There's something so fulfilling about hearing local landmarks in a song. "On the corner of Orange and Spruce / With a forty in my hand / Pouring out orange juice." It's like as soon as you hear that, you start to listen a little closer, waiting for another familiar pat on the back that says, "Yeah, we're all here together." While Traff the Wiz didn't invent that formula, it definitely works.
"The more I incorporate things that are relatable to the people around me, then the more success I have, because they can adapt," Brian O'Neill, aka Traff, says.
The 26-year-old Troy native released his second solo album, Traffghanistan, on July 4 in his hometown, and he's already run out of the 100 copies from the first pressing. He knows where his base is: "This album is for Troy," he says over a beer at Mackenzie River Pizza. "It's a very personal album and all those people know what I'm talking about."
Traffghanistan starts off with an instrumental intro from DJ Brand One and a minute later dives right into Traff's fast and smart rhymes, which sound like Wu-Tang Clan meets Talib Kweli in Montana for a freestyle session. It makes sense, since that's the kind of music he grew up on. The whole album manages to come off like a freestyle. Unlike many rappers, he's able to write both narratives and catchy choruses very well. Mouthfuls like "Handle all the mechanisms technically eclectic / Forces imitate electric hectic situations, correct it" on "BOBM" never fail to amaze with their lyrical trickery.
But he's got the skill to get in your head with choruses that don't overcrowd the album."Facility" nails it with "Any spills, overfills, fires or damage to this facility / Will be your responsibility." And then comes the Missoula drop: "From the one-way streets to the weird whereabouts." Think of Traff as Atmosphere rapping about Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, with a producer comparable in style to Ant of the early '00s.
"Hey!" is the best track on the album. It's easy to listen to, with a high piano and classic trap loop courtesy of producer Twice Daily, a fellow Troy native now working out of Portland, Ore. To boot, it's mastered and engineered so professionally you forget this is a totally homegrown effort.
"I just stay positive and try to find the smartest equation I can," Traff says.
Only track 11, "Witches Brew," sounds out of place. The beats are a little too in-your-face and even Traff gets a little abrasive. But the last track, "All I Heard..hh" brings him right back to the smart rhymes and concludes in a classic fashion: with shout-outs and a solid close.
When you hear all the names that went into the making of this albumShadow Devereaux, Codependents and Rude to name a fewit's clear this effort is not just Brian O'Neill's. Traff the Wiz is one artist in constant collaboration; he knows he wouldn't be doing this without a lot of help.
"When I started here, I played whenever and wherever I could," he says. "I talked to whoever I needed to and just tried to build and build."
It's been five years since he relocated to Missoula. He says the scene is way bigger now than it was. From the start, it's been a group effort. His first show here was opening for the Inhumans, who took Traff camping and made him freestyle for four hours before they relented and gave him the slot. From there, he met Missoula mic-smith Tonsofun and the ball just kept rolling. They formed Zoo Effort DJ Brand One in early 2011. They toured all over the Northwest this year to get the name out and get the Missoula scene on the map, with Tonsofun being crucial in getting shows and making a strong network.
"Tonsofun is the mastermind behind that whole project," he says. "By him making all those moves, it really puts me out there and helps me out a whole lot."
If you've been wondering about the name, here's the story. Originally it was Traffic, but there was some confusion with that band from the '70s, Traffic. He added on "The Wizard" and the shortened version, Traff the Wiz, was born. As for the album: "My first album was Revenge of the Spliff, so we were going to call this one The Hempfire Strikes Match," he says. "We were like, 'Nah, Traffghanistan sounds better.' We had to get off the Star Wars thing."
Traff the Wiz and the rest of Zoo Effort open for Lyrics Born on Friday, July 27, at the Palace at 10 PM. $14/$12 advance.