A film about Northwest hip-hop from 1993
N.W.A.’s 1988 record Straight Outta Compton changed the world, and in 1991 they came back even harder with their second and final album Efil4zaggin. Rolling Stone writer Jonathan Gold penned a good piece in 1993 noting that Efil4zaggin was clearly in a class of its own due to being a sonic masterpiece, yet the awful, violent, homophobic, and misogynistic content had become exponentially worse. “Many observers thought gangsta rap had reached its pinnacle with the brilliant though unlistenable Efil4zaggin,” begins one of my favorite sentences in the essay. N.W.A. were not alone in this genre, indeed they were joined by other horrorcore groups like Geto Boys, Gravediggaz, Brotha Lynch Hung, and Seattle’s Darkset.
Darkset was a crew composed of first generation Seattle hip-hop artists who had been there since the beginning. John “Frostmaster Chill” Funches and his brother Anthony “DJ Pace” Funches had both become involved in rap music as soon as it was a thing. Shedra “I Double L” Manning from the Strictly Wicked And Treacherous crew was another heavy hitter MC who joined. And for additional royalty, Eddie “Sugar Bear” Wells from Emerald Street Boys was also part of Darkset, changing his name to MC Bear The Kodiac. Fifth member Shan Dog was a hype man for the group. Additionally, Kevin Gardner provided studio and recording expertise, as well as beat work.
Placed among the more explicit tracks on Krakker Bashin that will never make the radio, “50 Wayz” (featuring Bryan Hatfield), “Police B****,” “Krakker Bashin,” “Dope Man’s B****,” and others, there are two tracks I would like to highlight, “Step 2 Tha Madnezz,” and “The Rain.” First, “Step 2 Tha Madnezz” is a thing of beauty in a somewhat unforgiving listening landscape. The beat sounds minimal compared to the ‘wall of sound’ production style found on so many tracks here. And second, epic cinematic journey “The Rain” is more of an experience than just a song. Absurdly it’s six minutes and forty-four seconds long, but due to some Chris Nolan-esque creative composition and structure, including moments of dead silence, “The Rain” remains interesting from start to finish.
Darkset could be called the most old-school connected Seattle rap group in the ’90s. In fact, Krakker Bashin was executive produced by none other than James “Captain Crunch” Croone, another member of Emerald Street Boys. The new label was called CD Raised Records, and two years later it would drop a hood classic titled Really Cheat’n by Squeek Nutty Bug. Jonathan Gold might also find Krakker Bashin “brilliant though unlistenable,” but its explicit elements shouldn’t prevent people from making their own opinions. This is a powerful album and it will not appeal to everybody, but freedom of speech protects the right of Darkset to shock and offend. Written by Novocaine132