Album Review: Fresh Espresso’s Bossalona

Fresh Espresso have long been the unsung heroes of Seattle hip-hop. In a predominantly Caucasian city where much of the hip-hop scene focuses upon social consciousness and minority awareness, Fresh Espresso provides a welcome respite from the drudgery and pessimism of much of Seattle’s rap. They don’t put out the kind of socially conscious hip-hop we’ve come to expect from the Blue Scholars or RA Scion, and they don’t coast around on the Town’s local pride like many of the rappers from the area. Originally hailing from Michigan, Fresh Espresso’s P Smoov and Rik Rude seem like an unlikely duo, and in previous releases, their differing flows have slightly lowered the overall listenability of their material. Their lyrics are usually somewhat humorous, and their live shows are stuffed full of energetic antics, pelvic thrusts and the hipster aggressive-head-bob. Two years ago, the duo released their first album, Glamour, which went relatively unnoticed outside of their dedicated fan base within the weirder Seattle hip-hop circles, despite its sophisticated production and extremely catchy tracklist.

Last night, Fresh Espresso released a new full-length album, amusingly titled Bossalona. Although I was fortunate enough to see the duo live at Sasquatch almost two weeks ago, where they performed the majority of the new album, I was immediately taken aback by the production quality of the studio recording. Every track on Bossalona was composed and produced entirely by P Smoov, and his production has matured a great deal since Glamour. Smoov mixed and mastered the entire album as well, a skill that further sets him apart from other local hip-hop artists. His samples are sophisticated and smooth, most notably on “You Can Have It” and “Air Brazil.”

Much of Bossalona stays true to Fresh Espresso’s signature goofiness, but the lyrics are certainly far more focused than many of the tracks off Glamour. Although Smoov’s flow still seems to lead the overall feel of the music, Rik Rude’s sound has improved significantly over the past two years. His flow feels more focused and on-the-beat, eschewing his previous tendency to yell at the mic in favor of a calmer, more balanced feel to his verses. Because of this, the two rappers’ verses alternate more naturally and equally, resulting in a more listenable product.

The highlights of the album stem from Smoov’s definitive ability to harness the style of a sample and combine it with his signature heavy bass and compressed drums, crafting a beat that makes the listener move almost involuntarily. “Yommie” is the rebellious saga of someone whose “rock star life” is despised by his girlfriend’s mother, and from the ridiculously weird intro to the catchy hook, Smoov’s sampling ties the track together and drives it forward. Even though the studio version of “Hush” was released back in February (download the single for free here), the track deserves a second look as a part of this album, because although its lyrics aren’t the slightest bit emotionally driven, from a production perspective it’s a veritable work of art. “Lake Michigan” is a tribute to the duo’s home state, giving us our first glimpse into the origins of Fresh Espresso. “Bossalona” samples the Barcelona Sporting Club’s “Si Si Señores” very successfully, tossing in a healthy dose of bass and double-time toms; Smoov throws down a line that is especially poignant in the comparison between Fresh Espresso and the rest of the Seattle hip-hop scene: “Yeah I’m about to put Seattle on the map. And that’s the first time I ever said Seattle in a rap, ’cause that shit’s cliché, and we lookin’ for change.”

One downside to the playfulness that surrounds most of Fresh Espresso’s material is that we rarely get a glimpse into the more personal side of the duo, which is something that often provides the most eloquent and meaningful verses in rap music. Though I love odes to girls, money and fast cars just as much as anyone, I find it especially significant when a musician is occasionally able to express their more vulnerable side. Consequently, “Goodbye My Love” is one of my favorite tracks off Bossalona. Rik Rude is absent from this track, and P Smoov describes his struggles with drugs, depression and relationships over a fantastic sample-rich beat, which includes a subtle melody reminiscent of Eric Clapton’s “Layla.” At Fresh Espresso’s Sasquatch show, Smoov announced to the crowd his six-month sobriety, something that has surely changed his approach to production and performance. However, Smoov isn’t relying on this “transformation” to create his musical personality; he’s simply throwing it in because it brings a certain realism to the album that is a welcome change from the group’s more lighthearted material.

All in all, Bossalona is a great success. It displays Fresh Espresso’s musical maturation while highlighting P Smoov’s masterful production, providing the perfect combination of skill and amusement. If you get a chance, do yourself a favor and go see these guys live, because they put on a really exceptional show. They’re playing Neumos in Seattle this Friday (21+) with Slow Dance and White China Gold, so if you’re from around here, go check them out. Bossalona is available to stream and purchase below.

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