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The Times

The Black United Front is a national African-American activist group that was formed in the 1970s to advocate for criminal justice reforms, reparations, and Pan-African solidarity. In 1987, the organization partnered with Undercurrent Records to produce an eight-track vinyl compilation called Frontliners ’87. The album celebrated Black excellence and featured new jazz, percussion, and funk by emerging musical voices from across the country: The New World Percussion Ensemble from Washington, D.C., Oakland’s Phavia Kujichagulia, and Bird/Trane/Sco Now! from Detroit. The album includes a single hip-hop song, “The Times,” from young Seattle rap group the DI-RA Boys.

This local trio named themselves “DI-RA” as an acronym for “Devastating Interesting Rap Alliance.” The group combined the talents of teenage brothers Mic J (Jamal Farr) and Demo Demone (Nigel Farr) as tag-team rappers, passing the mic over beats created on a Roland TR505 by 15-year-old DJ/producer DJ Acsean (aka Sean Malik). Everyone was young.

“The Times” delivers almost seven straight minutes of bare, bombastic beats, alternating between verses, cutting, and scratching solos. The lyrics are critical of then-President Regan, saying how his tie is too tight and “it’s cuttin’ off the blood circulation to your head.” They mention the Iran-Contra affair, the threat of nuclear war, and the need to fight for your rights. Socially-conscious lyrics paired with raw, mechanical drums set the song apart from what other artists in the Northwest were doing. When interviewed by The Rocket, Demo Demone insisted the track wasn’t political. “The song is about problems in the US… It’s just about letting people know what’s going on.” DJ Acesean adds, “Seattle hip-hop is too soft right now. We’d like to take it into something more hardcore.”

Buoyed by their newfound fame, the trio played festivals across Seattle, added a fourth member, DJ DD, and began work on an album. But tragedy struck in 1989 when DJ DD was shot and killed. In the aftermath, Demo Demone hung up his mic for good and the remaining members disbanded the group.

Mic J kept on grinding. He began rapping under the name Jace and The 4th Party. After memorable appearances in the mid-’90s on two of the most storied Northwest rap compilations–14 Fathoms Deep and Classic Elements–he partnered with Blind Council’s Silas Blak to form The Silent Lambs Project in 1998. That legendary group would tear up the Seattle music scene for several years through the turn of the millennium. In 2010, soul songstress Felicia Loud joined their ranks, and the group changed its name to Black Stax. Although Silas Blak left the group a couple of years later, Jace and Loud have continued to perform together and release music as Black Stax to this very day. Indeed, Jace is one of the few Northwest artists who’s maintained a continuous, active presence in the scene since its very earliest days, becoming a central pillar in the city’s hip-hop community.

DJ Acesean formed another mid-’90s crew named Shabazz Coalition with Fleeta Partee, and he started performing under his own name, Sean Malik. The group Shabazz Coalition was featured on the local Phamily Orientated compilation in 1996. (Fellow Coalition member Partee would himself co-create the venerable local hip-hop label Sportn’ Life Records in 2002.) Malik went on to produce numerous tracks for a wide variety of artists through the decades. He released a solo album in 1998 called Put It On The Line that again featured Jace on vocals.

“The Times” was indeed one single song that launched a long local hip-hop legacy.

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from


It’s curious that Sir Mix-A-Lot (aka Anthony Ray) opted to release his fourth record under the pseudonym “Tony Lorenzo.” He’s hiding on the record’s label in plain sight: The song is credited to “A. L. Ray” and it sounds very much like an early Mix-A-Lot tune.

During these early years of the NastyMix record label, the only artist on their roster was Mix. His first record, “Square Dance Rap,” had delivered a global banger and he’d performed in front of 70,000 at Wembley Stadium in England. His second single, “I’m A Trip” was less successful by comparison, while his third “I Want A Freak,” had flopped on the charts.

It’s understandable to imagine Mix feeling a crisis of confidence and a desire to try something new. “Destiny” is nonetheless a perplexing release. It’s completely instrumental. Its monster synth stabs, meandering keyboard melodies, heavy basslines, and clockwork quantized drums resemble a lost Electro b-side from Kraftwerk. Mix-A-Lot always expressed pride in his computer music and “Destiny” finds him at his most computerized.

In 1987, “Destiny” also landed with a thud. Its aftermath marked a moment of crisis for NastyMix: The record label had burned through all its available cash and it had failed to repeat the success of “Square Dance.” Business head Ed Locke borrowed money from his mother to keep the label afloat. (They’d wisely use the investment to fund “Posse On Broadway,” Mix’s gargantuan next release.)

Decades later, in the early 2000s, “Destiny” was included as part of a Brazilian dance music compilation called “Internacional 27 Anos” from the label Furacão 2000. The compilation was a big hit in South America, and today when you Google “Tony Lorenzo” most of the results are in Portuguese. Maybe when this first dropped in the Northwest in 1987, Tony Lorenzo, aka Mix-A-Lot, was simply too ahead of his time.

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I Want A Freak

“I Want A Freak” has not aged well. There’s no tiptoeing around the fact that this song is mostly sexist trash, one of many regrettable rap tracks by many, many rappers from this period. Mix complains that too many unattractive “mud ducks” think they’ve got a chance with him when all poor Mix needs is a “freak”: A sexually adventurous mini-skirted woman who’s down to go “all the way” and party. This song is a lot of insults directed at women.

Someone’s inevitably going to argue that these lyrics are just some innocent “boys will be boys” locker room talk, but that’s exactly the issue with dick-dominated songs like these: Too many rap songs tell young men that a woman’s value only extends to how far she’s “willing to go” and that it’s totally okay to insult girls who refuse to “put out.”

But let’s not blame Mix entirely: “I Want A Freak” began as a B-side on his 1986 “I’m A Trip” EP. The song proved so popular that NastyMix re-released it here as its own single, with two new remix versions. A surprising number of online commenters—both men AND women—cite this as their favorite Mix-A-Lot track, so IDK.

This vinyl’s B-Side cut is worth a listen. “Electro Scratch” is a delightfully weird rap song, with vocoder vocals and beatboxing. You also have Mix-A-Lot showing off his prowess at scratching the platters, demonstrating he’s not only about computers. It includes the first appearance of Kid Sensation, Mix’s teen protégé who would soon launch his own successful NastyMix career…

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King in Def Poetry

On his 1986 single, “I’m A Trip,” Mix-A-Lot positioned his computer music against the threat of talented turntable DJs. One Seattle rival were Incredicrew, a duo of teenage wunderkind producers: Cornell “CMT” Thomas and Danny “Dee Rock” Clavesilla, who we’d later come to know as Mr. Supreme.

This vinyl is one of the few early-period hits from ‘80s Seattle rap that’s doesn’t originate from the Mix-A-Lot/NastyMix camp. As a teenager, Danny Dee was a talented BMX rider. He toured around the country and was exposed early to NYC’s new breakdancing scene, years before the rest of the Northwest got hip to hip-hop.

Once home, he’d practice his own samples and scratching and breaks, eventually becoming official DJ for The Seattle Circuit Breakers, one of the Town’s first major breakdancing troops. Not long after, he and CMT formed Incredicrew, and they began producing beats for local rappers.

This was their first vinyl, with M.C. Kid P, a Reno-based rapper who spends most of his verses introducing the band and praising his DJs: “Yo Danny Dee Rock, show ‘em why your hand is like a knife…” In turn, Danny smacks down numerous sequences of famous samples, hyping up the party ever higher. It’s a fun song, presented in three versions. The B-Side cut “High Powered Hip-Hop” celebrates CMT’s work on the drum machine with a descending, dark sub-bass melody that dominates the tune.

Two fun facts: Incredicrew appear in Mix-A-Lot’s “Posse on Broadway” video as the rival crew in the infamous Dick’s parking lot scene. And this Incredicrew project was recorded in the very same room where, two years later, Nirvana would record “Bleach” and usher in the Tsunami that was Grunge. For a brief sliver of the waning ‘80s, rap had become Seattle’s primary musical export.

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