There isn’t much juice for the rap game in the Pacific Northwest, but that hasn’t stopped a few pioneers from breaking through. Stalwarts like Sir Mix-a-Lot and Macklemore have shown that rap talent can come from the city built on grunge. Now comes Seattle-based rapper Xperience (or Xp) trying to blaze further trails with his new album, Chasing Grace. The delivery ranges from straightforward hip-hop to sweetly melodic R&B, which isn’t surprising considering his roots playing music with church bands.
There are several outstanding tracks mixed in with forgettable exercises in current hip-hop tropes. “Lorne Michaels” is a danceable, slickly produced party jam with fluent grooves and rhymes taking the listener on a ride-along through the club scene. It’s like Lorne Michaels’ Saturday Night Live: fun, loose and fluid.
Other tracks fail to make much of an impression. Throughout songs like “The Mula,” “$4.00” and “So What” we hear Xp contemplating both sides of his persona: the freewheeling, turnt up Turtleneck (an alter ego of sorts) and the serious, thoughtful Xp. The problem is that these songs aren’t particularly interesting or fun to listen to. It’s clear through the back and forth, made explicit through an ongoing fictional interview being given to a female journalist, that XP is a thoughtful, self-aware rapper, but the execution of his vision is incomplete on this album.
He does dip into the Black Lives Matter political landscape on a few tracks, including “Adam,” a somber narrative of the life of a black man shot down by police. The track opens with samples of an all too familiar television news report of the killing of an unarmed black man and goes on to the chorus, “Put a bullet in his head and then read him his rights.” The message is right on, even if it doesn’t create the searing impact of J. Cole’s “Be Free” or some of the other music released in the wake of rising protests.
Xp’s synthesis of personal experience and streetwise entertainer is most fully realized on “98’,” a throwback track rhapsodizing on growing up in the late ‘90’s with bad credit, bad clothes and bad jewerly. In this song you can feel the struggle and the dedication put into the dream of one day making it as a rapper.
Xp has been a regular collaborator with fellow Seattle rappers Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, but his music never quite reaches the radio-friendly highs or heartfelt, political sincerity that have put those artists at the top. Ryan Lewis does appear on the opening track, “Not Today,” but the synth-laden hook and the broadly inspirational chorus, “You can’t stop my shine, not today” feel phoned-in.
Although Chasing Grace shows flashes of talent and promise, it falls short of being a fully realized effort.