W4 To Tha World n Back You Heard!
Magicians never reveal their secrets, but music writers can: at Podcart, we have a group chat. It’s normal stuff; we share schedules, the stuff we’re covering, vent about housing issues, plan for class war, all the good things you’d expect. The best thing about it, though, is that we’re a small community of people who adore much of the same music, and when you drop an amazing song and the others react, it’s a thing of rare beauty. When Washington’s ‘Pray 4 Me’ entered that space, we were buzzing for days after.
Even though there’s so much good music coming out this year (cultural historians will be baffled by that), ‘Pray 4 Me’ unleashed something utterly primal in us, just a total authentic excitement that makes you remember why you persevere in unearthing musical talent. Then, my friend and yours, Halina Rifai, says “oh, and he’s based in Paisley”. Well, fuck.
The whole of this year’s ‘Rookie’ is outstanding. At times, flows are delivered with such lyrical intensity that it’s hard not to feel he’s battling you, personally. Other times, for example, the airier ‘Scarface’, calls to mind early 2000s production. The whole project is filled with such vocal confidence that it’s hard to believe that Washington is a 19-year-old self-proclaimed “nobody”. That cannot last.
Much like Bemz, who we covered two weeks ago in this column, there’s a strong US influence in Washington’s music and that’s for the better – taking influence from lyrical master classes Stateside is fertile ground, and it makes sense to do so. As if all your favourite Scottish indie bands aren’t trying to be Pavement, anyway. Despite this, there’s a strong individualism to Washington’s music, and his consumption of these influences; Cam’Ron, Dave East, Lil Wayne et al, is competitive.
“I’ve never took it as a chance to take notes, I see more as a challenge to myself to want to go harder.”
Born in Zimbabwe, Washington represents an enterprising core of Scottish hip-hop artists who are particularly fired right now, especially in the wake of Nova Scotia The Truth’s SAY Award win. Locality and boosting the local scenes within Scotland are important, he explains:
“Locally round Paisley… I don’t feel like there’s a lot of opportunities for MCs or producers just yet because I feel like the type of music artists are starting to produce, people haven’t fully taken it in yet. It’s still quite new compared to other genres they usually listen to. I still strongly think it’s important to build up that link with other listeners who are close by, ‘cause if you got people round you backing you then everything else will just come naturally.”
It’s hard to make vocal comparisons, but Washington calls to mind a combination of early Dizzee Rascal in terms of the sheer volume of lyrics, and Joey Bada$$ in terms of beat selection and the musicality and variation of the flows. He explains his sound is melded from culture and an experimental nature:
“Some of my sounds are influenced by the US and this is mainly because that’s what I grew up listening to. [US] slang is very similar to the way we spoke in Zimbabwe so I guess it’s just naturally grew on me that way, it’s a sound you can take and create your own wave round and people can connect to it within its uniqueness.”
Make no mistake, though. This is rap with a strong west-coast Scottish accent. It’s tuneful in its cadence, words like “rubies” and “truly” in ‘Rookie’ hit the ear with such beautiful familiarity. You might be forgiven for thinking that mid-2010s grime would have its tentacles throughout the output of today’s rising circles, and to some degree there’s influence there, but Washington’s sound is international. You can imagine the songs off his first EP on 1Xtra or Hot 97. The fact that it’s being made in Scotland is something we need to be yelling about from the rooftops, or in a less cliché and more relevant way, sharing with your pals in a socially distanced context.
“My message to anyone who’s sceptical that amazing rap music can be/ is being made in Scotland is you don’t want to end that guy that’s always asking what is songs are playing, there’s a bag of us coming up and you look in the right places you will find us, this is for sure only the beginning of big things to come, now we just need consistent gatekeepers.”
After our chat, I dwell on one particular phrase Washington uses. “A 19-year-old nobody”. Well, fuck that. This guy is a potentially generational talent in a scene that deserves the world’s spotlights. Washington is a somebody, and he’s somebody you need to be listening to.