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Ya'll Be Basein

“Ya’ll Be Basein” is one of Tacoma’s very earliest rap records. On the cover, Dee J. Freeze emerges from a red Chevy S-10 Blazer, a frugal and fun new 4×4 pick-up truck with a hardtop. He’s photographed wearing a leather Adidas tracksuit and posing in front of Puget Sound National bank at the Tacoma Mall.

Both featured names–Dee J. Freeze and MC Poochie Pee—were aliases of the same person, Dwayne Parker. The one-man combo rapper/DJ had built a solid reputation rocking epic parties throughout Hilltop. “Motivate a party wild,” as he says in one song.

This EP features three songs. On the first two, Freeze paints an honest, intimate portrait of his community’s crack epidemic. “Ya’ll Be Basein” recounts the criminal hijinks of a whole family. Everyone’s looking for a hit, “your brother too, your sister too, and your mamma’s through.” On the second cut, “Your Parinoid,” he’s hanging with psychotic tweakers. Everyone’s panicked and tripping after smoking huge rocks. There are few euphemisms here: Freeze is direct in his descriptions, and he’s a talented rapper and songwriter, dropping unexpected rhyme combinations.

The third track is the longest. “Classify This As A Def Jam” is a boast song, celebrating his abilities on the mic and turntables.

Freeze’s own teenage years were rough: His stepfather taught him to steal, sell drugs, and shoot a gun. Crime became second nature, and he later started a notorious gang. His name “OG Freeze” was whispered with fear. His years in and out of juvenile detention turned into further years in and out of prison.

One day, a chapel service presented by a local prison ministry spoke to him deeply, and he surrendered his life to Christ. When he won his freedom in 2003, he moved to Florida where today he runs an inner-city outreach ministry. He’s continued to perform and release Christian hip-hop music under the name Bishop Freeze.

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Beat This

Rapper and musician J-1 recorded this thrilling three-song EP at Soul Studio One, in Tacoma, WA with help from Dangerous “D” and Beatmaster J.E. It was released on T-Town Records in 1989, making it one of Tacoma’s earliest rap records, if not the first.

A favorite cut here is the B-side opener, “On a Roll.” Against a backdrop of electro drums and gangsta synths, J-1 launches into a delightfully evocative monologue about being nasty, but smooth… You could learn a thing or two from him, he’s un-bitable, he can’t be stopped, even in the face of prejudice, he’ll “feed ya some cyanide lyrics, and cook you for supper!” After a lengthy barrage of verses, he switches it up and launches into a two-minute instrumental piano solo.

This whole EP is a real gem of early NW hip-hop. Seek it out!

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We Got The Jazz

The second vinyl release from local label Ever Rap—home to Chilly Uptown—was We Got The Jazz from Redmond rap duo Powercore.

The jacket says the group is Graves (aka General Jam) and MC Nitro (aka Akers/D. Rogale). Many of the songs here celebrate Nitro’s skills suggesting he was central to the group. Either way, General Jam and Nitro are “the best pair since pork and beans.”

We made the mistake of assuming the Graves here was the same person as Graves33, a local rapper active in the ‘90s and ‘00s… He kindly reminded us he was only 7 in 1989, so this was not him.

The third cut here is one of the best. “Kickin’ The Gift,” is a battle track, dissing the Seattle scene and Mix-A-Lot directly: “You got seven drum machines and a keyboard for each, But what you need is a lesson in articulated speech… I don’t care how much you Mix, Or your studio tricks, Or if your posse’s on Broadway chilling at Dick’s, ‘Cause Seattle is mine and I want it back.”

On “Freestyle,” Powercore pays homage to their electro-sound idols Dr. Dre and NWA while adding another Mix diss, saying this record is the “SWASS terminator.”

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Seminar

On the cover of Mix’s second full-length album, he and the posse—Kid Sensation, Maharaji, and Attitude Adjuster—sit in Greek robes, carving their songs into stone. But flip it upside down and there they are again, in reflection, dressed as revolutionaries.

When interviewed about his latest album, Mix was defiant: “I don’t care if it sells just one copy… I’m happy with this record.” But Seminar was a smash. It sold a million copies. It went gold… And eventually platinum, too. It spawned three massive hit singles: “Beepers,” “My Hooptie,” and “I Got Game.”

It’s clear from the moment you drop the needle that Mix is trying something new. One year previous, Public Enemy’s Nation of Millions blew up rap like an atomic bomb, and every artist was now scrambling to incorporate messages of justice and race into their lyrics.

When asked about his own politics, Mix replied, “I love this nation… that’s why I criticize it. I love my car… that’s why I tune it up.” In the song “National Anthem,” he criticizes the systemic racism in our government and policing—as relevant in ‘89 as it is today. It will probably also inspire you to read about Iran-Contra affair on Wikipedia in order to decipher the lyrics.

The second side opens with “The (Peek-A-Boo) Game,” a sad story ripped from the headlines: A young woman is forced into the sex trade only to meet her end at the hands of the Green River Killer. In the late ‘80s, there was an active serial killer who murdered 71 young women in the Seattle and Tacoma area, and so people were understandably scared. (The killer wasn’t caught until 2001.)

The most baller track on this record is “Goretex,” an ass-kicking, foot-stop ode to great boots. The beats and synths here are massive, floor-shaking thumps. Mix’s verses weave and dodge and land punches. I always laugh when the chorus sings “sound effect” in response to each of the posse’s activities.

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Beepers

Three years before he dropped “Big Butts,” Mix-A-Lot was already a certified hitmaker. “Square Dance Rap,” “Posse on Broadway,” and “Iron Man” had all climbed national and international charts, and his 1988 debut LP, SWASS, had sold a million copies, achieving platinum status.

The single “Beepers,” which landed at the end of 1989, further demolished the charts, spending 19 weeks near the top of Billboard’s rap rankings, peaking at #2.

The song begins with some iconic kick drums and adds a Prince guitar riff. Here, Mix samples one of 1989’s biggest songs, “Batdance” by Prince, which had appeared in the soundtrack of Tim Burton & Michael Keaton’s mega-popular Batman movie that summer. This no doubt contributed to the song’s chart success.

“Beepers” is an undeniable classic, recounting yet another of his adventures of the posse. This time we learn Attitude Adjuster is a player, and we learn about a woman who thinks she’s hot shit because she’s got a beeper… But she ain’t so fly: Mix has one, too.

Like a lot of early Mix, there’s an enthusiasm for new technology combined with posturing and oneupmanship. In 1989–before cell phones—having a beeper was a mark of luxury and status. The tune also provides plenty of opportunities to turn old and new telephone sounds into beats and melodies.

On the flip side, “Players” covers similar terrain: hanging out and driving around with the posse, doing a roll call, meeting a woman who thinks she’s hot shit because she’s got a beeper… “Both of us are playing the same damn game, we’re players.” Hmmm. Mix continues to warn against drugs: “I’m a dope rhyme-sayer, but don’t smoke me.” In the music, there’s an odd tension as sitcom theme song keyboards run up against some dark, deep sub-bass.

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Surprize

In 1989, Seattle rap group PD2 dropped the three-song single “Surprize” in 1989 on their own label JROD after a successful West Coast tour with Harlem’s Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock.

The beats are courtesy of DJ 2 Smooth, with verses from MC 3-D, who describes their underground sound as something you might find at the tail end of a mixtape. He raps, “This is the new age, a new stage in rapping, rhyme is the new way to make things happen.”

Indeed, 2 Smooth’s production is unlike anything you might’ve heard from NastyMix at the time: His samples clash and collide, hitting off the beat, not always in tune, lending a truly funky vibe. (Hence the “Surprize.”) The songs often take their time to settle into a groove, but once they do…! Your head will be nodding for sure.

In an interview with The Rocket at the time, 3-D describes their politics: “Hip-hop is a tool and a ticket for minority youth to excel and conquer their dreams. People have to be able to move their feet before they can hear a message. The Black male is becoming extinct because of the drug situation. We have the intellect to articulate that. The music is the platform.”

This message is best exemplified in the EPs third song “Crack-In-The-Box.” It’s structured like an extended skit that takes place at an imagined drive-thru, where instead of pushing fast food, the government sells low-cost crack into Black neighborhoods. Politicians are “playing the kingpin” in an effort to disenfranchise their community, and it’s time to rise up in response.

(Addendum: MC 3-D, aka Robert Stills, was replaced by MC Willin’ on later records. He also is not the only Seattle rapper to use the name. In 1997, a very different emcee named 3D (Damion Reed) rapped with group Diamond Mercenaries.)

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Back 2 Boom

The b-side cut on Kid Sensation’s solo debut is a song called, “I S.P.I.T.” Kid is rapping about his lyrical abilities and shouting out the whole Mix crew. “The Pacific timezone is on the attack.” The song includes uncredited feature verses from the whole posse: Attitude Adjuster, Maharaji, and Mix-A-Lot himself. There’s also a new voice, Greg B, aka Funk Daddy. The beats here are all about the drop. At one point, Kid raps “I merge with Mix to make a masterpiece,” and that’s a pretty great description of this whole EP.

Someone recently described the Mix-A-Lot and Kid Sensation relationship like Batman and Robin: It’s apt: Mix was 26 and Kid was only 18 when this single dropped.

Mix’s mentoring hand (and production) is evident throughout the title track, “Back 2 Boom,” which makes the song all the more curious. It starts by liberally sampling and referencing “Posse on Broadway,” Kid is driving down Rainier… The tune play like many of Mix’s early rapid-fire, Electro hits, hyping up the crowd even higher. It’s so referential to Mix’s other work and apes his style, you start to wonder, is this a parody track?

Two minutes in, everything shifts. Kid drops the beat to half speed like it’s some early chopped-n-screwed experiment, and the song lingers here for the duration. This is the “boom” … Kid changes up the verses, he and the posse are trashing stop signs, tearing shit apart, blowing up Broadway.

And then the verses are spoken backward. And then you remember how Kid Sensation is a talented beatboxer, and you realize the beats have been his voice all along. Everything eventually drifts away like a car crash in slow motion.

So arrives the debut of Mix-A-Lot protégé Kid Sensation. BOOM!

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Cut It Up Whiz

During this early rap era, a few armed forces assignments had a notable impact on Northwest hip-hop. (This was how Chilly Uptown arrived on the scene from Chicago.) Turntable scratcher and producer Whiz Kid similarly found himself living in ‘80s Tacoma after his military wife was posted to McChord AFB.

When he arrived here in the PNW, Harold “Whiz Kid” McQuire was already a pretty big deal: He’d famously beaten DJ Jazzy Jeff in a turntable battle in 1982 and toured the world with Zulu Nation. Shortly after his arrival in Tacoma, he leveraged his hometown NYC connections to land a hit single—“Play That Beat Mr. DJ”—on Tommy Boy Records. His swift cutting and scratching debut sold more than 250,000 copies, and so he became an adopted hometown hero.

NastyMix then added Whiz Kid to their roster for his second single, “Cut It Up Whiz,” featured here. No doubt the signing of this Bronx-born DJ added additional rap legitimacy to the young label’s expanding lineup.

On this single, the scratch deejay’s skills on the decks are top-notch: There’s no Serato here to lean on. The beat he lays down is curious, as though there’s an extra bar added here and there, the loop never quite resolving but always keeping your attention. I can’t find anything about featured rapper YSL, but at one point his lyrics imply he’s perhaps from Atlanta.

The B-side cut “Kick The Bass” takes a little time to get grooving but catches an undeliverable wave the longer it runs. This ain’t headphones music. Spin this superb single on some loud speakers the way it was designed to be heard.

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Iron Man

This revenge song from the man you love to hate lit the fuse that ushered in the Grunge explosion.

In 1986, Run D.M.C. had a huge hit with “Walk This Way,” by sampling (and later collaborating with) hard rockers Aerosmith. The huge commercial potential of crossover rap-rock meant that everyone in hip-hopdom went in search of their own guitars + bars anthem. Mix-A-Lot’s entry was “Iron Man,” a tune that first appears on the B-Side of SWASS and heavily samples that Black Sabbath song that today everyone knows because of the Marvel movies.

Mix wanted to double down on an authentic “Metal” sound, so he re-recorded the song with NW thrash group Metal Church, who lay down some electrifying riffs and thunderous chords throughout.

Okay, so… Metal Church were from Aberdeen, WA, and fronted by guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof. The group’s newfound fame working with Mix inflamed a petty rivalry between Kurdt and unknown 21-year-old guitarist Kurt Cobain, who often hung around at their practice space and who felt Metal Church were lame and worthy of ridicule.

Indeed, Cobain’s desire for Nirvana’s debut to surpass the popularity that “Iron Man” had bestowed upon his musical rivals fed into their songwriting, and led him to intentionally misspell his name “Kurdt” on Nirvana’s debut LP, “Bleach,” which dropped in summer 1989. (Ironically, the album’s two opening cuts, “Blew,” and “Floyd The Barber,” channel some serious Sabbath amp sounds and guitar riffs.)

Mix-A-Lot’s “Iron Man” spent 12 weeks on the national Billboard charts, peaking at #17.

The single’s flip is “I’ll Roll You Up!” You might assume it to be a cannabis anthem, but early Mix was pretty anti-weed, making fun of “tokers” on his early tunes. This song is another battle rap, repeating his supremacy, stating “I did ‘Posse on Broadway’ in cruise control” and criticizing overuse of the funky drummer sample by his rap rivals, adding “I never jumped on a James Brown bandwagon.”

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Do You Really Wanna Party?

One of NastyMix Records’s first rap signees not named Mix-A-Lot was a Tacoma breakdancing foursome called High Performance. The group had famously won a breaking battle at the Tacoma Dome against the #1 ranked New York City Breakers.

Their first single, from 1989, is an irresistible dance track, a mash-up of three mega-hits from Michael Jackson, Prince, and KC & The Sunshine Band. The latter’s 1979 disco-funk hit, “Do You Wanna Go Party,” is heavily leaned on here, providing the key hook. There are a couple of verses, but they’re short. This record is for B-Boys.

“Do You Really Wanna Party?” spent seven weeks on the national Billboard rap chart, peaking at #16.

This 12” vinyl opens with a seven-minute “Dance Mix” of the group’s hit, remixed by famous Manhattan DJ Gail “Sky” King. Her name is credited in large type on the cover, so her involvement was clearly a big deal for the group. (Fun fact: Not long after working with High Performance, she was hired to be a composer and writer for Sesame Street from seasons 24 to 30–the years 1992 to 1998–where she created dozens of memorable songs for the show.)

This banger is followed by five other not especially different versions of the same song. This is a record you throw on and let it play. Vinyl DJs should keep a copy of this wax in their back pocket. It’s one of those great transition records guaranteed to keep the party hopping while you plot your next move or hop away for a quick smoke break.

One thing that always bugs me about this record, though, is a completely unnecessary insult towards women in the first verse: “Grab a girl, and hope the girl ain’t chunky.” STFU, dude. Otherwise, this song is a solid non-stop party from start to finish—Prince AND Michael Jackson, mixed together?!—completely worth spinning six times over in a row.

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Beyond A Shadow Of A Doubt

This lost album was supposed to have been released in 1989.

On the heels of their success with 1987 song “King In Def Poetry,” buzzy production duo Incredicrew—Cornell “CMT” Thomas and Danny “Dee Rock” Clavesilla—signed a multi-album deal with Chilly Uptown’s label Ever Rap, with the intention they’d be in-house producers for a number of upcoming hip-hop projects. The first of these was a one-off single by Nerdy B and Chelly Chell called “He’s Incredible.”

It was one of Seattle’s first major rap songs with a female MC, and it was a big hit locally. Nasty Nes said that when he played the song on his radio show Fresh Tracks, his phone lines lit right up with requests to hear it again.

Based on that first single’s hype, Nerdy B, Chelly Chell, and Incredicrew went back into the studio to record a full album of furious scratching and charming verses. One of our favorite aspects of this vinyl is how elements from the song “He’s Incredible,” reappear throughout many of the other songs as a repeated motif.

However, financial troubles with the label’s distributor meant this 1989 project—and the whole Incredicrew deal—was shelved and these master tapes sat forgotten on the shelf for 31 years. The Beyond A Shadow Of A Doubt tapes were finally rediscovered, remastered, and released by Ever Rap on vinyl in 2020.

It’s hard not to wonder how Seattle’s early ‘90s rap landscape and this early “NastyMix” era might’ve looked quite different had this record been released as planned!

This vinyl contains 11 tracks of Nerdy B’s furious scratching and Chelly Chell’s clever rhymes. There are also two versions of their classic hit, “He’s Incredible,” a song that got Nasty Nes’s phones ringing off the hook. Against a backdrop of Nerdy B’s furious scratching, Chelly Chell raps hypnotically, “We got beats and bass, yeah, now we’re on wax… Now how ya like that?!”

It may have taken 30 years, but yes, finally.

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