On the heels of previously Portland-based artists like Aminé and The Last Artful, Dodgr who both found success by relocating and networking in hubs like New York and LA, Portland is still waiting to see who from the local hip-hop scene can blow while remaining here in Rip City.
Fountaine has established himself as one of the city’s most impressive and alluring rappers/producers for the last several years, garnering attention for his electric stage presence and music that includes heavy references to Pokémon and other animé themes. His previous albums, 2016’s self-produced Wisteria and 2017’s H.F.I.L (Hell for Infinite Losers), are packed with gems and vibes (see “Dressed to Kill” and “Pokémon Blue Moon”), and are not the easiest projects to follow-up and outdo. So it’s definitely saying something that Fountaine outdid himself with his new full-length South of Nowhere, released on July 16.
On South of Nowhere, Fountaine offers a variety of flows, and excels over production by Portland favorites C LOS, Weezbeats, and Jumptown (AKA Mulu Habte). The project kicks off with “Duffel Bag Délon (Salt),” where Fountaine repeats a couple of mantras in staccato for the chorus over an ethereal beat: “I”m in my bag,” and “I ain’t got for no bullshit / I ain’t got no time for no haters / All I make is good music / Chasing after that paper.” Previously released single “Finessin” is a catchy, almost cartoony bop.
Other highlights include, well, all of it: the bouncy and racy “Lil B” featuring artists Sotae and Quinn, the extra smooth “Cadillac Blak” featuring King Wess, and “Michael Corleone,” which is produced by Weezbeats and was chosen as a Portland Monthly song of the week. There’s a number of Portland references in the song titles (“Old Town” and “Woodlawn (SULFUR)”, and lots of Portland talent included as features throughout.
Mic Capes hopped on “LCS,” (short for Local Celebrity Syndrome) offering lines like “I don’t get these rappers who got all these egos outweighing their talent / Pay to play niggas who brag about numbers but ain’t really crackin’ / Go play out in traffic.” Capes continues: “Light on the bars and heavy on fashion / rappin for clout but I never hear passion / entitlement strong and humility lacking / big headed niggas be losing perspective.”
The five-and-a-half-minute “Hold the Phone (featuring King Wess)” has a downtempo, melancholy beat laced with saxophone, over which Fountaine mournfully raps about losing family members and subsequently questioning his own identity. “Y.K.W.T.F.G.O.” feels like something you’d want to smoke weed and imbibe to.
A mellow yet overt declaration of Black pride, “1-800 Blakfist (MERCURY)” begins with a jazzy instrumental and a hotline voice over by Samantha Thomas: “Hello, thank you for calling the South Of Nowhere Hotline,” she says robotically. “If you’re calling to finesse, press 1 / If yo’ job got you fucked up, press 2 / If you need your nails done, hair braided, retwisted, crocheted, dyed, or faded, press 3.” Then Fountaine sings a chorus with the perfect amount of AutoTune: “Is my Black the way I laugh / From the deepest parts of me? / Joyful, celebrating life from the deepest parts of me? / Is my Black the way I cry / From the deepest parts of me? / Embracing the pain in life that’s delivered all to me?”
And when it’s time for him to rap, Fountaine spits straight poetic fire: “Your mind is a treasure that they try to discover / An abyss of the thoughts algorithm translates / Strange fruits from trees, Black bodies on knees / With a song from the blood of our queens on repeat / Cast iron comb held from freedom up in his teeth / The African gold’s not the change that you seek.”
Produced by Weezbeats, “Come Thru” diverts into a slow-jammy, 5-minute long R&B affair, although the artist still does a great deal of rapping. Beginning with some rhythmic distorted synth, “Michael Corleone” (also produced by Weezbeats) is a sweet banger in which Fountaine compares his younger self to the titular villain played by Al Pacino in The Godfather. “Grinding on the clock cause I don’t know nothing better.”
Six-minute album closer and major highlight “Woodlawn (SULFUR)” features Ajia the Lion for another hotline-style voiceover. Over a simple guitar riff, Fountaine sings with AutoTune, going on to rap about his childhood and wanting to evolve. “I plan to get richie rich / Break all the bread with my clique / Take my whole family on trips / Give ‘em all jobs / Gon’ buy my momma a house / Get her a savings account / If it’s for larger amounts / I plan to evolve.” At the end of the song he features an endearing clip of his mom singing along to Aretha Franklin’s classic song “Ain’t No Way.”
Fountaine’s colorful and sinewy 15-track South of Nowhere triggers memories of ultra-lit parties like The THESIS at Kelly’s Olympian, where Fountaine performed “Lil B” and repeatedly rapped the infectious line “My lil bitch she’s so sexy (Woo!)” to a rousing crowd response. While Fountaine’s freewheeling single “South of Nowhere Funk” was released prior to the album, the seemingly titular track is actually a standalone song, and is not included on South of Nowhere. However, since Fountaine doesn’t miss once in the project’s near one-hour runtime, the new project doesn’t suffer without it.
More recently, Fountaine followed up South of Nowhere with yet another outstanding project in October, Blue? II, the second installment after 2018’s Blue (Blue Questions). The shade-of-blue-themed album provides even more material for the artist to perform with its 16 tracks. Fountaine’s next live shows will be Thursday, November 4 at The Thesis, a monthly hip-hop showcase at Kelly’s Olympian, followed by a headlining concert on the 5th, also at Kelly’s.
Want to read more music news in Oregon? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!