A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Documentary Break Dance

1985 was an exciting year for hip-hop music in the Pacific Northwest. The year prior, breakdancers and rappers had taken over the Seattle Center for the KOMO Summer Break b-boy event. South of Seattle in Portland, an artist named Vitamix was making rapping and scratching tapes, some of which made it to the editors at The Rocket music newspaper published in Seattle. The Sub Pop and Lip Service columns in The Rocket both included reviews of several Vitamix efforts in the early ‘80s.

Meanwhile, Richard Peterson was a Seattle trumpet player who had released one LP in 1982 called Richard Peterson’s First Album. That record included traditional sounding covers of standards such as “My Sharona” by the Knack and “Sunshine” by James Taylor, but Peterson also took a step into modern music with a solid disco cut called “Death Valley Disco Days.” In 1985, Peterson released Second Album, with a bunch more standards.

Second Album also includes a modern song, a hip-hop track called “Documentary Break Dance,” which is a collaboration between Peterson and Vitamix. The song also credits famous writer and composer William Loose (1910-1991). Interestingly, Loose created library music and musical cues for film and TV, and released an undated record called Documentary Underscores. I’m just gonna go out on a limb here and guess that Vitamix had this record in his collection and used it to help create “Documentary Break Dance.” But this is just a theory until it’s either proven or disproven.

The vibe of “Documentary Break Dance” is very Malcolm McLaren-ish to me, and it reflects the fact that rap music was still searching for new directions and sounds. Run DMC had presented the most minimal possible example of rap, with just a drum machine for many tracks, while other early groups like Whodini and Newcleus tried to put more melody into their work. “Documentary Break Dance” is clumsy and unpredictable, sort of like the raw abrasion of Herbie Hancock’s 1983 hit “Rockit.” Vitamix drops some traditional early-era raps such as, “Well my name is Vitamix, now check me out, I’m in ‘Documentary’ to rock the house. I’m rappin and scratchin in a real loose style, Vitamix here to put your face in a smile.” Rap in Seattle was still finding its way in 1985, and experiments like “Documentary Break Dance” doubtlessly helped to inspire others in this genre. Written by Novocaine132

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

That's The Way Girls Are

In the early 1980s, Portland’s VitaMix (Chris Blanchard) racked up praise as a quick-cutting turntable master. On one of his first cassettes, The Master Mix, he chopped up Whiz Kid’s hit “Play That Beat Mr. D.J.” in every possible direction, establishing a rivalry between himself and the Tacoma turntable king. Not long after, in May 1985, The Rocket music rag published their infamous “The Hip-Hop Debate” piece which pitted VitaMix’s Portland turntables against Six Mix-A-Lot’s Seattle computer music. In the article, VitaMix writes off Mix-A-Lot’s abilities, suggesting “anyone can spend $4,000 on synthesizers and be the best DJ in town. But where’s the talent?” He adds, “Everyone else is trying to do it now, but I was first.”

Whether or not that’s true, he was definitely around at the beginning. From 1982, VitaMix hosted a radio show on KBOO-FM in Portland. He’d sometimes play beats and encourage fans to call in and rap overtop whatever he was playing. He’d broadcast the callers’ raps on the radio. His early cassette 1984 (aka VitaMix ’84) combines his scratches and beats with raps from him and some of the callers from his show. He followed this tape in 1985 with a buzzy cassette called Cut Classics.

That’s The Way Girls Are was his four-song vinyl debut from 1986. It was the first rap release from Northwest label Cold Rock when they were still called “Cold Rock Stuff Recordings.” The label was backed by Brett Carlson (who helped VitaMix with the recording) and support from DJ Nasty Nes. Cold Rock would later also co-release several Criminal Nation projects in partnership with NastyMix.

VitaMix’s songs are mostly autobiographical capers where we learn his efforts to find and impress women. It’s a distinctly male perspective common in rap music. He describes early heartbreaks in his efforts to find a girlfriend and describing all the times he’s been rejected. This is young person’s music: It’s lighthearted and sweet, in the vein of DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince.

In their review, The Rocket says the vinyl combines a “hard East coast beat with a rap that was surprisingly convincing,” while explaining that “VitaMix has at times faced a credibility problem in the local rap community as a white man attempting to be accepted in what was, until recently, an exclusively Black musical landscape.”

The second song, “Getting Live” shows off VitaMix’s prowess at rapping, turntables and beatboxing at the same time. It’s the last song, “13,000 Taxi Cabs in NYC” that’s most curious. It features the exact same beat as “That’s The Way,” acting as a rap-free instrumental version for DJs and freestyles. VitaMix also cuts in various radio clips about taxicabs, police, and New York throughout.

This record proved to be a big enough success locally that it was also pressed in much larger numbers by New York hip-hop label Profile, who were perhaps won over by the New York song. Most of the copies of this record that you might find anywhere will be the Profile edition, which omits the longer “That’s The Way Girls Are” extended remix found on the original.

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