"I have been inspired by blades of grass, I’ve written in thunderstorms, I’ve free-styled in bus stations.” Quiz is the epitome of a hip-hop head, both as fan and performer. “I’m simply a part of it,” says Kay Clifton, whose stage name is derived from “Quiz Kidd,” the Jethro Tull song. And he’s writing all the time. “I can’t imagine living without music,” he says. “The lyrics are always there — all day, every day — jet-streaming through my head or humming like an old refrigerator, constant and unwavering.”
For Clifton, who describes himself as “a poor, poorly educated product of a troubled but loving family,” that persistent need to create and write has built him a pretty impressive résumé. The 25-year-old Spokane-based rapper, producer and DJ has been creatively active as a hip-hop artist for almost 12 years. He’s affiliated with Washington groups Gun of the Sun, Bad Penmanship, Our Mothers Tried, Beat House, Rarefied Heir and Cheap Meat Suits — not to mention a Midwest group and a couple of French hip-hop outfits.
Rap music is a largely regional organism, from its humble beginnings to its latter-day hype. Hip-hop’s cultural geography is complex, though often measured in simplified terms: East Coast, West Coast, Southern, Bay Area, Midwest, Seattle, Spokane.
“I feel the need to represent my neck of the woods by keeping all aspects of my sound indigenous, or indicative of where it comes from,” Quiz says. “I’m proud to be from where I am, and to be at where I’m at. I try to showcase that through my music, without necessarily saying it in the form of a cheesy 509 anthem. I feel the need to stay true to the sound being created here and to the people actively helping it to develop and grow.”
On tracks like “Nice Shoes,” Quiz exhibits a lyrical swagger that is fiercely deliberate, rugged and polished. Intense vocal intonations tread deftly through a hypnotic down-tempo landscape, lending his material a curious quality of thuggish, cerebral introspection.
While his solo work is always vital, Clifton’s endeavors in Gun of the Sun (with local rap stalwart Freetime Synthetic) are his primary focus.
“It’s an organic dynamic. Standing alone, I feel like I present a whole different feeling — heavier and focused on my voice itself, coming off the stage.”
Whether he is writing rhymes, free-styling or making beats, Quiz doesn’t utilize a creative method as much as act through a single-minded compulsion: “It doesn’t matter if it’s 4 in the morning — if it feels like a must, I write it down, I twist some knobs, distort some bass and go back to bed.
“There is no process, yet there are infinite processes. As long it’s dope, the method is irrelevant – magical or mechanical, nice is nice.”
KYRS Fundraiser/Member Sign-Up Show with Quiz, La Cha-Cha, Cyrus Fell Down, Matthew Winters and Ruben, the Toy Garden, and DJ Likes Girls at Sunset Junction on Saturday, Feb. 20, at 9 pm. Tickets: $5. Call 455-9131.