As a city, Portland has all too frequently allowed its identity to be defined by recent transplants.
It’s easy to write off Portlandia as a dumb sketch comedy show (for people who think they’re clever and in on the joke), but the fact of the matter is that for those of us who have lived in the City of Roses, it’s hard to not notice that before Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein came to town even Northwest Portland was still “weird.”
Back then, music venues could afford to operate throughout the city without the threat of being forced out by condo developers, and the citizens of this city looked a lot less like Urban Outfitters catalog models.
Escape from Snortlandia by hip hop duo Load B begins with a riff on Portlandia, and it’s a telling satire. The reason why this hip hop duo is the most vibrant musical act (of any genre) to emerge from Portland in 2015 is that Load B represents everything that Portlandia is not: clever, bold, innovative and possessing a distinctly working-class aesthetic.
It’s impossible for me not to compare this project to another release from a Portland hip hop duo, TXE’s VS PRTLND, which coincidentally came out in January of 2014.
Both projects feature brilliant emcees meeting cutting edge production. With VS PRTLND Calvin Valentine, also known as G FORCE, has proven himself to be a singular force among Portland producers.
But while TXE made every effort to be smooth and accessible (with the project itself being based around samples of well-known Portland indie rock acts), it’s all but impossible to imagine Load B being selected to perform at the next Portland State of Mind show this fall.
To be sure, pseudo-hipsters who claim they love hip hop when they only listen to tame, gutless, white-friendly acts like Childish Gambino and Run the Jewels will find a lot to be offended by in Snortlandia. After all, that’s by design.
Like Portlandia, these acts concern themselves with “smart” topics, therefore appealing to those looking to project a “smart” image. I’d argue that if there’s a thesis to Snortlandia, its somewhere in “Andrew Dice Clay Sculptures,” a track that exemplifies the borderline post-apocalyptic aesthetic which defines Snortlandia.
The lyrics are as uncommercial as it comes; the reference to controversial ’80s comic Andrew Dice Clay is as dated as it is brilliant. The track’s seemingly venomous chorus of “bitch suck my dick and have a nice day” is prefaced with the assurance that the narrator is only “talking out my ass, like I’m Andrew Dice Clay.”
While “Andrew Dice Clay Sculptures” has its moments of fun and irreverence, one shouldn’t forget that Snortlandia is as heavy as anything I’ve heard in years. Tracks like “Jonestown,” “Suicide Bitch” and “I Cut My Face Off for Therapy” depict a bleak reality for those that gentrification left behind.
“Sometimes I beg my own mind for mercy,” Milc, one half of Load B, pleads on “I Cut My Face Off For Therapy,” continuing with the claim that “I might be a failure but I won’t be a bitter failure/probably have to die at 55 to live a failure, I’m just sayin’.”
No review of this project would be complete without noting just how supreme the talents of emcee’s Milc and Brill are. Surprisingly enough, the duo have a dynamic that actually reminds me of the R&B legends Sam and Dave, with Milc seeming to effortlessly flow through songs in contrast to the power of Brill’s gritty, earthy vocals.
As always, the thing that separates emcees with good albums from emcees with great albums is having an ear for production, which is just another area where Load B shines, having hurried and trippy beats that suit their lyrical mayhem perfectly.
Again, Snortlandia is not for the faint of heart. This isn’t hip hop with lyrics lifted straight from Huffington Post blogs. This is raw, earnest and authentic art from emcees at the height of their game.
This ain’t sketch comedy.
For more from Black Hickman, visit his radio broadcasts on KPSU here.