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Mash Hall

This is the birth of Mash Hall. It is a wonder to behold. Released on CD in 2004, this EP rocked Seattle’s hip-hop norms in the same way cubism changed painting in 1907. Mash Hall has roots in a few different subcultures, and feels strongly influenced by 90’s turntablist classics like Invisibl Skratch Piklz vs Da Klamz Uv Deth (1996) or Anti-Theft Device (1998). Songs are barely two minutes long, the aesthetic steers more toward punk than hip-hop or rap. But it’s not a punk record, these are 100% pure DJ and rap cuts of the highest grade. Don’t be alarmed if it doesn’t make sense immediately, Mash Hall is designed to create chaos. There is barely any method to the noisy madness.

The Mash Hall EP exists without a booklet or a barcode, it’s just a screen-printed disc in a clear slimcase. On the left side of the image, Christine Supreme strikes a b-girl pose. On the right is a dapper-dressed Ronnie Voice. Smack dab in the middle, wearing a “206” baseball cap and captured in a floor-rocking freeze, is DJ blesOne inhabiting his alter-ego “Bruce Illest.” This is one of the rarest and most valuable items in the Seattle hip-hop canon.

DJ blesOne introduced a whole new genre with this Mash Hall EP, I just wish there was a way to name it. Instructions: get a blender and add marching band, guitars, gunshots, drum loops, Chicago house, scratching, dope lyrics, reverb, distortion, and an entire bottle of Tabasco sauce. It’s amazing how much music has been vacuum-sealed into these six tracks on the EP. Every time you spin it Mash Hall sounds like it was just unleashed for the first time. Be prepared. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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The Mash Tape

DJ blesOne began making hip-hop mixtapes in the mid-1990s, and due to his rapid switch-ups and high energy drum machine work, he quickly became a regular DJ for breakdancing events hosted by the Massive Monkees crew. For almost a decade DJ blesOne rocked dancefloors and b-boy competitions. Then in 2004, he formed a rap crew called Mash Hall along with Christine Supreme and Ronnie Voice, and they dropped a six-song EP titled Mash Hall which caught some major buzz. The following year DJ blesOne was at a crossroads. Should he keep making mixtapes, or was it time for him to let go of that comfort zone and make the jump to being a producer and rapper?

He decided to do both. First, in early 2005 he dropped Straight Outta Westcoast, a mixtape with three original Mash Hall songs dropped into the mix. According to blesOne, Straight Outta Westcoast is, “My favorite mixtape I ever made, featuring the first Mash Hall songs ever.” Those early three Mash Hall tracks were “Tired Of MCs,” (which had already been released as “Introdestruction” on Mash Hall) “This Is A Warning,” and “Straight Outta Westcoast.”

Then later that year Mash Hall released The Mash Tape. The first half of The Mash Tape consists of about a dozen Mash Hall tracks, followed by remixes of ten mainstream rap hits from artists including Nas, Mobb Deep, and Kool G Rap. While Straight Outta Westcoast clearly still fit the mixtape format, The Mash Tape marked an evolution for this new group called Mash Hall. It was clear that they had songwriting talent, and blesOne was a master of roof-on-fire, disaster-porn beats. Ronnie Voice and blesOne combined to create a cinematic universe where Mash Hall reigns over all others. They mortar unsafe levels of humor, urgency, and boastfulness into a synchronized cemented brick wall of sound. Mash Hall sounds like no other group before or since. This is music that should have been blasting aboard the infamous “Furthur” bus, and The Mash Tape reminds me of the berserk energy conjured by the Merry Pranksters back in the 1960s.

The Mash Tape is a huge step forward from 2004’s Mash Hall E.P. There are hundreds of random laugh out loud quotables to discover here, “Introdestruction” contains one of my favorites, “My name is Bruce Illest I’m an underground legend/Every four years I get a 97 Legend/It’s my girl’s car okay, but I consider it a present/Yo she asked me for the keys I said c’mon stop messin.” Bring some fun into your life, and get The Mash Tape! (Written by Novocaine132.)

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Mash Hall Love Family Thicker Than Blood

Mash Hall Love Family Thicker Than Blood (2006) is the third release from Mash Hall, but in many ways, it is the group’s first full album. (2004’s Mash Hall was an EP with only six tracks, and The Mash Tape in 2005 placed Mash Hall tracks alongside remixes of songs by other mainstream artists.) The two MCs on Love Family, Ronnie Voice and blesOne (sometimes as himself and other times as his alter ego Bruce Illest) combine to create a perfectly concise and balanced rap album. In a tasteful display of restraint, we get 15 solid tracks with very few skits/dialog samples to distract from the purity. This is concentrated Mash Hall, try not to overdose.

The album begins with a hypnotic prayer chant of the title, is this a cult? What’s going on here? After a few tracks, the album settles into a groove, and the alternating verses from blesOne and Ronnie Voice are steady and hard. Both MCs rap in a ‘Gatling gun’ blur with no space between the words. How do they breathe? I have no idea. Mash Hall is a speeding bus with no brakes. This is an out-of-control carnival ride, it’s exciting but you sure feel like you’re about to crash! The production frantically hangs on to the bouncing, scattered lyrics, or is it the other way around? Mash Hall are the triathletes of hip-hop, endurance and raw energy are their specialties.

Two tracks, in particular, I would like to highlight. The first is “Father’s Day” rapped entirely by Ronnie Voice. This track captures the feel-good production that makes Mash Hall ideal party music. Ronnie’s lyrics have the easy swagger of a wild west gunslinger ambling down a dusty trail. The lyrics tell a story of a villain who doesn’t want his kids to grow up like him. The other song that stands out for me is “Butterfly” performed by blesOne. In this track, blesOne weaves a complex and dramatic story about a woman who is nicknamed Madame Butterfly. The story immediately draws the listener in with pathos and visually expressive language. The words from blesOne’s mouth shoot out like air from a plane propeller, thudding and continuous. At first, his voice seems monotone, but the more you listen, you can detect a wide range of emotion and inflection.

Love Family is part turntable scratch extravaganza, part storytelling masterpiece theater, and part neighborhood bully that just wants to watch the world burn. Mash Hall approaches rap like a barnstormer in the 1920’s complete with barrel rolls and wing walking. They are musical daredevils risking it all for the entertainment of the crowd. There is an awareness of the inappropriate lyrics, as the last track on the album addresses Mash Hall’s often offensive language. It’s called “My Favorite Word,” and the track is a ‘sorry, not sorry’ type of apology. Mash Hall explains they are sorry if four-letter words offend you, but they aren’t changing so listen with caution! (Written by Novocaine132.)

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The Greatest Fuckin' Adventures of Bruce Illest... Streaks and Blurs and Shit

Mash Hall is at it again with a truly massive album. The title immediately requires an acronym: TGFAOBISABAS. And holy Toledo there are 28 tracks listed. This is a lot of music! I have separated it into categories, just so my brain can begin processing it.

One category of track on TGFAOBISABAS is hip-hop ’80s and ’90s classics reimagined into blesOne’s Mash Hall world. “Super High” is inspired by “I’m Your Pusher,” and “Mash Hall Hustler” is based on “New Jack Hustler,” both by Ice T. “Rid Of Her” will give you strong LL Cool J “I Need Love” vibes. “D-J-B-L-E-S-O-N-E” brings an English accent, not unlike that of Slick Rick. “Guns Yo” begins like a sped-up, party version of the classic Schooly D cut “Saturday Night,” with elements of “Love’s Gonna Getcha” by KRS One found later in the track. “Hit Em Up” is named after a very famous Tupac track. DJ blesOne clearly has a love for the luminaries of hip-hop and he is giving his own special form of tribute here on this album. He brings a humorous tilt to every song he approaches, an example being the whispery voice he employs to heightened comedic effect in “Rid Of Her.”

A second category of tracks on this tremendous collection is remixes of tracks from other sources. Five tracks from Mash Hall Love Family Thicker Than Blood are remixed on TGFAOBISABAS. The remix of “Bitch I Look Good” changes the mood from sneaky private investigator to something more ‘Mid-60’s British Invasion’ with organ on reverb. “Butterfly” gets a remix here that changes the melody from dark and dreary to more mysterious and clever. Considering the subject matter of the track, I would argue that the original version of “Butterfly” is more effective and achieves the fourth dimension. “Girls They Love Bruce Illest” appears in a much more relaxed, spacey version compared to the tighter original. “Stomp Em With The Jodeci Boots” is expanded while “Time’s Up” is presented stripped down with live drums. In addition to those five remixes, a very early track from the group’s first e.p. release in 2004 (Mash Hall) titled “Warning” is also remixed on TGFAOBISABAS. There’s even a track here from the third Cancer Rising album which blesOne had helped to produce.

But luckily it’s not all just Weird Al Yankovic-type parodies and remixes of previous Mash Hall tracks. A third category contains original compositions, and plenty of new material abounds here. TGFAOBISABAS gathers dialog samples from across pop culture and places them between the most psychedelic drum tracks. DJ blesOne began his quest in the ’90s to be the ultimate B-Boy. He is a turntablist with an ear for sounds that have never been crammed into a song before. Mash Hall pushes the envelope of hip hop norms, and when you add Gatsby and Ronnie Voice the result is an imagination explosion with no boundaries. DJ blesOne breaks down the letters of his name in “Mona Lisha” and that might be a good place to end: “B – belligerent, L – love sex, E – every day I drink a Guinness, S – for the sneakers that I got like a million fuckin pairs, Number 1 – that’s my spot.” Nuff said. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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The Dro Bots Saga

A ‘concept’ album is a listening experience in which each song on a record fits together to create a larger story like chapters in a book. Three of my favorite rap concept albums of all time are Prince Paul’s Prince Among Thieves about a young street hustler gone astray, Kool Keith’s sex-crazed medical-school dropout character on Dr. Octogonecologyst, and The Dro-Bots Saga released in 2008 by Seattle’s Mash Hall.

The plot of Dro Bots is extremely meta. At the start of the album, Bruce Illest, played by Mash Hall’s DJ blesOne, is a weed-addled “Dro-Boy” who is transformed by the “Dro Bots Assimilation” process from a man into a “Dro-Bot.” He flies to the outer space planet of Chronicon 5 and learns that “planet Earth’s resources are at a critical low.” After he returns back to Earth, he receives “Unemployment Deployment,” and then drops a two-part rap “Catch The Bus 1 & 2” in which we meet a second Dro-Bot named Gatsby, played by Larry Mizell Jr.

The next track is my favorite on the album, and it brings on a guest Dro-Bot MC named Barfly from local group The Saturday Knights. The song is called “Weed Murder” and it is one of Mash Hall’s most well-built songs. The three rappers take turns murdering the marijuana and dropping impeccable bars. The album builds to a climax with “Star Whores,” in which Bruce Illest raps while riding shotgun in a car being driven by one of his ‘famous bitch’ conquests. Suddenly the car crashes and Bruce Illest is thrown from the vehicle. I can’t reveal whether he lives or dies, but suffice to say the next track is called “Ascension to Funk Heaven.” The last song on the album “My Weed” blows clouds of purple pot smoke into the picture, which makes you wonder did all this drama really happen or was it just a nice dream?

The production style can be described in many ways, words that come to mind include: patchwork, collage, hodgepodge, potpourri. DJ blesOne hits you with pure anarchy in his beats. He collects sounds and drums from millions of disparate sources and combines them into a funky stew. It is like being in the middle of a “Sharknado” but instead of a shark flying by your window, there is a sample from an old western movie slammed against a glockenspiel melody and all set to a massacred drum sample. If you are ready for some experimentation, it all fits together into a new whole.

The Dro Bots Saga was the fifth release from Mash Hall, and by this point, DJ blesOne had completely mastered his unique art of creative production and wall-of-sound audio. As a side note, Mash Hall changed their name to “They Live!” when they dropped this masterpiece. In 2008 and 2009, they performed as “They Live!” and during this period the group worked on material for their 2010 final opus They La Soul. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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They L.A. Soul

Any B-girl worth her salt knows of the mighty DJ blesOne. A true Northwest original, blesOne has been making popular DJ mixtapes since the mid-1990s. He boosted his prolific recording career in 2004 with a six-song EP by his new hip hop group Mash Hall. Two years later in 2006, (Cancer Rising band member and local rap journalist) Larry Mizell Jr. wrote about Mash Hall for The Stranger saying, “Their boastful, hilarious don’t-give-a-fuck stylings are in full effect on their first proper debut LP, Mash Hall Love Family Thicker Than Blood.” In 2007 blesOne produced half the tracks on the final Cancer Rising album, and developed a creative relationship with Mizell. When Cancer Rising broke up, Mizell was looking for a new band and before he knew it, he was not just a fan of Mash Hall but an actual member of the group!

All the history leads us to this epic Mash Hall album They LA Soul which came out in 2010. DJ blesOne (as Bruce Illest) and Mizell (as Gatsby) unplug from the traditional rap Matrix and go completely off the grid to a secret magic world. Mash Hall creates a bizarre universe where funky drums are paramount. DJ blesOne assaults the listener with break after break after break. Some tracks change drum signatures multiple times within the span of several minutes. It is confusing and schizophrenic, and lots of fun too. Songs are jarringly derailed by random audio samples, only to restart immediately with a new beat. The lyrics are laugh-out-loud witty, downright peculiar in places, but be prepared for rampant objectification of women’s bodies. The fantasy character of Bruce Illest is an unapologetic nymphomaniac who loves to talk about “titties” and “ass that is fat,” while he frequently brags about how many women he has slept with. Gatsby provides a bit more rough and rugged realism in his lyrics, which are all about establishing the superiority of Mash Hall above all other rap groups. The group is defiantly West Coast, and they have the laid-back horns and funk to prove it. Fellow Seattleites THEESatisfaction came aboard They LA Soul appearing on two of the album’s strongest tracks, “Whitney,” and “Get Yo Ass To Mars.”

Shortly after They LA Soul, blesOne and Mizell decided to end the group. They had already tried to end Mash Hall once in 2008 when they changed the group name to “They Live” and released The Dro-Bots Saga. In fact, They LA Soul was conceived and originally released while Mash Hall was still performing as They Live. However, a different band called “They Live” sued them for usage rights of the name, so blesOne and Mizell had only just returned to the name Mash Hall before shuttering the group. But the party wasn’t over! In 2011, blesOne and new partner emecks teamed up to form a band called Don’t Talk To The Cops with Mizell as their DJ and released a debut album, Regular Show. “Get Yo Ass To Mars” is the most interesting track on They LA Soul to me, because it shows the eventual direction of the group like a peek into the future. The track would actually be more at home on the Regular Show album than it is on They LA Soul. Mash Hall is a key part of Seattle hip hop history, and this 2010 album is a must-have. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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