A film about Northwest hip-hop from

He's Got The Beat

“Whiz Kid will always be the Godfather of Northwest hip-hop,” wrote Glen Boyd in The Rocket magazine in 1987. With such high praise, it’s surprising how little anyone seems to know about the music of Harold McGuire and his contributions to the earliest days of Tacoma and Seattle hip-hop.

Whiz Kid was a native New Yorker. In 1981, his notorious quick cutting and scratching won him the very first DJ “Battle For World Supremacy,” organized by Afrika Bambaataa. The attention landed him a European tour with Phase II, a record deal with Tommy Boy, and a spot in the orbit of Soulsonic Force. His first solo record, 1983’s Play That Beat Mr. DJ, featured MC G.L.O.B.E. His swift cutting and scratching debut sold more than 250,000 copies, making it an early massive rap hit.

While Play That Beat was racing up the charts, Whiz Kid’s military wife Betty was posted to Fort Lewis, and the McGuire family relocated to Tacoma.

In 1983, Whiz Kid was a big-deal hip-hop star living in our midst. He quickly became active in our flourishing early NW scene, organizing Tacoma’s first Battle of The DJs (at Fort Lewis) with locals Galaxy, G-Man, Roots I, and Roots II. He headlined The Rocket’s 50th Issue Bash in November ’83 and performed at numerous other events throughout the region.

Whiz Kid’s second Tommy Boy release was 1985’s He’s Got The Beat. On the cover, it features his son wearing a Seahawks tracksuit, no doubt a nod to his time in the Northwest. The song is an ode to breakdancing and DJ culture, praising hi-top sneakers and b-boys from the street. Vocals from singer Sabrina are set against a beatbox backdrop with plenty of scratching and mixing trickery. There’s both a vocal and instrumental version. It debuted on the front cover of Billboard, describing Whiz as a “breakmaster and DJ supreme.” Spin magazine similarly praised the song’s “sinister cutting.”

By 1987, Whiz Kid was back in the Bronx, battling DJ Jazzy Jeff. Not long after, Seattle rap label NastyMix signed Whiz Kid to a two-record deal, releasing his follow-up singles Cut It Up Whiz (1989) and Let’s Get It On! (1990).

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Square Dance Rap

You could write a whole book on the importance of this record to Seattle music. Released seven years before “big butts,” it was the first record from local label NastyMix, started by radio DJ “NASTY” Nes and artist Sir “MIX”-A-Lot, in partnership with Ed Locke, the business guy.

It was the mid-’80s, and hip-hop was still trying to figure out what it was. “Square Dance Rap” is a strange entry into the canon. It has sped-up chipmunk vocals. At the time, super-fast rapping was a thing, and Mix achieved this by slowing down the song, spitting his verses, and then speeding the song back up. He then performs as a Southern hillbilly character, instructing us how to square dance. But also, the beats are monstrous, the bassline is groovy as hell and you’ll find yourself singing along while contemplating the racist history of the United States. It’s one of those rare songs that becomes all the more perplexing the more times you listen to it.

NastyMix sold more than 45,000 copies of this record, kicking off an empire over local rap that lasted almost a decade, and launching Mix into the stratosphere. Also note that this record was “written, arranged, programmed, performed, produced, and engineered by Sir Mix-A-Lot.” The man did it all himself.

The song did well locally in Seattle, but it was a runaway hit in England. In 1986, Mix-A-Lot was invited to play the UK Fresh ’86 festival at Wembley stadium in London. He performed in front of 80,000 people, alongside his peers Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, Dr. Dre & World Class Wreckin’ Cru, and numerous other golden age greats. (You can find the whole two-day festival on MixCloud, and it’s well worth a listen.)

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