Of all Seattle’s underground music mainstays, few cast a shadow quite like Catherine Harris-White. Having moved to the city from Hawaii nearly twenty years ago, the artist known more publicly as SassyBlack is constantly pushing the idea of what it means to be a working creative, and it’s brought her to some truly interesting places. Early last decade she sang backup on Shabazz Palaces’ 2011 bombshell Black Up, which caught the attention of music tastemakers across the nation. Since then she’s released over fifteen independently-released collections of music, including three full-lengths, and strives to release at least one song every two weeks for her Bandcamp subscribers. On top of this, she’s secured roles in high-profile shows and movies, she’s scored films, and she’s even managed to land on a playlist curated by former First Lady Michelle Obama.
SassyBlack’s CV is a dizzying array of accomplishments that showcase her ability to hustle in an environment scarce of opportunities for working artists. As we chat via Zoom on a particularly chilly Thursday afternoon, she’s well aware of her drive. When I ask her what she’s been up to she replies “Too much!” with a genial laugh before rattling off her recent endeavors: streaming regularly on Instagram and Twitch, writing a first draft for a musical to be performed at 5th Avenue Theater, and conjuring up audio-based NFTs alongside her role as Arpeggi Labs’ resident artist liaison. This, paired with her constant musical output, is humbling to hear.
Her newest release, the six-song EP BLK, begins the next chapter of SassyBlack’s winding career. Similar to previous works like Ancient Mahogany Gold and Stuck, BLK is a series of vibes fluctuating between simmering vexation and zephyr-like waves of encouragement, all tied together by Harris-White featherweight alto. SassyBlack records normally feel powered by candidness, the thrill of ideas released straight from the top of the head, and this one is no different. “I Am Enough” shimmers with a radiant sense of self-love, “Black Joy” skips and bounces on a heartbeat, and “Act Out” circles around a minor key like a bird of prey, hunting its aggressors.
This particular project comes with a couple of milestones. For one, it marks the first time another vocalist has featured on a SassyBlack record. J Ivy, a poet nominated for this year’s Best Spoken Word GRAMMY, lays down an impressive set of bars over “I Am Enough,” his energy synchronizing easily with the track’s medicinal positivity. “I met him on the board of the GRAMMYs when I was a trustee,” she recounts. “We hit it off, and every time we saw each other we said, ‘We gotta work together!’” After writing the track, she followed through and asked if he would add a guest verse. “I didn’t ask him to do anything, I just said, ‘Have fun.’ And he did!” After Harris-White finished the track, she ended up sending it to him at an auspicious time; he had just taken a break from writing for new Kanye West documentary jeen-yuhs and needed a pick me up. (“I’m telling that story to everyone I know, forever,” she cracks jubilantly.)
The second milestone, of course, comes alongside the release of her first coffee offering. We proudly present BLK Coffee by SassyBlack, a light-medium blend with notes of dark chocolate, maple and s’mores certified delicious by the hologram funk priestess herself.
As a former barista and years-long coffee connoisseur, SassyBlack is no stranger to the world of roasts and blends. She’d been offered an opportunity long ago to release a coffee tied to her artistry, and that’s what gave her the impetus to approach Caffe Vita with the idea. Together with our coffee program leaders, she shuffled through several variations of roasts and single origins before landing on a combination of beans that happen to pull from the best qualities of our Del Sol and Luna blends. “Night and day,” she says, remarking on the serendipity, “it’s perfect.”
Speaking of perfect, this coffee shines via a drip maker or through a pour over, with your milk of choice or without, but SassyBlack suggests you drink it straight. “I wanted something you could drink just as black coffee,” she offered in a Twitter live space debuting the new EP. However you choose to indulge, there’s only a limited supply available, so make sure to grab it fast, brew it up and dive into the smooth sounds of BLK.
Rob Moura is a barista at Caffe Vita's KEXP location and a passionate music advocate. The Tape Deck // Instagram: @the taaape_deck // Twitter: @robmouraiii