A film about Northwest hip-hop from 1983
According to Dr. Daudi Abe’s excellent history book, Emerald Street: A History Of Hip Hop In Seattle, a rap duo from the Central District called The Terrible Two (Captain Crunch & Sugar Bear) added a third member in 1981 (Sweet J) and obviously needed a new name. That same year, the Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau had run a contest for a city slogan, and the winner was “Seattle, the Emerald City.” Sugar Bear was the one who suggested that the three of them use the slogan as the new group name, and Emerald Street Boys were born. A local musician named Tony Benton was having success with his band Teleclere, and Mr. Benton founded his own record label called Telemusic in 1982. Benton had access to Woodmont Beach Studio in Federal Way, and he invited Emerald Street Boys to record there. Teleclere performed the background music for the two rap tracks, “Christmas Rap” and “The Move,” which were released as a twelve-inch single on the Telemusic label just in time for Christmas 1983.
Emerald Street Boys idolized the Temptations, and they adopted that group’s synchronized movements and harmonies into a rap context. This meant that the group was like a single unit, with all three rappers rapping the same lyrics in unison to the beat. But just like a juggler who takes over for another mid-throw, each of the three rappers would rap just a few words of the verse and the others would finish the line, but the listener never knew which rapper would pop in next. Captain Crunch, Sugar Bear, and Sweet J each had a distinct style, and together they delivered a major holiday party record with dozens of clever rhymes. The lyrics included reworked lines from “Rudolph The Rednosed Reindeer,” and a Christmas call and response section with backup singers playing the part of the crowd. The group also added a “Merry Christmas to our home town, Seattle…” line in the song, to represent Seattle for listeners in L.A. and New York.
“The Move” was the B-Side of the single, and it was all about their potential “move” to the top of the charts. This track showed off the well-rehearsed, synchronized rapping by the three MCs. Their voices projected confidence and agility, and they used their full vocal ranges from deep baritone to high falsetto while rhyming. The result was a group that could compete with anything coming out of New York. Emerald Street Boys performed at the KOMO ‘Summer Break’ event at the Exhibition Hall in 1984, but that was one of their last shows. In 1984 and 1985 Captain Crunch had begun to get involved in some of the more dangerous elements of street life, and this led to troubles with the authorities. The “Christmas Rap” twelve-inch was the group’s only record and it truly qualifies as a pioneering musical achievement.
As a side note, the group reunited in 2012 and digitally released a song titled “When Folks Was Real.” Rest in peace to group member Eddie “Sugar Bear” Wells, who passed away in 2019. (Written by Novocaine132.)