Genre Bender

Rapper Meets Multimedia Artist: Raz Simone and Justin Roberts

Photo: Raz Simone, left, by Chona Kasinger, and Justin Roberts


Street cred be damned: Raz Simone sees himself as a poet first, rapper second. He came to hip-hop already a grown man at 17 years old, struggling to raise a kid and graduate from college. Back then, Clayton Holman wrote in our 2014 Best New Music issue, “Simone wrote poetry until he realized he was writing raps.”

Now the 25-year-old Seattle native is signed to a multi-album deal with a major indie label and you can hear his flair for deep internal rhymes and dramatic construction in every single he releases. Some are monologues set to rhythm, no fealty given to standard verse-chorus-verse structure. Others are barbed with sharp, radio-ready hooks. Either way, Simone is a force of nature and his music barrels toward deep personal truth.

Justin Roberts is a scenic carpenter and performance artist. He’s built sets for NASA, Ford, NBC and is currently the technical director at the UW School of Drama. In 2009, he was commissioned to build a digitally interactive full-scale section of the Berlin Wall. In 2011 he created SEED, a performance where audiences digitally manipulated the environment of a lunar proto-colony. Last summer he performed a durational piece themed around pagan solstice rite of Kupala and installed a “kinetic sweat-house” at Lo Fi Arts Festival. After attending last year’s Genre Bender extravaganza, he implored the show’s creative director Jennifer Zeyl for a role in the next installment. This year our team wanted to include artists who would make great use of the Playhouse’s enormous stage and technical capabilities. Roberts was a perfect fit. 

Judging from the update Roberts sent a week ago, the pair is embarking on an ambitious endeavor that incorporates live music, spoken word and complex stage production. Context-free excerpts from Roberts’ update:

  • During the car crash I’d like pink dust or particles to “poof” out of the car. I don’t want to make a mess, but it’d be really cool.
  • Generating sound effects for moments of spectacle i.e. car noises, car crash, gold teeth descending, glass breaking, gun fire, very deep bass tones, thunder, etc.
  • I want to use two megaphones on stage. (Anybody have a lead on a megaphone?)
  • I want to use CB radios on stage, still need to determine if it’s possible to send CB signal to a receiver connected to the soundboard.

Intriguing! And hardly the whole picture of what we should expect when Simone and Roberts stage their work for two nights only at Genre Bender 2015 at Cornish Playhouse at Seattle Center on Friday, March 6 and Saturday, March 7. Advance tickets are $20, but they’re $30 at the door. Join us Saturday night and stick around for an after-party with music from DJ Topspin.

Get to know the other Genre Bender duos! 

Photographer Steven Miller and theatrical powerhouse Sarah Rudinoff
Conceptual artist C. Davida Ingram and musician Hanna Benn
Vocalist okanomodé and aerialist Lara Paxton
Poet Sarah Galvin and musician/filmmaker David Nixon