Willi Northside moves at the speed of thought, here and then gone, on his new album, Plant the Damn Seeds. Northside’s second project with Portland producer The Lamp is an airy affair, sprouting in tendrils and blooms from a bed of loosely chopped soul, and reaching up through the clouds of blunt smoke, hazily skyward.
Some rap builds by accretion, and measures itself by the height that it’s able to achieve through the construction of a singular narrative structure. Willi Northside is of a different school, moving in logical jumps, whose success is based on how far his ideas can stretch, while still maintaining their connection to what was said before. On Plant the Damn Seeds, Northside oscillates between urgent intensity and loose stream-of-consciousness, taking clear inspiration from the MIKE, MAVI, and Earl Sweatshirt school of lo-fi indie rap, but staking out his own territory somewhere between Calumet City and cyberspace. It’s in this territory of the mind that boundaries collapse, and he hits his stride, shifting between references and realms as he goes, grounded in the realities of the day-to-day, but always reaching for something just beyond.
“I keep the old me rolled in something that cause cancer, here’s to second chances/got the house smelling rancid/shorty pissed, the closet filled with pampers/grief hit me way after, sip through every bit/Willi molasses, take time while my mind moving like praise dances,” Northside raps on “Expansion,” over a carefree key loop that seems to match that same praise dance movement. The album is full of these kinds of causally poetic meditations, lines that stand out as you listen, and stick in your mind days later, but the vibe remains lightheartedly comedic throughout. The video for the opening track, “San Andreas Willi” shows the signature Northside training regimen, complete with bong rips, jump rope, free throws, boxing, and pushups – all essential to remaining in tip-top rap shape.
For his part, The Lamp’s production facilitates Willi’s stream-of-consciousness flows with a batch of loose loop-based beats, chopped and sequenced by ear, which gives the instrumentals an unmistakably organic feel, evocative of early Madlib, or MF Doom’s production moniker, Metal Fingers. In keeping with that crate-digging aesthetic, vocal samples abound and punctuate the tracks, framing them within the album, and linking each track to the next. The thirteen songs average about two minutes each, for a total runtime of just under half an hour. It’s a brisk album that doesn’t overstay its welcome, and is also clearly crafted to be listened to as a whole
In what will be the third spring of the post-covid world, the album’s titular imperative seems more important than ever–a demand that we begin the cultivation of a future crop, whose fruit (or maybe buds) will sustain us into the future–but rather than attempt to provide us with a blueprint, Willi Northside seems to be asking us to do as he does, to look within for that fertile place where we might plant our own damn seeds, and watch them as they grow.