By the time Travis Thompson came within a couple packed Econovans of selling out the Showbox — a milestone for Seattle artists — the ink was certainly drier than the sweaty crowd that spent much of that December night hollering the young emcee’s words back to him.
The scrappy DIY rapper had more to celebrate than he was letting on. Though it wasn’t public yet, Thompson had already signed a major-label artist deal with Epic Records, a label within the Sony empire that includes hip-hop stars Future, 21 Savage and Travis Scott (not to mention Fiona Apple, Jennifer Hudson and Washington-rooted indie rockers Modest Mouse). There had been some minor-label interest in the past, but nothing that got more serious than a few emails.
“Once we dropped ‘YOUGOOD?‘ things kinda changed,” Thompson says, referring to last year’s album with producer Tyler Dopps. “People were like ‘Oh [expletive], these kids got something going on over there that we want to be a part of.’”
There were other suitors, he says, but none that seemed as serious or had as deep “an understanding of who I was as an artist.” It didn’t hurt that the A&R rep courting him, Jermaine Pegues, is from Seattle and had kept in touch over the past few years. Also notably, Thompson was able to retain ownership of his masters and continue working with the same Seattle crew — Dopps and fellow go-to producers Elan Wright and Nima Skeemz, manager Shelton Harris, filmmaker Dylan Fout and Thompson’s girlfriend Jenessa Nieto, who helps produce his videos — he assembled while climbing the ranks of the local scene.
“My life hasn’t really changed that much other than I have a better car and my clothes are not so stained and [expletive],” Thompson says. “Everything we do is still pretty ‘us’ and the same, which is what I wanted.”
(Note: This video contains explicit language.)
After releasing his “RUNAWAYS” EP in February, Thompson’s first Epic-backed full-length “Reckless Endangerment” arrives Sept. 20, with the Burien rapper headlining the Showbox again that night, just a few days before his 23rd birthday. Subsequent release shows in New York and Los Angeles are planned, with a more substantial tour still in the works.
Much of “YOUGOOD?” came from a dark head space, delving into the pressure he felt trying to capitalize on some profile-boosting opportunities, like his cameo on Macklemore’s “Corner Store,” which preceded an opening slot on his mentor’s tour and performance of the track on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” That pressure didn’t exactly dissipate after the success of “YOUGOOD?” led to that record deal.
“There were points of making this album where I felt so much worse,” Thompson says, laughing. “I look at some of the stress I had back then and it just feels so small-fry and so minuscule.”
Rather than “wallowing in my own head,” this time Thompson responded by trying to make more uplifting, hard-hitting tracks. While there are more reflective, emotional moments like “The Move” — buttressed by fluttering backing vocals from Seattle R&B phenom Parisalexa — the sometimes puckish emcee raps with a cockier swagger on the murky, G-funk-informed “Dropped Babies” and lead single “God’s Favorite.” Thompson’s more melodic, hook-loving side shines on the Ben Zaidi-assisted “Malice,” with Thompson slipping between quick-spitting bars and lightly sung passages over a soothing, strings-laced beat.
Still, the album’s centerpiece is the cypher-esque heater, “Glass Ceiling,” for which Thompson recruited some of the most venerated local hip-hop artists in hopes of making “the most Seattle song ever.” Over a Jake One and Dopps-produced beat, Thompson spins the mic-passing roulette wheel first before yielding to a searing Macklemore — delivering arguably his fiercest verse, equal parts boastful and reverential, in recent memory — Prometheus Brown (aka Geologic of the seminal Blue Scholars) and Sir Mix-a-Lot. It’s an instant (and intergenerational) Seattle rap classic, heavy on hometown references, that tacitly places Thompson among that lineage.
“Tomorrow, I could drop the wackest [expletive] in the world and we all turn off the Travis Thompson channel in our lives,” he says. “But it feels like when you talk about Seattle hip-hop and what was going on in the scene year by year, you can’t talk about 2017 to 2019, 2020 without bringing me up. That’s the coolest part to me. I still have so far to go, but at least in my hometown, because of that song, I’ve done something that will outlive me.”
Travis Thompson with Adé and Nyles Davis. 9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 20, Showbox, 1426 First Ave., Seattle; $25-$30, all ages; showboxpresents.com