The playful Burien rapper gets serious on his darker, more personal new album, produced by fellow Macklemore affiliate Tyler Dopps.
Travis Thompson is officially taco-shop famous. Which makes sense for a guy fresh off his network television debut and his first-ever tour playing sold out “big-ass theaters” each night with his red-carpet famous friend and mentor, Macklemore.
Before settling into a luxuriously spacious booth at an Ambaum Boulevard taqueria to reflect on those recent wins and, of course, mash on some tacos, the young rapper catches the eye of a fellow taco enthusiast.
“Man, you’re really out there putting Burien on the map, huh?” he says to Thompson.
“I’m trying man, thank you,” Thompson replies before returning to the spread.
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Even before the feature on Macklemore’s single “Corner Store,” which led to Thompson performing the song on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” rocking his signature Ambaum hoodie, the 21-year-old teen-poet-turned-rapper had been making noise in the Seattle scene for a few years. But things changed (well, sorta) after those whirlwind few months that gave him a healthy profile boost, and Thompson came home to regroup and focus on his new album, “YOUGOOD?” released last month. He celebrates with a sold-out Neumos show on Friday, June 15.
After the Macklemore tour, which he calls an incredible learning experience that gave him a new confidence on stage, Thompson felt like he was back to square one. With the increased visibility, he says some people gave him the big-shot treatment, looking at him in a different light, even though he felt like the same kid from Ambaum who recently lost his job at a preschool and was hustling to make it in the music biz. The discrepancy between how people now perceived him and how he viewed himself gave Thompson “impostor syndrome,” he says, making him feel like a fraud who wasn’t who everyone else thought he was.
“Some months I’m doing great,” he says later, back on his front porch — he and his manager’s de facto HQ, where blunts are smoked and business decisions made a few yards from a rusty basketball hoop. “And then some months I have, like, $80 in my bank account and I’m taking pictures with kids, and I feel like a dumbass.”
It was as much the growing pains of a rapper leveling up as it was the anxiety he’s always dealt with in some form creeping into his head at the most inopportune time. After tour, it was time to get serious about the album, but he wasn’t having the same “creative fun” he had writing his more playful “Ambaum” mixtape. Instead, he questioned himself with every bar, over-analyzing how it would be received and worrying it wasn’t good enough. Self doubt took over, questioning whether he deserved his success, and he became enslaved to an internal pressure to not squander his momentum and come through for those who invested in him.
Some days he’d hardly get out of bed, skipping meals while playing beats on repeat and smoking too much weed trying to escape his self-awareness, which only made it worse. Fruitful writing days were invigorating, but the unproductive ones were devastating, making him irritable with friends and family.
“My headspace was just not the best,” Thompson says, focused on the afternoon blunt he’s rolling on the porch table. “I was really anxious and depressed. … I knew from the jump I didn’t want to make a happy-ass collection of songs that are about me and my friends just smoking weed, bullshitting. I wanted to tell a story.”
Largely sidestepping hip-hop’s traditional fake-it-till-you-make-it bravado and his self-deprecating humor, Thompson opened up about his mental-health rut. The first track he cut with producer pal Tyler Dopps, a member of Macklemore’s inner circle who worked on “Gemini,” was the moody trunk-knocker “Joyride.” It starts innocuously enough, but swerves to the dark side on the second verse, as Thompson cops to feelings of inadequacy and those self-medicating weed hits when he’s creatively stifled.
It quickly set the tone for a darker, more personal album that touches on depression, flashes back to his father’s bout with cancer and rejects antidepressants. Despite some of the heavier themes, “YOUGOOD?” doesn’t sink to emo-rap’s faddish lo-fi despair, thanks to Dopps’ rich production and Thompson’s fierce bars and strong, earwormy hooks that stop short of cloying — one of his biggest strengths.
Eventually, enough creative breakthroughs helped Thompson pull out of his funk, as he made tangible progress on the impressively cohesive record. Selling out Neumos, notably about a month in advance, also helped with that impostor syndrome. And while those negative emotions greatly shaped “YOUGOOD?” there are happy moments, too. Like in spry opener “Peace” when he recalls a post-tour look from his proud father, who grew up traveling back and forth between White Center and a poor Navajo reservation in Arizona, and became the first in his family to go to college.
By the time Thompson got home from the airport, his father — a baker and avid writer who works overnights — had already left for work. The next morning his dad walked in the house, flour dusting his all-white uniform, and held Thompson by the shoulders, examining the fresh tattoos on his son who was making his dreams come true. “You’re crazy,” his dad lovingly told him.
“When he saw me, it was a proud moment,” Thompson recalls. “Like, (expletive). I never thought it would go like this. This is not where we thought it would end.”
Travis Thompson. 7 p.m. Friday, June 15; Neumos, 925 E. Pike St., Seattle; sold out.