When asked to define “slizzatrism,” the philosophy of his collective, the Washington Slizzards, and the title of his most recent mix tape, Ras Nebyu reels it off with ease. “Slizzatrism,” he says, “is the art of finessing good energy to work in your favor by way of meditation, pure intent and acknowledgment of your ancestors.”
That philosophy has served Nebyu well. Born and raised in Washington, the 26-year-old has been a steady presence on the local rap scene and has been releasing music into the world since 2011. For the first few years, Nebyu favored dense lyricism and lush throwback beats that paid tribute to his heritage as an Ethiopian American raised in a Rastafarian household. On his early single “Futuristic Black Man,” his opening gambit was a Fugees quote — “too many MCs, not enough mics” — and a problem he aimed to solve.
Over the years, Nebyu has incorporated trap-rap sonics while keeping his focus on melody and lyrics. In that way, his sound has become closer to that of his mainstream contemporaries, who have begun to favor a wider palette of sounds. Take, for example, “Shikorina,” his Ethiopian-flavored reworking of Drake’s dancehall-inspired “Controlla.” But Nebyu is still on his own path, and his songs aren’t about street rap tropes or what he describes as “suburban” concerns. “It’s more of an uphill battle for me,” he says. “My art has to be so, so, so, so good or different . . . to get my foot in the door.”
Nebyu is finishing up “Uptown Lion Walkin,” a mix tape he describes as more personal and “a little bit more in my head” than 2016’s “Slizzatrism.” Whether it will be the effort that kicks down the door remains to be seen; avoiding pigeonholing and breaking through a local rap scene is difficult. On “Don’t Forget,” Nebyu raps, “If they never box me in, there will be no spots for them.” But in that lyric, he only sees another problem to solve. “It’s not like, ‘Why did you put me in this box?’ It’s more like, ‘I gotta get out of this box.’ ”
Show: With Oddisee on Wednesday at 9 p.m. at U Street Music Hall. $30.