Every year record labels sign and release an assortment of albums, as each one vies for attention, touting the next breakthrough artist. But it doesn’t always happen. Many labels show a disparity of artists while only a few have created organic & familial communities, rearranging the diaspora of musicians and emcees who generally haven’t found places to fit. Over the past decade or so, no other label shouts community more than Fake Four Inc., the label founded by brothers David and Ceschi Ramos, specializing in “experimental Hip-Hop, indie pop and anything else” they may like. Truth is, the label has no genre limits and takes chances where others probably wouldn’t. The fact is that the Ramos brothers have built friendships with the artists, building strong rapports on a different level altogether.
Back in 2012, the label began dropping releases throughout the month of ‘Freecember,’ which all began after receiving a demo by Canada’s Yes, Yes Hobbyhorse. It was David’s idea that was nourished, showcasing new and sometimes established artists releasing new material anyone is able to purchase, naming their own price, many times equating to $0 or ‘free.’
This year things have been different, and while the label continues to offer releases, the first, Sleepless In Seattle, by California heady emcee SB The Moor & Seattle by-way-of San Antonio beatmaker Progeny (CHISME). With clear and concise rhymes, SB The Moor covers every space offered up by Progeny and his psychedelic beats. SB makes decisive moves over these tracks that are filled with more than enough bap over the boom. Freecember is kicked off strong, right out of the gate.
Progeny: “We are happy to finally put this Ep out into the music universe. I remember recording this Ep. With Sb the Moor and like he has said “He was going through it? I ended up taking him to Snoqualmie Falls, WA. And telling him “I’m going to take you to the Twin Peaks Waterfall. This is where I let my mind wander around and try to get my frustrations or any other negative experience out of my mind” (Which I hoped helped him out) Shortly after that, we got home, and I showed him some beats that I had made. He had laid down on the floor in my studio and Sb. started writing to the beats. Once he was done with each track. He would be like “Alright. let’s record this track” it was a great experience to record Sb and work with artists like himself to see how they do stuff in the studio. I did note one thing down that his vocals were great to mix as I am always learning to mix with artists. He literally would do one takes and then move to his dubs and adlibs and we just kept it moving along till we finished the Ep. A few years had passed by, and the finished product sat in my hard drive. I had shown Ceschi the finished and Mastered Version once when he was out here in Seattle. I was picking him up from the airport. He had said that he would like to put this out on a Freecember sometime, finally, we are very happy & grateful to Ceschi and Fake Four inc. for all the support and giving us an opportunity to finally get this out. We hope to put out another ep or maybe full-length soon. But only time will tell. For now, have a listen to Sleeping in Seattle. Download it for free or donate what you like. Please don’t forget to listen to the other artists that are on this year’s Freecember.”
The following week saw the release of Keyring by Boston’s Sweetcreem. It’s a delicate 3-song pop concoction created using a computer and what Sweetcreem says are “a lot of found sounds.” Songs are sometimes dense and thickly layered so much that with every listen there’s something different you find within. You’ll realize that’s usually in just one song and as soon as you move to the next, there’s something else littered across, intriguing, whispering, and enticing you. Sweetcreem’s voice is unique and inviting, leaving listeners wishing for more.
Sweetcreem: “I hadn’t released any music since Hawkholm in 2019, which was a response to a really horrific tragedy. I had been writing but not releasing, and Ceschi, who is a dear and loved friend, asked that I release an EP for Freecember. I wrote what was happening – a climb out of a deep hell driven by necessity and sheer force of will. The EP is effectively a diary of the last year of my life, titled Keyring for the tools used. I don’t usually like to be so plain about my inner workings publicly, but I hope people who listen to it can feel the same drives in the dark and find their will to get somewhere better, or at least simply feel un-alone. Sometimes that’s what you need first.“
Up next the following week is the Glad To Be Alive EP by Brook Pridemore. The Brooklyn musician strums his guitar, occasionally filling it with fuzzed-out effects. That’s what we get on the 5 tracks here, a lazy drifting affair that’s infectious in its sometimes driving energy and layered instrumentation. Pridemore also includes a cover of Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979,” a band, and even a song, that many deny but remains a guilty pleasure for most. It may not be recognizable at first but it becomes clear.
Brook Pridmore: “March 2020, I was finishing a tour and working on an album that I wasn’t sure about. The songs were fine, and the recording sounded good, but it felt a little like more-of-the-same. I had tread this ground before. Lockdown was a backhanded gift I didn’t know I needed. I wrote thirteen songs in a little over a month. Same thing every night: I’d sit up in bed at 3 am with a little melody or word in my head and have to run downstairs to my guitar and work it out. Over time, it became apparent the songs needed to be fleshed out, full dance arrangements, and that’s where producer Ben Hozie came in. Where my last album had been a mostly solo affair, he handled about half the parts on these sessions. Turns out I don’t have to do everything alone. Fake Four’s Freecember is a cool way to show the first couple of these tracks to the world. Ceschi suggested a few years ago I try to make some music geared toward Fake Four’s style. I’m not a rapper. I’m still not a rapper. Maybe I’ll be one, later. But this music, through an unintended and circuitous route, is my idea of Fake Four-style music.“
Earlier this year witnessed the passing of Ross Norton, the talented emcee most knew as kidDEAD, out of Nashville, TN. Death isn’t something that’s ever on top of mind, but it always remains and is never expected. For the fourth installment of Freecember it’s kidDEAD’s posthumous release, Cave Paintings., produced by his Imaginary Friends podcast host & friend, One Werd.
It’s odd listening to Cave Paintings, the final collection of songs by kidDEAD simply because with One Werd’s beats, the images the album paints through these tracks are larger than life. One might believe it’s hyperbole but bear with me for a moment, please. From beginning to end, the tracks are sonically ambitious and hit hard at every turn, accentuated by tongue-twisting rhymes. But we all hear his struggles throughout, beginning with “Awake But I’m Not Here (feat. OneWerd),” where he mixes in lyrics around culture, political dramas, and wrestling with his own issues as OneWerd follows his lead, blending words around the same motif.” It’s quickly followed by “BFAA” where the duo is joined by everyone’s favorite anarchist Sole. Over larger than life backdrop, the three blend their words seamlessly, the hook itself “I don’t want to live in this world forever, holding onto scraps/I don’t want to live in this world forever, getting shot in the back” sets the tone as the emcees rage and breath fire into the song itself. Songs hold a hefty weight to them throughout, but it’s balanced with sweet melodies, much like on “The Highs (feat. Squalloscope & Swordplay).” Squalloscope provides sweet cooing melodies with a verse of her own while Sword and kidDEAD volley their rhymes to one another. “More Than (feat. Ceschi)” includes additional flurries of melody as well where a sense of dread with its honey-coated wording & phrases. While these songs cut deeply, it’s those tracks where we find kidDEAD alone that he seems most powerful.
On the title track we get a strong feel on the difficulties & struggles that went through kidDEAD’s mind, body, and spirit. There’s no room for melancholic banter, he lays it all out, clear and direct. It gives us more of an understanding as to who he was. “Dead Man’s Lake” seems to expound on the last offering as death looms throughout his words as OneWerd’s beat hits much harder here but not so in-your-face, allowing the artist’s emotionally charged lyrics to take precedence. With “Glow,” his words offer hope; grappling to find the light within the darkness or literal meaning which is what everyone aspires to. Or at least should attempt.
Cave Paintings offers so much more as well, with additional features by Woolsee and Adder who accentuate the album with their lyricism as well. Closing out this year, this could have been the album to push kidDEAD over the top. Its grandeur, its magnificence is felt from beginning to end.
OneWerd: “Pretty much as soon as kidDEAD and I met we started talking about working on some music together. We had ideas for a couple of different projects but decided to start with a solo album from him over a batch of beats I had created while I was producing Timeless. Ross had pretty expansive professional and social circles, so it was pretty easy for him to pull together a group of fire features, and the project started to materialize pretty quickly. At some point, the lines started to blur on whether this was strictly production collaboration on my part, and Ross decided to include a few stray tracks we had dog-eared for a later rap collaboration between the two of us. The only track that Ross didn’t give prior approval for on the album was “Imaginary Friends”, which was based on a beat we had saved for our other project. I had forgotten that I had the verse he had sent me for the track a while back and decided to finish the song and include it, figuring he had already approved all the collaborations we had that he knew of. In the course of a year or two, a pandemic, working on a podcast together, struggling with difficult mixes, and Ross starting a new career, there were definitely some bumps along the way. At one point it even seemed like the project might not come out… Ross and I had gotten deadlocked about mixes, the pace of our progress, and all the other various complications that come up when collaborating. It’s strange to look back on all of that and realize that this might have never happened. Considering that after losing Ross is particularly strange… the things that bring people into our lives, the petty details that can get between us, and how stories just come to an end have all taught me how delicate our relationships are. About a week or two prior to his passing, Ross and I had a phone conversation after a period of relative quiet between us. I’m grateful beyond words for that call. We were able to talk about some of the things we had been going through and decided to continue on with this project and the podcast. He sent me the final files immediately after, and I remember feeling really grateful that we were still friends, and excited and hopeful to be looking forward to the work we were going to continue doing together. It was strange to listen to those files later, as well as watch the music video for Cave Paintings that Ross made with his friend Emerson. Hearing and seeing him say things I’d never heard from him before felt like being able to have a conversation with my friend again for a few brief minutes. His voice alongside those of our comrades on these songs brings back the same camaraderie we’ve shared on stages, at bars, in living rooms, and in recovery rooms all around the world. It reminds me of the joy kidDEAD brought to all the friends, fans, and comrades that got to participate in his journey. I frequently think of how I might feel differently if I hadn’t gotten that final call from Ross. Knowing that the final words and moments of our friendship were full of hope and creative inspiration is something I’ll be forever grateful for. I’ll always think of this project as a parting gift from my friend, and a final lesson on how precious and delicate those bonds of friendship are. I hope you enjoy our work.