The best part about Neema's moniker, Unexpected Arrival, is that, unwieldy though it may be, it's accurate. The only kind of rapper you'd expect would be worth checking out from Seattle's suburbs (my home, might I add) would rap against party lines, rage against the strip malls, and try to play the "conscious rap" game. All other rappers, you'd assume, would be too caught up in pimping out their Civics and selling skimpy sacks to write a decent rhyme. You'd never expect this place to produce a man with his eyes set on the pop charts, his ears tuned to 106 and Park, a child of the gloss-hop renaissance who actually believes in honest grind and hustle. Somebody forgot to tell Neema that pop-rap fans are supposed to think rapping is a gift, that careers come easily to those fly enough to handle them. Somebody forgot to tell Neema that kids from the suburbs are supposed to be lazy idiots.
Making noise since 2000, Neema dove headfirst into the thankless and humiliating world of trying to be taken seriously as a rap artist at a young age. Early UA records drip with the uncertainty of an emcee who knew what he wanted, yet didn't know how to get there. Everything was ripe to be hated: the faux militaristic stomping, the overreaching sexuality, the half-baked self-aggrandizement of those drinking cocksure swagger from a force-feed firehose. But as he walked through the fire, Neema did something that cannot be taught or praised enough: He took criticism like a man. The halls of history herald the hard-headed, and Neema was running into walls from the start. But slowly, surely, he dragged himself from venue to venue, parking lot to parking lot, handing out flyers, hustling up guest spots, playing bills that matched him horribly with other performers, wallowing in lukewarm reception and under-appreciation. All the while, he was putting everything he had into canvassing the unbelievable sprawl that runs from Everett to Renton, darting in and out of Seattle as he built his name through that pillar of American entrepreneurism: grit.
Though he was the butt of a joke that never went away, haters started to notice that Neema, unexpectedly, was not bowing out of the Sea-town rap game. He was, apparently, down for the ungraceful exit, ready to be forced out of hip-hop, hated into the ground, run off the stage. The early 2000s were Neema's show-and-prove time, and somewhere along the line, people started to notice that he actually had some talent. His rapid-fire flow, so derivative of Do or Die bumpin' Lid's shopper's CD collections, was evolving into a thing of beauty, a weapon even. He began to show real versatility on the mic, writing songs that showed a vulnerability that made him stronger in the long run. Suddenly, he sounded less like a poser, rapping in the mirror to convince himself that he could do it, and more like a man comfortable with the mic. Then there were the guest appearances.
My Life for Sale caught serious wreck for featuring Twista, a living legend; Kurupt, member of seminal West Coast group Dogg Pound with an illustrious solo career; Dylan ("Da Band" kick-out famously parodied by Dave Chappelle); and that Wingo guy from Jagged Edge (remember them? C'mon ...). What? Where did these guys come from? Well, folks, that's what happens when you are actually good at rapping and trying your hardest to get noticed. You pay a little money, book some studio time, use some connections, call in some favors, and pay a little more money to cash in on what you've been doing, tirelessly, for years: trying to blow up. Is the album full of patchouli-stick Blue-state anti-Bush rhymes? No. Is it a BBP throwback to true-school rap values? Forget about it. UA makes sweet, slick jams for people who want something fresh to play Madden to. The bass hits like it's s'posed to and the lyrics are tight; the staccato flows, punchy and personality packed, and the whole package sticks to the party line close enough to land on the Northwest's (for better or worse) premier rap station.
As much as we like to pretend that Spank Rock is what's really cool and that Chino XL really is here to save us all, rappers like Neema are what the Northwest game needs: people willing to bleed for their music. He's built his own authenticity and rides it like a pro. His arrival was unexpected. His future success is assumed.
Unexpected Arrival at Fat Tuesdays with Inferno Mobb, Young Soprano and Holy Fam on Friday, June 2 at 7pm. $10. Call 489-3969.