In the crowded mediaspace of today there are only a few acts who get my attention when they release new material. The Seattle based duo THEESatisfaction is one of them. Seattle is usually not the first place to come to mind when I think of hip hop, after all the home of Nirvana and Pearl Jam has the reputation of being a hotbed of Anglo angst. Despite that, Seattle has been home to a thriving and diverse hip hop culture that includes artist as diverse as Sir Mix-a-lot to Macklemore.
My favorite from this scene has been THEESatisfaction. They embody elements of a rock influence aesthetic with the cultural legacy of black America- be it from jazz, R&B or whatever. Either way you hear it, THEESatisfaction has created some of the most edgy hip hop sense Missy Elliot. Imagine rappers who are as much informed by Boards of Canada or Kraftwerk as James Brown and Prince. That’s what Catherine Harris-White and Stasia Irons can bring to your headphones and have been bringing it since their debut in 2008.
Earthee, their 3rd and latest LP continues the tradition of smart abstract lyrics and danceable bursts of funk peppered with electronica. Conceptually, the cover’s theme of neo-ancient Nubians owes much to old X-Clan albums, but THEESatisfaction adds the sophistication that comes with a more varied musical vocabulary to draw from.
The albums first single ‘Recognition” is lyrically less abstract than the usual stuff from the pair. Its simplistic approach to the subject matter is complimented by somewhat spacey yet infectious beat. Where THEESatisfaction may have featured multiple musical composites in the same song in the past, tracks like “Recognition” suggest a more matured if not conventional approach to songwriting.
This maturity is consistently heard on elsewhere on the album. “Prophetic Perfection” and ‘Planet for Sale”are just two examples of songs that follow a conventional structure – or as conventional as THEESatisfaction gets. One of my favorite tracks “Nature’s Candy” features a wonderful little vocal harmony that is strangely both warm and robotic sounding.
The structural consistency is noticeable throughout the album making Earthee the first THEESasistfaction album that sounds like a real collection of songs as opposed to a deconstructionist sound collage. I often got the same vibe from Georgia Ann Muldrow’s music (but hey I’m not complaining here). Some of the jarring rough edges are still there. It was part of what attracted me to the pair’s music in the first place. It rears its head on “No GMO”, but overall THEESatisfaction seems to have moved on, taking the cutting edge of hip hop with it. As an extra bonus, they still manage to sound refreshingly distinctive.
Other subtle differences set them apart from the run of the mill women of hip hop too. While they do not wear their sexuality on their sleeves, it often informs their points of view as their songs don’t always follow the standard man-woman narrative. As educated and well-read black women, they are instantly marginalized in mainstream hip hop. Oddly many of the teen aged kids I encounter think THEESatisfaction is just plain weird, as if being unconventional was an attempt at being white via alt rock. The general ignorance is understandable, especially if you listen to today’s top ten. This outsider approach works for them as Harris-White and Irons weave lyrical abstractions together with music that can sound as much like alt-rock, dance or techno as much as hip hop. It keeps them a step ahead of the fairy tale raps so common today.
Earthee (like all THEESastifaction releases) arrives via a small independent record label (Sub Pop). The lack of carpet bomb media saturation means that music connoisseurs will have to seek out this duo. For those who do they will be rewarded with some of today’s most innovative hip hop, the kind of music that might be more common place in the next decade. For now THEESastifaction remains our little secrete.