As someone who essentially pioneered live hip-hop in downtown Spokane during the mid-1990s, local rapper Freetime Synthetic has since blazed a trail for Bad Penmanship, an enduring hip-hop collective, and created a legacy for artistry in a culture that hasn’t always been taken seriously in Spokane. Tonight Synthetic is playing a rare headlining best-of set featuring collaborations with long-time affiliates. In this brief Q&A interview, Synthetic, aka Jason Corcoran, talks about how Spokane’s live hip-hop scene has evolved over the years.
IJ: How did you get started in hip-hop in Spokane, being that your band, Upper Class Racket, was pretty much the only act doing it at area nightclubs at the time?
JC: Hip-hop was always a natural deal to pass the time while doing chores or walking to school, but actually performing was kind of a failed attempt at being in a band in high school. By the time I tried to get back into it I realized that I was better at rapping than singing. And the same three fools ended up being in the band (Upper Class Racket). It was a punk band but we rapped. We had that itch to do shows and freestyle (improvisational rap) lended itself so we could play house parties and shows at Ichabod’s without having any written song lyrics. The freestyle made it so we did a whole bunch of shows that were all freestyle except for maybe one song.
IJ: Who did you play shows with then?
JC: The music we were doing was based out of punk, and disco and techno. But we would watch hardcore punk shows of bands we liked, and see girls coming out of the show like, “We can’t even talk in there.” I like the fact that every one of our songs is danceable. If a lady wanted to dance she could dance, and that was important. There wasn’t a hip-hop scene back then. There were bands in bars and people were there to party. Back then you’d play Ichabod’s and play second to a touring band, and maybe get lucky if somebody’s van crashed and you’d get to headline, but it wasn’t like you get three friends together who have bands and play a show … But the whole thing was you’d get different a crowd. Now it’s more segregated by circles and genre and age group.
IJ: What about the Spokane scene these days?
JC: There’s an overpopulation of emcees, which is good, but every clique of rappers is throwing their own shows and at multiple venues and doing their own promotion, and that’s how it should be. It’s all good, but we have the same problem we’ve always had where if you take away all the friends and family and co-workers, there’s not many people left going to shows. Just to get a common stranger to go out and check out a hip-hop show and watch 20-year-old dudes rapping is hard.
I don’t know how long ago other major cities went through this, or if they did, but a lot of people who have moved here from other places are here rapping and everyone can make beats now on computers. In a way, it’s sterilized and watered it down, because everyone is making more mediocre stuff.