There’s a way that a sommelier can talk about wine, a kind of mystifying jumble of descriptors meant to confuse a potential buyer into thinking the bottle contains something magical, something more than just old grape juice. Its the same basic move employed by us music writers as we attempt to spin whatever latest release we’re covering into some grand statement, opining on the cultural significance of the work, and how it carries the weight of the connection between artist, writer, and listener. But also, good wine has deep, curious flavors which defy description. Good music conveys irreducibly complex feelings and ideas, and PDX rapper and multi-disciplinary artist Old Grape God ferments it all together on his latest record, CABERNET SAYER, out now.
CABERNET SAYER is impressively self-produced, with assistance from PartyOnMarz and Janeiro Lockhart. The soundscape is wide, noisy, and rhythmically varied, with everything from a kind of grimy boom-bap on “RIPE” to spaced-out DnB, on “WHAT DID U WISH 4,” and Grape God floats above it all, his delivery keyed more into the flows of thought than the specific metrical demands of any particular flow. His lyrical sensibilities seem perhaps rooted in the laid-back West Coast stylings of Mac Dre, mixed with a bit of the psychedelic vision of Del the Funkee Homosapien, but whatever Grape God is doing, his voice is singularly his own.
To say that Old Grape God is prolific is almost laughable in its understatement of his output. Cabernet Sayer is his 2nd release this year. He’s a painter (he did the album cover) and and embroiderer, and sells his work on his website. But rather than being pulled in different directions by his various outputs, it feels like the raps are an extension of the same energies: visual, gestural, freeform, singular. They also provide a commentary, a kind of behind-the-scenes artists statement to the visual work. As he says on “AER8”:
Hangover making me anxious/
feel a sense of shame even though I didn’t do shit/
I’m just gonna paint through it/
I don’t really wanna make sense/
I just wanna make make rent
One throughline on CABERNET SAYER is mental state of a working artist, the drive to be continually productive, and the anxieties produced by the need to harness that production in service of making money. Another is the warm comfort of a nice buzz. Another is food, and Portland’s often frustratingly hip appropriation and repackaging of various cuisines, as on “PATCH ATOMS”:
They sleep on me like yo mamma’s futon, don’t make spill your momofuku
I ain’t payin’ $26.95 for some ramen with fake wagyu on it
Oh you like kobe beef? Tell me how my ass tastes
In the state where if you throw a fade you catch a case
All the threads come together around Grape God’s central acerbic sense of humor, but it’s all woven together, inseparable as thoughts in a racing mind. Common elements in his paintings include matrices of multicolored squares, little bars, lines in loose grids, patterns where the slight irregularities of each unit force the whole into unexpected shapes that often come to resemble a face looking out at the viewer, and this might be a good way of thinking about his music as well. As grapes and yeast and oak meld together into a full-bodied red, the individual lines and notes sketch out a portrait of the artist, there between the breaks.