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Norman Barfly & Onry Ozzborn - Bling Kong (2002) (youtube.com)
Norman - Polarity

There's certainly nothing shameful about having Sir-Mix-a-Lot as the most well known member of your city's hip-hop pantheon. Beyond \x93Chief Boot Knocka\x94, though, Seattle, Washington is better known for Eddie Vedder's plaid party pad than its vital hip-hop scene. This is good and bad: on one hand, since it's neither a Borough nor Cali, heads don't automatically look to Seattle for the freshest rhymes, leaving its hip-hop denizens to fight harder for wider recognition. On the other hand, the city's a blank slate; since Seattle rappers don't have any Kool Hercs to answer to (metaphorically, of course), they can be as creative as possible without laboring in anyone's shadow, or living up to their city's prescribed heritage.

Despite Seattle's lack of heavy hip-hop baggage, the Oldominion collective works hard to properly represent their cities (the massive, more than 20-person crew operates out of Seattle and Portland). Barring Portland-based Quannum duo Lifesavas, they've recently been the most visible Pacific Northwest rappers, joining the West Coast legs of the Def Jux and Anticon tours. More importantly, they come the closest to defining a specific Northwest hip-hop sound; their characteristically moody production and thoughtful lyrics often illuminate a dark spirituality behind constant references to Lord of the Rings and their own Wizard of Oz-like mythology (based on Seattle's nickname as \x93Emerald City\x94).

Norman is the shared (somewhat sociopathic) alter ego of two of Oldominiox92s most prominent figures: producer Onry Ozzborn and rapper Barfly. It's a concept album surrounding the life of \x93Normax94 (i.e. Psycho's Norman Bates), and immediately, the character is established as a hard-luck outcast without a definitive hip-hop past. On the first track \x93One Man Band\x94, Onry rhymes, \x93Normax92s the type of guy who never listened to LL/ Alice Cooper, Slipknot and Godsmack were the ones in headphones/ And Normax92s the type of guy that I love no matter the cost/ We goix92 crazy together...creatix92 scientific clones.\x94 With its matter-of-fact, distinctive cadence, the song comes off like a macabre, alienated counterpart/response to Aesop Rock's beloved \x93Lucy\x94; a Moog-like melody stumbles across the chorus, and Claude Denjeax92s campy vision is given ominous new life. On the stellar \x93Human Traffic\x94, Onry's affinity for ambient record-crackle beats is woven among melancholic violins, minimalist kick-drum, and deep, funky keyboards. A different version of the record crackle shows up later on \x93Weastwick UTD\x94 during its clever soccer metaphor, in which Norman \x93runs the wrong way down the field.\x94 At one hilarious point, Barfly halfway approximates a Brit accent and screams, \x93Oy, oy, motherfuckers! I love Stiff Little Fingers pointix92 at suckas!\x94

Of course, if Norman and the rest of the Oldominion crew wanna forge on with a new sound independent of hip-hop's forbears, they gotta rep for their town, and it wouldn't be a Seattle hip-hop record if these dudes didn't make a smack reference. On \x93Martyr\x94 they rhyme, \x93Perry Farrell/ Jim Carroll/ I'm scared of the devil/ This is my Basketball Diary/ And the perils of attaining these heights is falling fifty stories into syringes/ Harmony Korine's KIDS...Renee Zellweger and the lead singer of Hole/ I don't even have to say her name, I think you know.\x94 The duo's cadences play leapfrog with the beats, and they often rap at halftime for a surreal effect. The depressive, layered production reflects the isolating, wet darkness that grips the Pacific Northwest nine months out of the year. It's the unmistakable sound of Seattle hip-hop.