For Episode One of THE SNEAKER PROJECT: SNEAKERS IN YOUR CITY, we asked Seattle hip-hop legends Thig Nat and Prometheus Brown (aka Geo Quibuyen) to show us the best that their hometown (which happens to be Nordstrom’s hometown, too) has to offer.
Get a ground-level glimpse of the Emerald City in the short video above, and keep reading for a Q&A with Thig and Geo, behind-the-scenes photos, and a closer look at their favorite spots around town (as well as those sneakers they’re sporting).
Your Seattle tour guides for the day: Prometheus Brown (left)—aka Geo—of hip-hop groups Blue Scholars and The Bar, and Thig Nat (right) of The Physics.
Favorite Spot #1: Alki Beach, West Seattle.
THIG: “I grew up in South Seattle, but after I graduated college at Central Washington University and came back to Seattle, I moved to West Seattle, specifically to Alki, beause it’s always been my favorite neighborhood in Seattle. I love the water, I love the beach, so I was like, ‘I wanna live there.’ I’ve lived here for about six years now. West Seattle is kind of like its own little island. There are spots there that not a lot of people frequent—they’re kind of low-key. I spend a lot of time on Alki, on that strip—running, going for walks, or just hanging out.”
MEN’S SHOP DAILY: So Thig, are you originally from Seattle?
THIG: “I was born and raised in Seattle. First-generation US citizen. Both of my parents were born in Kenya. So I was born and raised in the south end, the Beacon Hill area, before I moved to West Seattle.”
Have you ever been back to Kenya? What was it like?
THIG: “I have. Last time I was in Kenya was in 2010. Most of my family is there, so I can go and spend time with them and see relatives that I hardly ever see. And I get to get back in touch with my culture, which is dope. And the photos are dope. The motherland photos are a whole new perspective.”
Your group, The Physics, just released your fourth full-length album, Digital Wildlife. Can you tell us about the concept behind it?
THIG: “It has to do with the juxtaposition of the two worlds we live in. One is a digital age: cell phones, the internet, technology—we communicate and live our lives digitally, but at the end of the day, we still have these sort of human, animalistic urges and tendencies, and that always stays the same. It’s just played out digitally. So there are recurring themes in the album that have to do with that, and how those things kind of interweave and play together.”
Is that digital/analog theme reflected in how you guys recorded the album, as well?
THIG: “It is. We use a lot of synthesizers and keyboards, and digital pieces and elements. And Pro Tools is the interface we use to record, which is computer-based; it’s digital. Then after that was done, we bounced that through analog tape, to give it that analog characteristic to fit the digital-outlet theme of the album.”
How would you describe the subject matter on the album?
THIG: “We touch on a lot of the topics that we always touch on, which are just kind of being the everyday man. We’re never the guys that are going to jump on a track and talk about ‘driving that new Bugatti’ or like, you know, wearing $1,000 chains and that kind of thing. We talk about things that people can relate to, like having dreams and aspirations, and having bills to pay, and being in relationships and how those relationships are tough. Those are recurring themes, but the foundation of that is great production. I definitely feel like it’s our best project to date.”
How did you first get into music?
THIG: “Back in high school, me and Justo, my partner in The Physics, we just started doing it for fun. We went to O’Dea High School together in Seattle. He got some turntables and started writing raps, and he’d come to school, and he would rap for me what he had written. I would be inspired by that, and I would be like, ‘Oh man, that’s dope,’ so I would try and write raps, too. I would come back to him with some raps at school and be like, ‘Yo, check out what I did.’ So it was this back-and-forth thing that we started just kind of for fun—just writing raps and spitting them for each other, until at some point we were like, ‘We should try and do this on a bigger level. Let’s actually try and make a song.'”
THIG: “…So we kept writing, and we actually got a producer by the name of Vitamin D—a legendary producer in Seattle. He was someone who we always looked up to, and he had a studio at the time called The Pharmacy. We got in his studio, and we started making songs, and that was kind of the beginning. It just progressed from there. It’s one of those things that started out like, ‘Yo let’s do this for fun, and see what happens’—and it turned out that we enjoyed it so much and became good at it.”
Favorite Spot #2: Easy Street Records, West Seattle.
THIG: “When I was young, if I had money from bagging groceries or whatever, a lot of times I’d go to a record store and buy CDs—open them up, read the titles. There’s not a whole lot of that right now, so it’s nice and somewhat nostalgic to be able to go into a record store and grab a CD and look at it, read the back. So Easy Street is a place where I can still do that. And the added bonus is that it has a café attached to it with great food. They have a big vinyl section; I don’t buy vinyl, but they also have a tape section, and I buy tapes every now and then because my car has a tape deck. A couple weeks ago, I picked up Jodeci, Diary of a Mad Man. Which, obviously, I could go online and download it—but having the tape is kinda cool. I got Paul Simon’s Graceland. Those are probably my most recent ones.”
Have you guys been called The Physics since back in high school?
THIG: “The funny thing is, when we started out, a lot of rappers around here were on like a lyrical, spiritual tip—a lot of big words—so our first name was actually The Metaphysics. A couple years after, we decided it was just too long of a name. So we cut it down to The Physics.”
The Physics consists of you, and who else?
THIG: “It’s me, my brother, Monk Wordsmith—he’s about a year younger than me—and then Justo, the producer. So yeah, it’s us three, but when we travel and perform, it’s with a six-piece band. We have backup singers, a trumpet player, a keyboardist, a guitar player. So it’s three core members, but we have an extended family really, which comprises an entire band.”
To create arrangements for a full band—does your producer Justo have a background in music theory?
THIG: “Justo is a really musical guy. He’s the guy that spends hours and hours in the studio—taking guitar riffs, drums, keys, vocals, and all those individual pieces—and spends a lot of time putting those pieces together. Which is one of the reasons that our sound is the way it is, because of his high attention to detail. He does an amazing job with the production. People have come to know us for a certain level of quality of sound. It has to do a lot with how he puts things together. He’s actually a scientist—that’s what he does in his day job—so he approaches making music in a similar fashion, like an experiment.”
What do you hope people take away from your music?
THIG: “I just hope they think it’s amazing music. I hope they’re genuinely impressed by the level of quality of production, and of words and content and skill level. When you listen to a song, you know if it’s good or not. If it grabs you, then it grabs you—and I hope that happens when people listen to our music.”
Favorite Spot #3: Purple Door Studio, Belltown.
THIG: “Purple Door is The Physics’ recording studio, operated by Justo of The Physics and producer Jake One. Our most recent album, Digital Wildlife, was recorded there, and Justo and I are in there all the time working on ideas and concepts for new music. Purple Door is great because it feels like a creative space. Sometimes when you’re secluded in a space with no windows, minimal light, and the bare essentials, you’re just left with your ideas and people around you who are all on the same page, ready to create amazing music.”
Your turn, Geo. How did you first get into music?
GEO: “First, as a fan growing up—I’m an ’80s baby. I grew up on hip-hop music, hip-hop culture, B-boying. I was first and foremost a fan, and once I started hitting my teen years, it was amongst the many modes of expression that I tried out, and it’s the one that stuck.”
What were some of your less successful modes of expression?
GEO: “Like, I was kind of heavy-set—I was a fat kid [laughs], and I would breakdance, but I could only get as far as, like, poppin’ and lockin’. Never could get a full windmill down. DJing—I collected records, but could never afford the actual equipment to do it right. I played musical instruments, but not as well as most of my friends who did it—so I always felt inspired, on one hand, but intimidated as well. It always felt like, ‘Man, I’ll never be as good as them.'”
So, was Blue Scholars your first group, or did you have other music projects before that?
GEO: “Oh man, yeah, there was a bunch. I mean, I’ve put out mixed tapes myself, where I was trying to be a mixed-tape DJ. Cassette tapes—on one side, it would be stuff that I mixed together, blends—and then on the other side, it would be me rapping over instrumentals. And then, I linked up with some producers and made a track here and there, but none of it ever stuck. But yeah, I’d say Sabzi was the first cat who, together, we actually managed to put an entire album’s worth of material together.”
You and Sabzi, your partner and DJ in Blue Scholars, met at the University of Washington. Are you originally from Seattle?
GEO: “My dad was in the military. He’s a Navy man—first-generation Philippine immigrant, and same with my mom. So I was born in California, I’ve lived in Hawaii, went to high school in Bremerton, right across the water from here. But I’ve lived in Seattle now, at this point, for over half my life. So I journeyed around a lot when I was a kid, but my entire adult life has been here.”
What do you like about Seattle?
GEO: “The people. The size of the city. The fact that Seattle is big enough to have a lot of things going on culturally, but not so big that you feel like you get completely lost in it. I think there’s a supportive community of creative people, if you’re in a creative industry—whether that’s music, fashion, food, design. That’s all the stuff that I’m into, so I feel like there’s enough of that going on that it’s very nourishing, culturally. Vibrant, relevant, without it feeling overwhelming.”
What’s the deal with the gallery space upstairs from the recording studio?
GEO: “The building is leased by painter James Crespinel, who used to rent the main floor as Roq La Rue Gallery. He still has a studio in the building, but is currently renting the basement to Purple Door Studios and the main space to Gallery 2312, run by Jonathan Moore, whom we have a working relationship with in the hip-hop scene dating back 10+ years ago. Thig and I held our most recent Rappers w/ Cameras party upstairs at 2312, and we recently used it as a location to shoot The Bar ‘Barkada’ video.”
What other connections do you have to The Purple Door, Geo?
GEO: “Blue Scholars currently runs its merchandise and shipping from there, and we previously shared a studio with The Physics at another location. I’ve done some recording for the latest The Bar album, Barkada, at Purple Door, and Justo of The Physics mixed down the album in the studio. Other times, I’ll just drop in and vibe out with whoever is working on music.”
Why do you like working there?
GEO: “Like Thig said, it just looks and feels like a creative space. The last studio we worked in was good for hanging out and capturing that vibe, whereas I feel like you can really zone out and focus on the music at Purple Door.”
Favorite Spot #4: Eastern Café, International District.
GEO: “I used to work at the Wing Luke Museum just two blocks from here. It wasn’t like this then. Man, it was rough, drug dealers on every corner. I remember coming in to work early so I could get off before the sun went down. But it’s gotten better, obviously. At the time, this building was an abandoned old hotel, and then it became a landmark kind of place—they got some funds to renovate the lobby, put some art up. And just recently, they started allowing businesses to open up shop. The Pinball Museum next door, and the Eastern Café within the last year. There’s always been some resistance to big development coming through, like, ‘Don’t f— up our neighborhood.’ You definitely want it to get better, but it has to be on the terms of the people who live and work here. I feel like the Eastern Café is one of those places that pays homage to the neighborhood and what the building used to be, which is the historic Eastern Hotel. They even kept the name—so I’m all about stuff like that.”
How did your pop-up restaurant project, Food and Sh*t, come about, Geo?
GEO: “Pretty organically at first, even going back to childhood. In our family, my pops is the cook. He taught me from very young how to cook basic, staple dishes, and my mom actually used to hustle food on the weekends, and I would go with her. The same with my wife, her aunt and uncle owned a bakery in the Philippines, and her mom was always baking stuff, so she picked that up. So we were always hosting dinners. Some of our friends do the same thing. We started doing a monthly thing with other people who had lived in Hawaii. We’re always about that home-cooking and trying each other’s dishes. Hawaiian food is like a blend of Filipino food, Japanese food, Korean food—and not in that corny ‘pan-Asian’ kind of way, but in a ‘home-cooked barbecues in the summertime’ kind of way.”
GEO: “…So we were doing that for three or four years. Then, fast-forward to last September: We have a very good relationship with Inay’s on Beacon Hill, which is the oldest-running Filipino restaurant in the city, I believe. My wife and I knew we wanted to host something to celebrate our 10-year anniversary with family and friends. At first, we thought we’d just have it at the house and cook a big meal for everybody, but after Adobo Fest—a cook-off/block party we did with The Station café, with 25 different contestants—we got to talking with the owner of Inay’s, like, ‘What if we took over on a Monday night when they’re closed, and let us come in and do a private party?’ It was pretty much a private event, and we were able to pack the place out.”
And then you decided to keep it going?
GEO: “It was hard work. My respect for people on the kitchen side of the food industry went up tenfold. We really weren’t going to do it again, but some family and friends were like, ‘Hey man, if you do it again, I’ll help out.’ So knowing that we had a team that was willing to do it, we were like, ‘Well sh-t, let’s do it again!’ And now we’ve done six, with a slightly different menu each time. The second one was like Filipino-slash-Hawaiian. Two months ago it was Filipino breakfast. Sometimes we do à la carte, no reservations, just show up. Other times we’ve done pre-set dinners—you pay for your seat, and we’ll bring you three to five courses. Last month, we tried something different, where we hosted but didn’t do any of the kitchen or curating the menu. We had our friend Rahwa and her family come in—they used to run a spot called Hidmo on 20th and Jackson.”
And do the proceeds go to support a certain cause?
GEO: “Yes. The first few we did were to help fund our trip to the Philippines, with a handful of friends who are part of different organizations that do anything from human rights to youth and students to women’s advocacy groups. Fifteen of us, that was a big undertaking. On the third pop-up, the big typhoon happened in the Philippines, so the proceeds from that one went to typhoon relief.”
Favorite Spot #5: Glasswing, Capitol Hill.
THIG: “Glasswing is owned and operated by Sean Frazier, Alisa Furoyama and Forest Eckley. I met Forest a couple years ago, and we vibed well because we shared similar interests in fashion, furniture, decor, etcetera. Back then, Glasswing was an online boutique only, so it’s cool to see it establish a physical presence at a great location on Melrose. I dig Glasswing for a lot of reasons: The aesthetic of the space is very thoughtful, the selection of quality goods is dope, and the people who run it are awesome. I like that they try to keep things fresh by rotating new concepts in the space from time to time, so you may see a seasonal shift in clothing lines, but you also may see a cool installation of some thematic idea that ties into something new they’ve got in the store.”
What’s the origin story of Rappers w/ Cameras, the project the two of you started together?
GEO: “Yeah, what is the story? [Laughs.] Let’s see. It goes back to even before the cameras came in. Future Talk, the first Physics album, came out in 2007. We didn’t know each other at the time, but we knew a bunch of people mutually. When the album dropped, I heard the music before I even knew who made it, and I was like, ‘This is amazing.'”
GEO: “…And then, it just so happened that, about a month after I got the record, Blue Scholars had a show in Olympia, and Macklemore was opening up for us. Somebody dropped out of that lineup, and they had an open slot. We’re all backstage, and Macklemore is like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m bringing my homies The Physics on.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh sh-t, yeah I just heard that record, they’re dope.” And we met that night, backstage in Olympia.”
GEO: “…From there, we started collaborating and doing shows together on the same bill—a track here and a track there, that me and Thig would both be on. And then we found out, from making music together and hanging out with each other, that we would both always be the two dudes in the room with cameras, who weren’t officially photographers. We just had cameras all the time.”
GEO: “…When The Physics moved their studio to the OK Hotel building, there was a creative community out there. There was an art walk every first Thursday—some of the other studios at the OK Hotel, people would just leave their doors open, and people would walk in, and people who didn’t even have studios there would just show up. It was like a hotel party, a studio party. People were walking around with wine glasses from one studio to the next, just meeting random creative people—designers, wood carvers, photographers, people with clothing lines, and other music studios as well.”
GEO: “…So, I think the Rappers w/ Cameras thing started when The Physics had a second unit that they were using for a rehearsal space. When they weren’t rehearsing, it was like this empty, cool, little break room. And I believe it was Thig’s idea. He was just like, ‘Yo, we should just print some of our photos up, and put them on the wall for the next art walk.’ Not thinking it was going to be a regular thing—we walked into other people’s studio where they were doing that, right? And we were like, ‘We could do this.’ And I think we also saw that, like, people were buying them! People were just randomly walking in with wine glasses—we’d be there, and they’d be like, ‘I wanna buy that.’ So I think we thought we were going to sell some photos. [Laughs.] We thought it was that easy to be like, ‘Yo, let’s just frame these sh-ts, put ’em on the wall, offer people free drinks, and…I remember I sold one photo. One unframed photo, for like 30 bucks.”
GEO: “…Anyway yeah, we had fun. The first one was just like 90% friends and 10% random people walking in and out. That was early 2010. And we’ve kind of done it seasonally, like once a season more or less, since then. The latest one was last November at the 2312 gallery space we were just at. For a year and half, we did it out of our shared studio—the Blue Scholars/Physics studio that used to be in SODO, up until about a year ago.”
Favorite Spot #6: Oddfellows Café + Bar, Capitol Hill.
THIG: “I have an appreciation for a certain aesthetic, and Oddfellows has it. It has an old, sort of industrial feel to it—the high ceilings, the brick walls, the steel, the old frames. It’s just a very sort of classic look. And they’ve done it really well without over-doing it. It’s a cool place to come and hang out, or go to happy hour, or meet a friend for lunch. It’s one of those places that you just like being there.”
When’s the next Rappers w/ Cameras event?
GEO: “We were actually just talking about that. TBD. But soon. We initially aimed for March, but a bunch of stuff came up. So yeah, I’m thinking definitely spring for sure. Spring 2014.”
Is it usually just the two of your guys’ work each time?
THIG: “That’s what it has been so far, is our work. But we love to talk about expanding it to have other artists contribute too, which we’ll probably do at some point pretty soon. Definitely.”
‘Rappers w/ Cameras’ is such a great name—very direct. What are your goals with it?
GEO: “When we first started, it was just an excuse to hang out. Then, secondarily, there happens to be some of Thig’s and Geo’s photos on display. Then, a bunch of other folks started showing up with their cameras. It became like, ‘Yo, bring your camera’ night. So there are many different directions we can go with it. I think collaborating with other rappers with cameras, or people with cameras—showcasing their work. We’ve come out with a ‘zine. We’re on our third ‘zine coming up, which we’re hoping to expand even more.”
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[Photos from the vintage Hasselblad that Geo periodically whipped out
throughout the day. Click each image to enlarge.]
— — —
Push Play. Here’s an abbreviated selection of songs from the expansive
libraries of Thig Nat and Prometheus Brown:
A taste of The Physics’ new record, Digital Wildlife—including the lead single (left) and opening track (right). The soundtrack to our sneaker video up top is a song called ‘Polychrome,’ also off the new album. Download it here: Digitial Wildlife.
Blue Scholars take their own tour of Seattle neighborhoods (left) and enter a samurai showdown feat. Thig Nat of The Physics (right). Check out Prometheus Brown’s latest project here: The Bar.
SHOP ALL: THE SNEAKER PROJECT
[Styling by Danny Mankin. Sneaker video by Carrie Robinson; assistant Dave Hayes; edited by Sean Dutton. Black & white photos by Prometheus Brown. Color photos by Thig Nat, Angela Sumner, Carrie Robinson and Justin Abbott.]