Sound Seekers by Fateema Sayani is published weekly at OttawaMagazine.com. Read Fateema Sayani’s culture column in Ottawa Magazine and follow her on Twitter @fateemasayani
Devin Atherton is a white boy from the Ottawa ‘burbs. He’s pushing 30 and is preoccupied with human foibles — his and others’ — and the big question of how to make his impact on the world. He works it all out in rhyme as he has done for nearly a decade through the albums released on his imprint, Vinyl Tap Records.
The rapper’s newest album is called No Threat (an anagram of his last name) and is a warts-and-all confessional of fine rhymes delivered with dry wit and a bit of an aw-shucks softness.
He’s created his own brand of sorts. The album art for No Threat is a drawing of a toothless lion, and over the past few weeks, Atherton has photographed nearly everyone he’s encountered wearing the faux-fur lion head shown in this picture. It’s an exercise in hype-building. Atherton has been plastering the internet with the lion photos, promotional videos, and advance tracks, such as this one: soundcloud.com/atherton.
Atherton’s sculpted sentences are funny, referential, brutally honest, and in places, vulgar. Overall, No Threat is an album full of humming, perceptive tracks that paint a portrait of a guy who’s self-deprecating, sweet, mean, confused, forward-looking, and reflective. Here’s someone who shows his dimensions.
I think the word verisimilitude works here. Now rhyme that with something: attitude, amplitude, complicated dude — they all apply when you’re trying to paint a picture of someone who is deeply affected by all the in-betweens of existence — and weed.
Atherton gave up the spliff when he was 20 and spent four months in rehab. He told me so. He’ll tell you, too, when he performs the track “Kid on the Corner” (www.atherton.bandcamp.com/track/kid-on-the-corner-2) at his CD release show this weekend. That song is a four-minute biography about smoking his first joint, finding his rap chops (“the fake funk” of MC Hammer lit a fire), and his upbringing in Orleans (middle of three, “child of Tony and Maureeeeeeeeen!”).
Happy beats and shout-outs to the parents give way to a darker side on “Hate Her Face,” an ugly, misogynistic song.
“It’s where I spit some verses saying women are horrible, I’ve been hurt, and [therefore] should treat them all as sex objects,” Atherton says. “I went through that and spent some time doing that.”
So, do you feel like a pig saying that?
“It was something I’ve thought — to put it in a song doesn’t mean it’s my everything,” he says. “I never convinced myself that women were that thing, it was just that love was not going to happen and the concept was broken for me,” he says. “There was a long period of running around and sowing my wild oats. I spent a year of celibacy after that. It didn’t really change much. I don’t think I became a better person for it. And it was easy, because I was living in my parents’ basement.”
He’s still working the whole love thing out. “I don’t know where I stand now in terms of relationships and what the future will hold.”
He’s also combing through the trials and tribulations of the music industry in the song “Jacob’s Ladder.” Says Atherton, “You always think you’re getting somewhere and you fall back to the bottom.”
So is there value in working all this stuff out aloud? Is it a question of uniting humanity by airing things other people might be thinking, or are these songs pure self-indulgence?
For Atherton, brutal self-honesty is a mirror — or to put it in rap speak: “You’ve got to half convince yourself, you’re not bluffing and ask yourself what you know about nothing.”
That’s how he says it down on the title track. Translation: don’t lie to yourself and get your problems off your chest, that way they become No Threat.
Atherton’s album release party takes place Saturday, May 19, at Ritual Nightclub, 137 Besserer St., 9 p.m. With Homebased, Babble Goons, DJ So Nice, and The Joynt. $7.
Also on Saturday. The Ottawa Rock Lottery. Details via The Weekender.
Same night: The Shakey Aches will play the Dominion Tavern. They spin out crazy psychedelic rock. More on their style from this previous Sound Seekers post.