Hip-Hop Healing in Seattle – Seattle magazine
The last time I was at Seattle rapper Carter Costello’s house was under the covers of the night. I was invited to an art and music show—featuring Seattle photographer and artist Baby Claypool, a duo of fire dancers, rapper Nobi and Costello—by local photographer James Gerde. As soon as I set foot on Costello’s property, I followed a cement ramp past a hedge spray painted with yellow flowers. A row of happy-faced yellow balloons attached to the railing greeted me as I went.
“The 12-Year Void,” a celebration of Baby’s 12th year of work, was the inaugural event at Costello’s home, a 3,250-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-story abode nestled in the woods on a quarter-acre. many acres directly across from Carkeek Park in North Seattle. He bought this house to turn it into a community center – a music venue, event space and recording studio. The middle of the quiet and beautiful residential neighborhood of Broadview is a seemingly odd place to blast loud music and display graffiti on a fence, but to Costello, that’s the point.
“I never liked money or the idea of it,” he says. “I come from a drug addiction and I’m very cool in pretty dirty environments.”
His home is filled with a wide range of whimsical and eclectic decor, such as a golden-sized stuffed white tiger casually perched on a brightly colored Keith Haring rug in the middle of his living room. He’s in the process of building a recording studio in his basement, and the house feels like a giant interactive museum for adults. In the greenhouse, he shows me his shruti box, a harmonium-like instrument from India. He uses it to meditate after the death of his friend, Jayden, more than a year ago.
Inauguration night at the Costello house felt like witnessing the birth of a phoenix—in part, no doubt, because of the fire dancers. But also because an undercurrent of life and light versus death and darkness ran through the night, from Costello’s dedication to his song “The Gates” to Jayden and Costello opening up about his drug addiction and recovery, to to Baby’s pictures of bloody clowns, scary alleys. and naked bodies hung on the garage walls.
How Costello earned this space sounds like the next best Netflix original to rise from the ashes: In May 2019, when he was just 20 years old, he was hit by a car driven by a Rideshare driver while on In work. a dishwasher in Canlis. He was outside, showing a new employee where to find non-skid kitchen mats, when a car turned onto the sidewalk and sped up, he estimated, at 45 to 60 miles per hour.
The other employee was hit in the left arm, rolled the car and landed near the restaurant. Costello was hit on the right side. It flew 35 feet, hit a tree, rolled from a broken branch up the hill and landed under the Aurora Avenue underpass. He was not found until a construction worker alerted Canlis’ owner, Brian Canlis. The woman who was taking the delivery ride, Pamela Richards, died of her injuries. The seat belt broke his neck.
Costello had 14 broken bones (four in his skull, his coracoid process, his collarbone and multiple ribs). It took him two years to heal his shoulder. He suffered brain damage and has now been diagnosed with mild neurocognitive disorder, which affects his ability to read and focus on conversation. He has lost about half of the hearing in his right ear and also suffers from tinnitus.
“I listen [the ringing in my ear] all the time, but if I’m in a recording booth, it’s much more noticeable,” he says. “I’ll record in an open room with little noise in the room because it’s easier.”
Two weeks after his accident, Costello was supposed to be in Los Angeles playing a show with other recovering artists, including Macklemore and Kesha. (Costello’s meth addiction began at age 12. He got sober at age 15.) Instead — remarkably — he played the Northwest Folklife Festival at the Seattle Center. He was brought on stage in a wheelchair and performed with his arm in a sling. Call it the will of a 20-year-old boy. He spent the summer in Seattle doing The Residency, a youth hip-hop camp run through the Museum of Pop Culture, playing Folklife and bumping into the rideshare company.
Two years later, the company settled and Costello finally got his payout: $3.5 million. After taxes and legal fees, he took home about $2.1 million. And now he’s using that money to build his home into a community space, event venue and recording studio. He lovingly calls it Homegrown in the Basement (you can find it that way on Google Maps). It’s part ode to the basement room at Crybaby Studios where he would make music with other kids from The Residency, part ode to Tupac’s poetry collection, The Rose That Grew from Concrete, and part ode to the experience his with addiction. .
“It’s like coming from the dirt. It comes from the gutters. The bottom of the barrel kind of people that I am,” he says. “It is coming from the trenches of life and blooming like a flower. That’s why my logo is a flower coming out of a vase.”
Costello’s ultimate goal is to finish building the space and hire someone to manage it while he travels. He wants to tailor the place to people who have less than him, and although he’s just laying the groundwork for the studio, he’s already spoken to The Residency about doing recording sessions and shows. Right now, he is organizing parties and events for his friends in order to grow.
“I want to give people this community space to have a good time, experience art in Seattle and rebuild a community,” he says.
Back in “The 12-Year Void,” the cement ramp I followed into Costello’s backyard spit me out into what I can only describe as an attached rotunda—an open circular room decorated with neon lights and fully equipped with mirrors. The previous owner had mirrors in the bedroom, but it was a bit much for Costello. He and his friends moved them outside, framing them with pool noodles cut hot dog style. A giant, purple, spray-painted wall panel, just before the circle of mirrors, fittingly welcomed guests to the 2 the void house.
Just outside the rotunda, Costello’s backyard opened to a U-shaped two-story deck space. To my right, Costello was already onstage (deck), framed in a spotlight against a fence spray painted with the words “12 years void.” To my left, the garage was open, filled with Baby’s pictures. People in dark makeup and low lighting looked at me from the frames, beckoning me closer.
It was dusk when I arrived, but as complete darkness fell and Costello finished his set, two fire dancers dressed in similar flame-patterned jerseys and black boots unassumingly took the stage. Then they brought out giant pieces of metal that I can only describe as flaming wings for a dance to Doja Cat’s “Woman.” They left the stage and I got down on the floor with them, hoping to feel the warmth of the fire on my face.
By the time Nobi took the stage, I felt like I was in another world, surrounded by art I’d never seen and feelings I’d never felt. However, by the time Nobi left the stage, the cops had been called twice and Baby was ushering people out. Reluctantly, I took the coat from where I had placed it behind the merch table.
On my way out, I took a quick photo of one of the happy face balloons to remind me of this feeling – whole, alive and beautifully confused. The photo came out blurry, but somehow it felt very poignant – like what I should have taken from this evening is the twisted comfort that even if we’re smiling on the outside, we’re all a little fuzzy on the inside, waiting to be reborn.
To keep up with Costello, his music and Homegrown in the Basement, follow him on IG: @cartercostello.