme Def’s energetic live shows—which often feature the trio jumping around, dancing, and doing everything but crowd-surfing—they’ve got a legitimate chance of upstaging Saigon every night on the West Coast leg of his tour.
But before that begins, they’ve got a major CD release party to rock this weekend, which they’re excited about. “Man, it can’t get here fast enough,” S.E.V. says with a big grin on his face. “We’re playing the Crocodile. This is going to be the best show we’ve ever done.”