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Put away your preconceptions of what you may consider "West Coast Rap". Seattle's own Silent Lambs Project have released an album that defies the normal hip-hop descriptions and have put out a very heartfelt effort with "Soul Liquor", their latest release. Not being well known in NYC's rap scene, I was happy to get the chance to talk face-to-face… or, well, phone-to-phone with the Northwest emcees, Blak and Jace.

As former solo artists in the Seattle underground, they came together while performing at the same talent show. They realized that they could really have something as a collective, spawning the Silent Lambs Project. Their rhyme style is as hard to pin down as their name; deserving more than just a close listen and demanding your attention. Getting a chance to open for much-respected Philly supergroup "The Roots" has given them a shot at nationwide recognition and tour dates are planned. Hopefully a close examination of SL Project will put an end to that unfriendly saying among visiting rhymers: "Seattle don't wanna battle."

Maybe it'll change to "Nobody wanna battle Seattle"?

So... Silent Lambs? Explain.

Jace: The name came from the fact that we do a lot of reading, we do a lot of research, we do a lot of living. Our best quality is that we add to hip-hop with our voices. We wanted to get away from the image of just being emcees, so we came up with the name "Silent Lambs Project" to signify that this is the silent messenger's work at hand.

How did you come together? I noticed that you've done solo projects, so what made you decide to pool your talent?

Blak: Our styles were are different as day and night. Jace ran on beats, or runs over beats as I like to call it, whereas my style was more offbeat. I still am... our styles were very different when we started. That's part of the reason we hooked up... Jace came to me, we were auditioning at the same talent show, and he said "peep this shit", I said it was tight, and he told me about this thing he wanted to start called the SL Project."

What was the theme of "Soul Liquor"?

Blak: You know how when people get drunk, they get in a stupor? How it's evident to everyone around you that you're in a daze? Soul Liquor is something that came from our soul... some of the songs, we got the beat and it was like "boom", it just came together… some other songs we had to be in different spaces to write. The effect it had on us… listening to it; it made us punch drunk. We used to get offended when we'd finish a show and people weren't moving… like they weren't feeling it. But as they came to know the words they started moving. So we called it Soul Liquor, because the effect was like getting drunk.

Jace: Heartfelt emotion is seeping from our souls. It was pretty easy. It was more than just "Let's name this album this"… the name was almost bestowed upon us.

I've noticed a spoken word sort of style in your lyrics. Is that what you go for?

Jace: I look at it more as a conscious/subconscious than a spoken word style. I think Blak more gets into your subconscious, and I'm more ground level. The balance is where it becomes like spoken word… you're getting your conscious and your subconscious together and that makes it feel like you're listening to poetry or a spoken word.

Blak: A lot of MCs get by on their diction… their cadence. Once you break down what they're saying… it's absolutely not shit. We made a conscious effort to avoid that. We have this thing we do called jousting… it's like a verbal battle between us. We only do it when the crowd is really understanding what we're saying.

Jace: We try to stay away from the mainstream way that people do things. A real rhythmic delivery is nice, but we prefer our words to be heard and understood.

The track "House of Respect" has a chorus that sounds so chaotic, and it's part of the reason I bring up the spoken word style…

Blak: That was done purposely. Nothing we do is accidental… except when we write joints that accidentally blow your wig… Everything we do is strategic.

What do you like to listen to? I'm not so much talking about influences, but what kinds of music or artists do you put on?

Blak: Jace loves to listen to some old soul… I definitely listen to a lot of reggae and old soul. I don't really listen to a lot of the new rap… it's all monotone. It's all the same… sometimes I'll put on some new SL joints… some shit that ain' nobody heard yet. Not to sound arrogant, but I can't get into a lot of the emcees today. I like the Outkasts of the world… the Mos Defs of the world…

What's the song writing process?

Jace: There's no definite process for us. We don't sit down and say "Let's write a song today." It's like: how do I feel today, what do I think today? I will say this: working with Blak has opened me up to writing different types of music.

Blak: Most cats out there try to write in this verse, verse, hook style that I could never really understand. For me it's like: write until the thought is done and then write the hook.

How's the hip-hop scene out in Seattle?

Jace: It's a real fresh scene out here. There are a lot of young cats coming out now… I don't like to break it down, because it is what it is to different people. There are a lot of different elements involved. The thing is, here you're dealing with a smaller base here than other cities. Seattle is a little younger in respect to hip-hop; regardless of how long we've been doing it. Underground in Seattle is REALLY underground… it's not like you'll come into Seattle and you'll say "Where's the hip-hop?"

Blak: They'll say something like: "Downtown?"… they don't really know. A lot of cats come up here, man… it's for more than just the weed. We definitely got a scene.

Jace: Cats love to battle. A lot of times people come up here and forget that, so you get a lot of emcees getting called out. Most of the time they don't step up to the challenge… I don't understand that. And every emcee that comes through here says the same thing: "Seattle don't wanna battle"… (Blak starts laughing) in all their raps… Jeru the Damaja, Ras Kass, all these cats…

Blak: Except for (Roots' lead vocalist) Black Thought. He didn't say that shit…

How did you hook up with the Okayplayers (Roots, Common, D'Angelo, Jazzeefatnastees)?

Jace: The Okayplayer thing came off our doing shows… we'd just won album of the year in Seattle, an accomplishment on it's own. That was not political in anyway, it was a people's award. So before we did a show with Dilated Peoples, and so on… and through our staff and our people we just got a show with the Okayplayers.

Ok… wrapping up, do you see hip-hop sinking under the weight of all the money and shit?

Blak: Cats go through phases. Some cats start off following for a long time. Now we got the Bling-Bling shit. Before that it was the Gangsta shit… the tight shit has never been on top. There's always been an underground of poets, an underground of storytellers all the way back in history. We've never been the ones walking down the street bling-blingin'. The underground is the foundation; it's here to stay. There's no way for hip-hop to sink… there are too many wordplayers out here for this shit to go away.

Jace: If you're truly creative, you're going to go off what you've experienced. If you go off what you've experienced, then you can't be put into a box. There's no way.

Visit the Silent Lambs Project at: http://www.slproject.com


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