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Dopemuzik4thehead

In 1985, a local Seattle musician named Rodney Jones decided to create his own rap label called JROD Recordings. By 1988 a rapper (MC 3-D) and DJ (DJ 2Smooth) duo by the name of P-D2 was the first act on the label. P-D2 released a cassette single in 1988, and vinyl singles in 1989 and 1990. In the Summer of 1990 as they were shopping a full album titled DopeMuzik4TheHead to major labels, MC 3-D had to step away from the rap game for a while to take care of some personal business. The record sat unreleased until 2021, when Ever Rap Records licensed the album from JROD Recordings and released it on wax.

DopeMuzik4TheHead contains a very traditional style of rap for 1990, a year which many would consider deep in the middle of rap’s golden era. The beats are sampled, arranged, and stacked by 2Smooth on his Studio 440 sampler/sequencer. MC 3-D brings an early ’80s tone to his delivery, with swoops from high to low similar to Emerald Street Boys. He raps about crime and gangs in the neighborhood, and also about getting ahead in life and staying dedicated to your dreams. His verses are rather poetic, easily bouncing from party to politics to pure rhyme skill. One standout track is “Trash Environment.” In this format shifting masterpiece, 3-D’s voice thunders over a rap rock hybrid beat as he laments the decay in community values he sees around him. “Suprize” is a party classic which deftly samples “Hydra” several years before Black Moon popularized the sample on 1993’s “How Many MCs.”

P-D2 were an early force in the Seattle rap scene, and the re-release of their record should help to establish the importance of their work. Two years after DopeMuzik4TheHead was completed, P-D2 dropped their Flavin In Bumpcity cassette featuring a new rapper Willin alongside DJ 2Smooth. MC 3-D had not yet returned to his rap career. The two rappers did not share a similar style, which gives Flavin In Bumpcity a very different feel than the material with 3-D. As a postscript, MC 3-D aka Bobby Stills continues to rap into the 2020s using his new moniker Unko Gazz. Written by Novocaine132

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Ice Cold

In a 2020 interview episode of 206 Classic Radio available on Youtube, rapper B-Self of Ghetto Chilldren explains the origins of Kenyatto McThomas as a force in the early Seattle hip-hop scene. In the mid ’80s Kenyatto was part of a rap group called School Boys at Meany Middle School. By 1990 Mr. McThomas had changed the group name to Ice Cold Mode, and released a 4 song cassette titled Ice Cold along with his brother DJ Ronnue McThomas. The cassette features hand drawn artwork with an Egyptian pyramid concept.

Track one on Ice Cold is called “No Manz Land,” and it uses a land war metaphor to describe what it’s like to be a soldier in the rap game. McThomas (as Ice Cold) drops multiple high-speed verbal challenges to other rappers to stay off the battlefield or risk obliteration. Track two is “Union Street Hustlas.” First a narrator’s voice explains the origin of the Union Street Hustlas crew in the Central District, then a police siren sets the mood as the verse starts. The track has that Roger & Zapp type funky bounce to make it a dancefloor favorite. “Union Street Hustlas” is a certified 206 classic in many Seattle circles, and was included on the Goods/Jake One Seattle rap compilation from 2010 titled Town Biz.

Track three is “Hipt 2 The Hype,” another uptempo dance floor jam which brings that Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock style high-energy fun. In fact, the whole Ice Cold tape captures the zeitgeist of 1990 with the merging of speedy rap and new jack swing. The last track on the tape is “Dance Wit Me.” It is a quintessential party track, and includes a call and response asking who is “in the house.” “Is Ronnue in the house? Is Ice Cold in the house? Is Seattle in the house?” Ice Cold Mode was a top Seattle group in 1990, and were featured in a Rocket magazine full page article that year along with P★D2 and Brothers Of The Same Mind. This 4-song cassette may be awfully short, but it was long enough to establish Ice Cold Mode as serious musicians who belong in the history books. Written by Novocaine132

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Let's Get It On!

This final single from Tacoma/NYC beat-maker Whiz Kid–and his second with NastyMix–is a breezy, disco-infused tune, occasionally layered with YSL’s old-school, shuffle-rap verses about the most beautiful woman, and how the two of them really should “get it on.” The vinyl single also includes a remix, clean radio version, and an instrumental.

Whiz Kid joined the NastyMix exodus at the end of 1990–alongside High Performance and Sir Mix-A-Lot–leaving a large and ever-growing hip-hop hole at the record label, and the scene at large. NastyMix was left pinning their hopes for 1991 on the remaining duo of Kid Sensation and Criminal Nation.

Sadly, Whiz Kid, aka Harold McGuire, released no further music. Only a few short years after releasing this single, he died from pneumonia in NYC at the young age of 34.

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Prisoner Of Ignorance

For almost a century, vinyl records had been the dominant medium for music playback, but in the ‘90s, the format’s long reign was quickly eroded by two newer options: cassettes and CDs. Both were smaller, cheaper, less fragile, and portable. You could play cassettes and CDs in your car, throw them in a boombox, or go stroll with headphones and a fancy new Walkman.

“Prisoner of Ignorance” marks the first time NastyMix put their marketing and promotion efforts behind a cassette edition rather than the vinyl. (A plain-sleeve vinyl was made for DJs, but it was the cassette of “Prisoner” that got the cool cover art.)

NastyMix also splashed out on an MTV music video. In it, Kid Sensation is tied to an electric chair. He’s about to be executed. A white, racist cop narrates, saying “another Black youth is being appropriately punished.”

When asked if he has any last words, Kid raps that he’s a product of the system: “My only crime from birth is dark skin.” He recounts how he was expelled from school, how he turned to the streets and gangs. He started running with the wrong crew. In desperation, he tried to rob a liquor store. It went bad. He took a hostage, he killed two cops, the hostage was killed, too, I think? The story gets a little convoluted, but the message is clear: The system has failed him over and over again.

For his fall, he blames bigots, the school system, the media for promoting white supremacist falsehoods as truth. Americans are being brainwashed. Where is his piece of the so-called American dream?

At the end of the music video, Mix-A-Lot stands over Kid Sensation’s grave and makes the song’s anti-gang message clear: “Minorities make up 93% of all gang membership in the United States of America today. Whether you choose to call this genocide or just straight-up homicide, you brothers need to remember it’s all suicide.”

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Insane

Criminal Nation, those bad-ass boys from Tacoma’s Hilltop, never bothered to waste time on literary nuance or metaphors. On “Criminal Hit,” MC Deff makes it clear that “all the motherfuckers in the white sheets can suck dick.” And the reason why is simple: “MC Deff’s got a gun, plus he’s got a big posse.”

The song appears on the B-Side of this Insane vinyl single, an edition made for DJs with bonus cuts. A second bonus song, “Homicide” is a more laid-back, darker, minor-key tune, riding wave after wave of infinitely riffing guitar loops.

Each is a tale of heat-packin’ revenge rap, seeking accountability and justice for police harassment of the Black community, and calling bullshit on being told anyone has gotta accept a raw deal from society.

The A-Side hit single “Insane” is a high-BPM sonic machine gun blast. There’s no doubt this music was popular with breakdancers and at clubs. Chopping, insistent drums get your toes tapping and suddenly the dance floor is full. This music gets you moving.

Throughout Criminal Nation’s whole catalog, DJ E (aka Eugenius De Hostos) invents endlessly creative arpeggiated synths, floor-shaking, growling bass lines, and bucket drummer hi-hat taps. His unique work alongside MC Deff set Criminal Nation apart from their contemporaries in the Northwest. This record also includes an instrumental version of “Insane” where you can really study the CN beat-making magic at work, and contains some damn fine scratching, too.

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I Got Game

The song “I Got Game” starts as yet another riff on “Posse on Broadway.” Sir Mix-A-Lot is again driving along 23rd in Seattle’s Central District neighborhood, except this time he’s a the wheel of a fancy new Corvette, and unfortunately, he’s only got two seats.

You commonly hear Mix criticized for not reppin’ Seattle enough. But in his lyrics, he’s regularly shouting out Seattle landmarks, his fellow Northwest rappers, and on this vinyl jacket, he’s sporting a Seahawks bomber, a Mariners cap, and has custom “MIXALOT” Washington plates.

B-Side track “Flow Show” is five minutes of amazing, unstoppable madness. Mix unloads bars upon bars upon bars of quick dodges and vocal acrobatics, landing lyrical blow upon blow and demonstrating how truly formidable a talent he is as a rapper. The verses are set against a restrained rolling and crackling thunderstorm bucket-drummer beat and a super-low bassline.

I Got Game was Sir Mix-A-Lot’s final record with NastyMix.

Throughout 1990, he’d been critical of how the label had promoted his album Seminar and resented how NastyMix was spending the money he was earning on funding a smorgasbord of newly-signed rock and pop acts, few of which were rappers.

In a September 1990 interview with The Rocket, he made clear his plans to start a brand new label, one where he’d have full creative control and that would be dedicated exclusively to Northwest hip-hop.

When I Got Game was released, NastyMix canceled the planned music video. Mix was quoted as saying “and that’s when I said ‘Uh-huh’” and he made plans to leave. Mix started negotiations with Def Jam, but NastyMix label owner Ed Locke threatened breach of contract, Mix countersued for unpaid royalties, and the two were then caught up in a protracted legal battle that took two years and cost a reported $1.2 million to untangle.

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It's Just Funky

“It’s Just Funky” is another groovy b-boy toe-tapper from Tacoma’s High Performance. The music is assembled from looped funk guitars, soul singers, and cowbell samples, each more clearly evidenced in the instrumental version of the song, also found here on this vinyl DJ release, along with a radio edit and a club remix.

The B-side is a surprise. It opens with “Action’s Intro,” where a new emcee highlights how he was left off the album and so then drops profanity galore, as if to deface the group’s clean, radio-friendly reputation… As though High Performance were now daring to be as explicit as possible.

The EP’s closing track, “Another Day In The Neighborhood,” has a genuinely scary construction: the chorus beats are made from gunshots, looped over and over again, and directed at the listener. By contrast, the verses are made from lemonade-sippin’ relaxed Motown samples. This combo sets up an unsettling verse-to-chorus pivot that each time feels like it arrives too soon.

The song is almost seven minutes long, and the whole time you’re riveted… Nervously never quite able to settle into those verses about sweet sunny days because at any moment they might be cut short in a hail of gunfire whenever the chorus arrives. And sometimes they make you wait. It’s honestly quite a remarkable song, probably the best in their whole catalog. It also demonstrates a group looking in a whole new direction away from their origins in the b-boy scene.

It’s Just Funky was the group’s last record with NastyMix. They left the label shortly after and all but disappeared. They resurfaced once more on vinyl in 1993 on the split single, “Talkin Over Shit” with The 23rd Street Mafia released on Tacoma label Just Cash Records.

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Seatown Ballers

If you listen closely to the bass line at the start of “Seatown Ballers,” you’ll hear it morph from synthesizer to beatbox vocalization and back again. Throughout his music, “Seattle’s next rap star, Kid Sensation” finds many creative new ways to incorporate his human voice.

“Seatown Ballers” is a curious song. Another one that, like “Back 2 Boom” and “My Hooptie,” yet again revisits “Posse on Broadway,” both in sampling and lyrics. (While also sampling contemporaries Public Enemy and Beastie Boys, too)

It recounts “another day in the life of the ECP,” where Maharaji, Attitude Adjuster, Mix-A-Lot, and Larry—the white guy, real estate investor—are driving down Rainier, picking up girls… Wait, haven’t we heard this all before?

Indeed, these early NastyMix rap singles are like interlocking Russian dolls, or watching Inception: It’s all layers upon layers, right down to the cover photo. Kid and DJ Skill pause in front of Minoru Yamasaki’s Rainier Tower, and they’re holding copies of Kid’s “Back 2 Boom” records, too.

At one point, Kid raps, “I don’t need drugs to create this feeling,” and you agree, yeah, it’s all déjà vu. And the beats keep turning into his voice and back again.

The music video for “Ballers” was shot at the brand new Westlake transit hub which first opened the same year, 1990.

Flipside cut “S.B.I.A.” is an acronym for “Seattle’s Best In Action.” Although no one is directly credited on the cover, Kid passes the mic around to a cypher featuring his contemporaries from Seattle’s unsigned hip-hop underground: Richie Rapp, MC Willin’, and MC Linn all drop baller verses before Kid himself takes us home.

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My Hooptie

“My Hooptie” recounts another comic book caper from Mix-A-Lot, Attitude Adjuster, and the rest of the posse. It’s a bit of a revisit of “Posse on Broadway”: The crew are driving around the CD neighborhood, being fly, picking up girls, this time visiting McDonald’s. They run into Mix’s ex who tries to shoot out their headlights, but he runs over her toes instead. A bunch of silly stuff happens. The bass line is spectacular.

Mix namedrops “Hilltop” as a way to establish his street cred—and works in samples from N.W.A. and Public Enemy in case you didn’t think he was gangster enough. The posse roll into Tacoma to pick up the new Criminal Nation cassette and then visit a military club to size up the competition: Both obvious nods to the strength of Tacoma’s burgeoning NW rap scene. But Mix is hip to it, too.

This brings us to the key question: What is a “Hooptie” exactly? Mix explains that how his Benz is in the shop. So, for now, he’s gotta drive this loaner junk car, and it’s making him look bad.

It’s not hard to see “My Hooptie” as a clear metaphor for Mix’s increasingly strained relationship with his own label, NastyMix. CEO and money man Ed Locke was investing all those dollars Mix was generating into rock, speed metal, euro-disco, and synth-pop acts, diluting NastyMix’s identity as a Northwest rap label. Like his “Hooptie,” he’s gotta make excuses for this reliable clunker that he’s currently stuck with.

Throughout 1990, Mix stated his desire to start another rap label—this time his own, “so I can get a little more creative control over what goes out… I know rap… I don’t think NastyMix [does],” he said to The Rocket that year.

This 12” single features the stripped-down “Still Runnin’” remix and bonus song, “Society’s Creation,” about the government’s role in the nation’s crack epidemic.

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Black Power Nation

Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood faced genuine social problems: unemployment, poverty, addiction. But an ongoing turf war between two rival gangs—the LA Crips and Cuban immigrants—meant that drive-by shootings and armed attacks became a real danger for the area’s residents. Murders and violence in Hilltop reached their peak in 1989, not long before this song was released.

For mainstream media and local rap groups alike, invoking “Hilltop” became a Northwest shorthand for “dangerous,” and was used to show off one’s street cred the same way NY and LA rappers would namedrop Harlem or Compton.

This early single from Tacoma rap group Criminal Nation, “Black Power Nation,” is a counter-narrative: The group spent a lot of time in Hilltop and provide a rallying cry against the connection between rap music and violence.

On it, MC Deff (aka Wojack) promotes an anti-government, anti-police, pro-Black message, stating that Black women and men coming must work together and unite to fight the drugs, racism, and economic inequality tearing the community apart, while also encouraging greater respect for ourselves and others.

The two B-side tracks are more in the expected gangster vein and prominently feature Criminal Nation’s extended posse, The D.C.P. (D-Rob, Clee-Bone, and D-Whiz). “Niggas From The Ghetto” starts with some seriously funky drums and lists a long litany of dire consequences should you mess with Criminal Nation.

“Tribute To The Ladies,” is exactly the opposite: A revenge song directed at a woman who broke your heart, addressing all her shortcomings and her future regrets. But it’s all fun, “we’re just clowning,” they say, before shouting out their NastyMix label mates, Mix-A-Lot, Nes, etc.

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Jam Do The Electric Slide

Tacoma’s rapidly expanding early ‘90s hip-hop scene was partially the result of its close proximity to Fort Lewis, only nine miles south. The military base was home to a large population of Black servicemen from all over the country: That’s where Bobby G. and The G.S.E. Posse got their start.

“Jam” is a fun tune built around two simple elements: A catchy hook repeated often, and an invitation to crowds in various American cities and states to “Do The Electric Slide,” a dance move popularized in the ‘80s, where, with a sidestep, you’d face each of the four walls of the room. The move was later adopted by both B-Boys and the country music line dance community, making this single almost a perfect party record for any audience or occasion.

Bobby G spends most of the tune listing off American cities individually—Miami, New Orleans, St. Louis, Houston, LA, Portland—and inviting them to show off their electric slide while bopping to these “hardcore grooves from T-Town.”

Musically, this song is as much James Brown soul as it is hip-hop, lots of talk-singing accompanied by a seemingly endless funk jam, but with the addition of scratched vocals and posse shoutouts.

This vinyl single contains five edits of what is essentially the same song. The B-side includes an instrumental version and a vocals-only version for DJs, while “Jazzy D’s Version” flips the instrumental by adding five minutes of solo saxophone performance on top.

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Here’s A Party Jam

Tacoma rap group High Performance followed their first single “Do You Really Wanna Party?” with the easy-to-confuse, similarly titled, “Here’s A Party Jam.”

This second “Party” song is another dance track for B-Boys, relying on a sample from Parliament’s “Flash Light” to do some heavy lifting. Nonetheless, it’s a real toe-tapper, and there are three versions on this vinyl: A Club Mix, A Remix Edit, and an instrumental “Dub” version.

Things get interesting with the B-Side cut, “The Hill,” which is most definitely not for the club.

This song has more serious, couch-lock vibes, warning youth of the dark pull of the streets in Tacoma’s Hilltop area, of drugs and criminality. High Performance have gone gangster, sampling Public Enemy and Mix-A-Lot’s “My Hooptie,” in telling this gritty tale of “rollin’ in Tacoma.”

This record’s artwork reflects these two identities: On the cover, the foursome are ready to dance-battle in matching uniforms. On the back, white police are in an armed standoff with an unarmed Black man. This haunting back cover art would again be used on the front of their debut full-length, All Things Considered which also dropped in 1990.

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All Things Considered

It’s too bad the nine-song debut full-length from Tacoma group High Performance isn’t on Spotify… or online anywhere. It’s one of Tacoma’s very first rap albums. And in 1990, NastyMix put a lot of marketing and airplay muscle into trying to make High Performance into superstars. All Things Considered is a solid effort that’s worth hearing.

Pictured here is the German edition. Both this record—and Mix’s Seminar—were released in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland by European record label BCM. Over five short years, NastyMix had grown from local D.I.Y. label to global powerhouse. All around the world, labels wanted to tap into that new Northwest hip-hop sound.

There’s a copy of this vinyl in KEXP’s vaults that’s covered with notes from DJs from over the years. One note says, “The production is hot, the lyrics are sharp, and the grooves are funky. It’s hard to choose a favorite cut here, they’re all solid. No laughable ballads, no silly novelty songs.” Another is more succinct: “T-town. (Rhymes with Sea-town: don’t let your slang down.)”

Either way, KEXP’s DJs praised how every song on this album is a radio-friendly “clean” version at a time when the ruling style of gangster rap was about being as profane as possible. (Though let’s also note that “Funk” does some heavy lifting here as an obvious lyrical placeholder.)

Both of the group’s solid “Party” singles are included on the album–“Do You Really Wanna Party?” and “Here’s A Party Jam”–as are a mix of other B-Boy bangers and more serious songs from the Hilltop streets. Either way, nine solid tunes from start to finish.

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Release The Pressure

Release The Pressure is a 1990 hip-hop record from Tacoma gangster rap group Criminal Nation. It’s primarily the work of two musicians: DJ E, “the table-wrecker,” and MC Deff, “the renegade,” with the occasional assist from their extended crew, the D.C. Posse, filling out the album’s front cover. The record was jointly released by NastyMix and Cold Rock and was one of the first to put “life in Hilltop”—the gangs, guns, drugs, girls, and cops—on the map.

It’s a bad-ass debut LP, mixing militant politics with dance floor appeal. DJ E’s production is filled with groovy bass lines, electro synths, scratching and guitar samples, while MC Deff is on the mic murdering emcees with superior rhyme skills.

Release The Pressure infamously bears the Northwest’s first Parental Advisory sticker, and it proudly earns it. Every song is filled with expletives. They’re angry. It’s time for action. Frankenstein rap tune “My Laboratory” slips into “My Lavatory,” and MC Deff is gonna drop his, uh, “bombs” on Seattle.

“We didn’t make no record to play radio,” said Deff in an interview with The Rocket.

Today, rappers tend to say any motherfucking shit they want, so it’s hard to recognize how awesomely in-your-face transgressive Release The Pressure sounded in 1990. Indeed, it spent 13 weeks on the Billboard charts and netted four hit singles.

The vinyl stored in KEXP’s vaults acknowledges the album’s airplay challenges: “So many red dots for profane lyrics… The best tracks, unfortunately. They combine NWA with Public Enemy’s black nationalism. Also, it’s very funky.”

Fun fact: The song “Definitely Down for Trouble” includes Washington’s earliest cannabis reference on vinyl: “The vapors from my lyrics rise through the area, The suckers get blazed from the ways the words is flowing, The way I be blowing.”

For a long time, this record has been, uh, criminally hard to find, but was recently added to Spotify. You can finally go hear Tacoma’s first great rap record today.

Here’s another take:

These bad-ass brothers from the Hilltop (formerly America’s Most Wanted) have put out one of the best debut rap albums I have ever heard. The mix of black awareness songs like “Black Power Nation,” which talks about how black people need to cure themselves before they can cure the world, and hard songs like “Criminal Hit” and “Mission of Murder” make Release the Pressure great. On other songs like “Insane,” “Violent Sound” and “Definitely Down for Trouble,” they are mostly talking about how crazy and bad they are and how big their posse is, but that’s how most rap albums are.

M.C. Deff’s voice and style of rapping give this album a sound like no other. Even “The Right Crowd.” which sounds like a pop crossover, isn’t that bad if you really listen to the lyrics. Another reason for Release the Pressure’s success is that D.J. E. doesn’t over-sample. You might hear an old George Clinton guitar lick or beat, but it’s not overdone.

A lot of credit should be given to Nes Rodriguez and Brett Carlson because, as executive producers, I’m sure they had a large influence on the album. Having Nes as one of the producers was a good move for Criminal Nation because he was one of the main people who brought rap into the Seattle scene.

Overall, Criminal Nation is a kind of Tacoma version of NWA, except they don’t refer to women as “bitches.” In the words of another NastyMix rapper, Kid Sensation, “when you talk to a girl like a bitch, nine times out of ten, that’s what you end up with.” (This review originally appeared in The Rocket and was written by Orion Penn.)

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Rollin' with Number One

The debut full-length from “teenage lady killer” Kid Sensation dropped in 1990, while Kid was, indeed, still a teenager. He and Sir Mix-A-Lot originally met back when pre-success, mid-80s Mix was a popular recurring DJ at Boys and Girls Club parties and events. Kid was a teen who’d linger after the set and help Mix put away his gear.

The backside of Rollin’ with Number One has all the best songs, like “Two Minutes,” where he shows us how it’s done by spitting verses for two minutes straight with barely a breath. The drums on standout “Legal” pierce your synapses at unexpectedly pleasant times. This one tune was co-produced by Mix-A-Lot—whose shadow looms large over the whole record—but it’s very much Kid Sensation who’s the star here, making all the beats and dominating 10 tracks with a smooth, speedy bullet train cadence.

Side B opener “Flowin’” is a great example of Kid Sensation’s dual threats of production and rapping. “I’m impossible,” he says at one point, adding, “Sucker emcees can’t comprehend because they’re too slow.” Kid then lays down a ground cover of drums, samples, and vocal wordplay, demonstrating his impressive skills, letting you know he’s “cutting you down like grass in a mower.”

The song is yet another NastyMix tune that incorporates elements of “Posse on Broadway.” (That’s 4, for anyone keeping count…) I’d love to know if there’s a larger story here.

Deft samples include movie lasers, a heart-rate monitor, and the infamous “funky drummer.”

The jacket will have you plotting your next beach fire at Golden Gardens. Listen closely to the lyrics and you’ll hear references to Rainier and Seward and other Town locales. This one is on Spotify so you can go bump it right now.

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