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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I Just Love My Beat

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.

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.

Here’s how influential local music magazine The Rocket reviewed the record when it was first released:

Mix-A-Lot’s vinyl debut follows almost a full year of hype, both within the mighty Rocket‘s pages and on K-FOX’s hip-hop show, Fresh Tracks with Nes Rodriguez. Whether these four songs justify the media overkill is debatable at best. But they do prove that within the synthesized confines of West Coast hip-hop, Mix-A-Lot can definitely hang.

The “Home Side” recorded entirely in the bedroom of Mix-A-Lot’s south-end apartment, includes “I Just Love My Beat,” and the surprise radio hit, “Square Dance Rap.” Where “My Beat” is standard West Coast fare, along the lines of L.A. Dream Team, “Square Dance Rap” uses electronically sped-up smurf vocals to poke some fun at country rednecks.

The studio side is notable mainly for “Let’s G (Watch Out)” where the “synthesized digital beat” is set to “Erotic City” styled “pone rock.” (This review originally appeared in The Rocket and was written by Glen Boyd.)

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Rhyme One Time (For God Almighty)

According to the excellent half-hour YouTube program titled “The Emerald City Beginning – Episode 1,” hosted by Rubik and E-Dawg, perhaps the earliest rivalry in Seattle rap belongs to Jam Delight vs. The Terrible Two. In the video, Captain Crunch recalls teaming up with fellow Terrible Two member Sugar Bear for the first battle in 1981 against Garry Jam and Boss Cross who were Jam Delight. Jam and Cross were the victors that day at Lateef’s nightclub and Terrible Two subsequently decided to regroup as a trio called Emerald Street Boys.

The two members of Jam Delight continued making music together, and in 1984 they wrote and recorded this incredible Seattle rap song titled “Rhyme One Time (For God Almighty).” Instead of Jam Delight, they called themselves Rhyming Gospel Sensations. The song begins with a bouncy Harold Faltermeyer type of keyboard melody, and then Garry Jam (Gary Gilmer) and Big Boss Cross (Christopher Cross) take turns rapping about their faith. The lyrics are clever and heartfelt, including gems like, “Before you eat dinner you need to say grace.”

“Rhyme One Time (For God Almighty)” came out on Douglas T. Green’s Seattle record label called TLP Records, which listed an address at 25th and E. Cherry. Garry Jam went on to make a very humorous song called “Snot” with Sir Mix-A-Lot and Daddy Rich the following year. He also made a solo track called “Funky Fresh Beat Of The Drum.” Big Boss Cross recorded a track in 1986 titled “Party Invader.” Both Jam and Cross are pioneers in Seattle rap history, and hopefully, more and more of their work will become available. Cross passed away in 2016, rest in peace. Written by Novocaine132

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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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