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Image: Tori Dickson

As a kid, Taylar Elizza Beth told her mother she wanted to be one of two things: president of the United States, or a singer. On a Wednesday night last year, bathed in the purple stage lights of the Crocodile’s Back Bar, she had a go at one of those. The crowd was new, but the music had been there since she was young, growing with her until this moment. And when she finally cooed the verses from these songs, the room filled with a smokiness, the fierce stage whisper that would come to be her trademark as a new voice in the Seattle alt-hip-hop scene.

That was May 18, 2016, another coming out in what had been a tumultuous time for the 24-year-old. The mixed daughter of a white single mother, Beth was one of two black students at Shorewood Elementary School, in Burien. She’d always been a performer—theater, choir, dance, spoken word. But her pragmatic mother encouraged her daughters to be practical, plan for the future. So even though Beth grew up writing lyrics in her head while riding her bike around the neighborhood, as an adult she accepted a gig at White Center’s  Cascade Middle School.

“I felt like I was living a double life,” she says of this time, coming to terms with both her sexuality and her anger over the recent police killings of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. “It hit me in the face all at once: I needed a black community. A queer community. I wasn’t living my truest self.”

So in 2016 she quit her job and started taking music more seriously, frequenting shows in Seattle and recording the occasional track. Here she met a self-sustained community of local musicians, like Astro King Phoenix, Guayaba, Raven Matthews, and DoNormaal.

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Taylar Elizza Beth performing at 2017’s Upstream Music Fest.

Image: April Sol

The community was a hodgepodge of gender identities, ethnicities, sexualities, and musical stylings outside of the male-dominated mainstream. “What drew us to each other wasn’t any one label,” explains Raven Matthews. “It was a shared spiritual relationship to creativity.” At events like a weekly writers’ workshop, they saw in Beth a kindred spirit and inspired her to create more music.

Soon after, Beth performed that first show at the Crocodile as part of Home Slice, the monthly hip-hop showcase curated by Matthews and DoNormaal. “It’s a way to give new artists a platform they wouldn’t otherwise have,” says DoNormaal, a California transplant who’s grown a cult following in recent years due in part to these shows. A year later, Beth put out her first EP, Fresh Cut Flowers, self-released on Soundcloud and other streaming platforms, the preferred distribution method for these independent artists. She’s been playing shows ever since.

Fresh Cut Flowers illustrates the time of rapid transformation in which it was recorded. Beth worked with different producers for each of the EP’s five tracks, resulting in a menagerie of disparate musical styles. Minimalist synth waves open the record with a lullaby, which then jumps around between head-bobbing trap beats to autotune hooks straight out of Top 40 radio. The new artist is unburdened by any rule books, trying on different influences; her distinct vocals mark the only through line: a sultry rasp with a performative spoken-word affectation often compared to Macy Gray and Erykah Badu, to Beth’s chagrin.

Before the year’s out, Beth will release a second record—this time working with a single producer, Khris P of the Tacoma-based group IllFightYou. Khris P had to create his own space in an established Seattle hip-hop mainstream—think post-Macklemore college rap—with IllFightYou’s sound more raw than the music that had been drawing local crowds. It’s a contrast he thinks we’ve seen before. “Take the whole grunge movement. That was heavy at the time, more aggressive than what came before. The weird shit is Seattle shit. Don’t forget.”

That’s what Taylar Elizza Beth wants all over her new work. Having transformed from a White Center middle school coach into the artist she’s always been in her head, her throat cleared with Fresh Cut Flowers, she is ready to fully arrive as an artist. “This is my ‘I’m the shit’ moment,” she says. “I’m a black femme queer rapper.”

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