A few months ago, Marcus Williams uploaded a video of himself sitting in his Portland, Ore., studio working on a rework of Macklemore’s Grammy-winning single “Thrift Shop.” “I’m gonna add a little bit of bass, and by a little bit, I mean the normal amount, which is a lot,” he says. He chops up the hook, adds some synths and begins to bob his head while mumbling to himself, “Ba ba ba ba ba baaa banana.”
For Williams, known as the rapper and producer Sapient, the purpose of this session wasn’t for anything other than his own enjoyment. Within a few minutes, Williams had completely deconstructed and rearranged Macklemore’s bundle of joy into something new and, arguably, better.
He steps away from the keyboard, puts on a pair of headphones, slides over to the mic and lays down a brief freestyle. “Walk up in the club like what up I gotta big ween/ I’m not kidding, this thing, has been to Goodwill like 15 times this week/ fucking thrrriiiiiffffftiiiing!” A few bars later, he spits, “I texted Macklemore, but he don’t text me back no more/ I just wanted to give congrats and ask for your autograph, I’m poor/ Can I be your opening act on tour?”
It’s true; even though the two of them do have history (Sapient appeared on Macklemore’s 2009 track “Letterhead Remix”), Big Thrifty no longer texts him back. “Haha, that track wasn’t meant as any spiteful shit,” Williams said in a recent phone interview. “I actually don’t care. He’s busy and we were just music buddies back in the day.”
Receiving nods from the Northwest’s biggest pop-rapper isn’t a priority for Sapient. Since the release of his first album, Dry Puddles, in 2004, the 30-year-old artist has successfully orbited somewhere outside the realm of conventional hop-hop and worked with some of rap’s most notable figures, such as Aesop Rock, Slug, Eyedea and The Grouch.
His latest album, Eaters Volume Two: Light Tiger, is probably his most experimental and interesting work so far. On the track “Dents,” a guitar riff glides over slaps from a trap kit while Sapient muses about the hardships that confront an indie rapper. In terms of traditional hip-hop subject matter, this topic is about as worn dry as a Wiz Khalifa verse about weed. Every rapper struggles at some point, but Sapient rarely relies on cliches. In place of Xeroxed bars of Atmosphere’s “Trying to Find a Balance,” there are references to paying his rent on time, driving his Volkswagen Golf and celebrating life’s little milestones by eating a vitamin. “Dents” is playfully meta, and it’s not until the chorus drops that we fully grasp what’s going on: “I am, I am living in the figurative streets, literally living in a dream, it’s bigger than it seems, it’s ripping at the seams.”
Light Tiger hardly feels like a rap album, but this murky gray area is where Sapient is most comfortable. Many of the tracks are based with spacey electronica, Mos Def-inspired sing-raps and synths straight from Han Solo’s blaster pistol. But most importantly, as with his “Thrift Shop” flip, Light Tiger is a compelling display of Sapient’s ability to effortlessly twist stereotypical rap into something new and refreshingly weird. “Imagine a light tiger, in a dark jungle!” Illmaculate says on the opening track, “Lumens.”
Seriously, imagine that, and you’ll at least have a slight glimpse of Sapient’s curious thought process. “Rap has become so widely accepted,” Sapient says. “Like pop, it’s massively consumed. Now, everyone likes it to some degree. So I feel like it’s better to be a little bit out there, a little bit strange.”
w/Illmaculate, AED, Cannibal J, Dumb Luck
The Loading Dock
445 S. 400 West
Saturday, July 12, 7 p.m.
$10 in advance, $12 day of show
w/Illmaculate, AED, Goldini Bagwell
306 Main, Park City
Sunday, July 13, 8 p.m.