Toward the end of “Cinematography,” a song off his new EP RSE GLD, Porter Ray likens his friend’s 30-shot extended clip to a pack of Mambas. This detail, simultaneously cynical and innocent, hints at the Seattle-born rapper’s central theme: a childhood hammered into a tenuous state of survival.
Ray engages the violent forces around him in order to digest them. He writes with rare selflessness, equally comfortable as narrator, protagonist and side character. At 25 years old, Ray didn’t seriously consider rapping until 2009, when his younger brother was murdered. With RSE GLD and its companion WHT GLD—the dual-EP follow up to his debut BLK GLD—a natural-born rap writer is ready to tell his story.
Ray stacks active-verb snapshots to form a wide-angle view of the early-onset adulthood facing him and his peers. His firmly structured flow is more vehicle than destination, its strong, consistent template allowing space for narrative detail. Production, handled by a committee of seven beatmakers, plays the billowy background, propped on lush, emotive soul samples. Ray’s youthful voice belies his nuanced note-taking on life in his Central District neighborhood.
Ray illuminates a haunting, accelerated adolescence where teens miss Little League games, pop pills and carry pistols. He remembers “dealers at all his playgrounds” before asserting that “killers are teenagers.” As he magnifies these juxtapositions—lemonade turns to whiskey, baseball games become police chases—he’s sifting through maturity and beginning to understand it.
His identity takes shape in pieces. On “Delta 88,” he recounts being born to a white father—“not the average white man”—and an “olive brown” mother. Then, on “As Pages Turn Left,” he notices all his “white friends living wealthy” while his black friends “are getting shot.” Ray positions himself as an observant center, literally and figuratively, between the two. He later mentions the loss of his father while his mother remains present, sipping chardonnay, managing expectations.
In his relationships, too, Ray explores a wide-eyed wistfulness and a discerning maturity. “Black Cindy Crawford” lusts after a lost infatuation. His superlatives romanticize a girl he’s lost as only a young person could. But the beautiful “Get Ur $ Luv” depicts a complicated relationship of mutual support in which Ray visits a female friend in prison, cries with her and, upon her release, urges her to stop “sniffing nose candy.” This encouragement is the vibrant undertone of the EPs: Ray begins to translate experience into wisdom, wisdom into advice.
This transformation shines most on “Pavement,” when Ray meets a young man he describes as “14 with a .40 cal.” He asks him questions about his family; he listens. To the boy who grows “the nails on his pinkies out,” he offers no answers. He hopes only to “give him something he could think about.” Here and elsewhere, Ray’s concern for his people is fluid, expressed through dialogue and observation. He doesn’t moralize; he relates.