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Down Wit P.O.W.

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The Right Crowd

Tacoma’s Criminal Nation released a full length album in 1990 titled Release The Pressure. The album generated two singles that year, “Black Power Nation,” and “Insane.” Criminal Nation was riding high on their local celebrity, and so in 1991 they put out a third single with two more tracks from Release The Pressure titled “The Right Crowd” and “I’m Rollin.”

“The Right Crowd” has a New Jack Swing swagger with a crooned chorus and snappy, stuttered drum machine work. The lyrics are all about surrounding yourself with the right people, and watching out for fakers in the music business. Criminal Nation was comfortable putting out dancefloor movers like this one in between harder more gangster influenced tracks.

The B-side is titled “I’m Rollin,” and it is built around the funky bassline from the funk anthem “Flashlight” by Parliament. “I’m Rollin” is all about bragging and letting loose with punchlines. It’s slower than “The Right Crowd” and it’s more of a “rap about rap” song, meaning it’s aimed at other rappers rather than the general public. The whole Release The Pressure album was full of various styles showing easy versatility. The group also put out a single of the title track “Release The Pressure” in 1991 capping off a very successful year for the group. Criminal Nation dropped their second album Trouble In The Hood in 1992, and continued their reign as one of Tacoma’s best hip hop groups. Written by Novocaine132

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This Is My Method

Chilly Uptown follows up his disappointing 1988 debut, I Got Rules, with this cassette-only release. Nothing here really breaks any new ground, but it is enough of an improvement over its predecessor to warrant some attention.

For starters, Chilly resolves the biggest flaw of I Got Rules, the lack of a DJ, with DJ Total Kaos, arguably Seattle’s hottest hip hop scratchmeister (Kaos has since changed his moniker to DJ Punish, a.k.a. Sir Mix-ALot’s DJ). As a result, the tape’s best moments come when Kaos cuts loose on tracks like “Cum Clean” and the monster mix cut “I Can Make U Move,” where he moves from Kraftwerk to Information Society to Issac Hayes without missing a beat.

Chilly’s rhymes, mostly dealing with street life in Seattle, work best when humor is employed as is the case in “The Adventures of George G.B.” However there are two standout hardcore tracks. The all-too-true storyline of “Go Homeboys,” is about a couple of homies being kicked out of a record store because, if they aren’t buying they must wanna steal. “Fight, Fight” samples NWA’s “Gangsta Gangsta” effectively while maintaining its own originality.

This is My Method will not qualify Chilly Uptown for a spot in hip-hop’s yet-to-be-written Hall of Fame. But it is a worthy follow-up from a promising artist who is still growing. (This review originally appeared in The Rocket and was written by Glen Boyd.)

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Brothers of The Same Mind

Early ’90s Seattle hip-hop group Brothers Of The Same Mind reached such heights that NYC-based The Source magazine featured them in their October 1990 issue, as the “Unsigned Hype” group for that month, declaring them to be the next big thing in rap.

The Source shouted out the group’s “excellent street-wise production, unlike anything we’ve heard from the Emerald City,” while adding that “the Brothers can hang with many popular NYC rappers at their best.”

In 1991, on the strength of local and national praise, the group released their acclaimed debut, a seven-song, self-titled cassette. This album is a Northwest classic, full of hometown pride: The cover photo was shot in the Central District at East Portal Viewpoint, and the music video for their hit single, “Cool Drink,” was filmed at Seattle’s Gas Works Park. The video found regular rotation on BET, and the Brothers appeared in The Source a second time later that year.

Here’s a record that is insistent and relentless, comforting the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. It was delivered straight to the streets of Seattle, by five local legends—MC Class, DJ Swift, B-Max (aka Nerdy B!), Mellow Touch, and Sin-Q. This is that real, real Seattle rap.

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Release The Pressure (Single)

The song “Release The Pressure” by Tacoma rap group Criminal Nation is undeniably one of the best-ever hip-hop tracks released in the Northwest. Seriously.

Even now—30 years since it dropped—the tune captivates from those first few moments of DJ E’s arpeggiated synth and string stabs, followed by MC Deff’s bristling, confident opening salvo, “I’m a human explosive, I got a temper…”

Indeed, during the 2020 lockdown, MC Deff (aka Wojack) made a whole half-hour-long movie about Criminal Nation’s legacy. The film features many local OGs, including Silver Shadow D and Squeek Nutty Bug, commenting on the huge impact “RTP” had on inspiring their own careers. A number of the interviewees charmingly sing and rap their favorite parts of the song. (It’s on YouTube.)

Criminal Nation’s superb 1990 full-length debut album was also named Release The Pressure, which makes it a little confusing when, in 1991, NastyMix then put out this six-song “Release The Pressure” cassette, too. (There’s also a DJ-friendly white sleeve vinyl.) It features bonus tracks and remixes that honestly struggle to compete with the near-flawless original song.

Bonus cut “Rap Criminal” contemplates life in T-Town and Hilltop, set against a banging beat and furious scratching, while “Shoutouts” employs the same beat against two minutes of praise for the group’s favorite West Coast contemporaries, Mix-A-Lot, DJ Quik, BET, radio DJs and so on.

But seriously, if you’re not already hip to Criminal Nation, go look them up on Spotify or your favorite streaming service and be amazed by the earliest days of Tacoma rap.

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Skin 2 Skin

The original version of the song “Skin 2 Skin” appears on Kid Sensation’s 1990 debut album, Rollin’ with Number One. It’s a slightly clunky love ballad, punctuated with synth stabs and banging drums. Through a series of telephone skits and rap verses, Kid attempts to convince a girl to come over to his place, expressing his sincerity and honesty, citing how Janet Jackson and Milli Vanilli said it’s “Alright.”

The brand new 12” “Naked Mix” featured here on this vinyl reimagines “Skin 2 Skin” as a new song, centering the music around a bright, funky guitar, while also dialing back the drums and adding a wide range of trippy left-right stereo effects. The mix takes the song in a fresh, intimate direction, one where you’re more likely to be won over by Kid’s flirtation.

On the flip side, you’ll find two versions of a superb new Kid track about wealth, racism, and society called “Homey Don’t Play That.” He recounts a series of misadventures that warn of the perils of money and fame: Girls who want to spend all his dough, fair-weather friends who need to “borrow” $20… He heads to a fancy restaurant and is instructed to use the service entrance. The Maître D’ insults him, saying “Black folks are only welcome to shine our shoes.” At the closing of the song, Kid and his friends are singing the chorus as a group. One guy yells out to stop, saying “The white girl is off-beat.”

Something to love about early Kid Sensation records is how they were a playground for new ideas and new talents. They’re daring. This record features the first vinyl appearance of a young DJ Ace: His work with Prose & Concepts and the ECP in the mid-‘90s made an important mark on the scene, and his appearance here is no doubt part of the reason this 12” single is such a stellar record.

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One Time's Got No Case

When “One Time’s Got No Case” dropped at the very end of 1991, Sir Mix-A-Lot was wrapping a two-year court battle with his former label NastyMix. So it’s a curious coincidence that his first new song—the first from his own new label Rhyme Cartel—is also legally themed.

(The court case in short: Mix left NastyMix in 1990 to start a brand new Northwest hip-hop label with backing from Rick Rubin and Def American. But it was a messy divorce. NastyMix threatened breach of contract, Mix countersued for unpaid royalties, and the protracted legal battle took two years and cost a reported $1.2 million to untangle, nearly bankrupting both parties. Mix ultimately won his exit and his masters.)

Mix’s new label, Rhyme Cartel, would be devoted exclusively to Northwest rap. “My goal is to solidify the Seattle base,” said Mix to music mag The Rocket, “I kind of feel like the dope man—feed Rick Rubin a little and when he gets hooked he’s gonna want more.”

Backstory aside, “One Time’s” is a song that brings attention to racial profiling by King County police, about cops harassing a Black guy because he’s driving a def car. Mix is dragged to jail for some bullshit and his verses explain how he prevails. It’s an autobiographical caper in the style of Mix’s many other hits. The beat is built around a catchy looping guitar riff, one that feels like a rubber band bouncing his troubles away.

This vinyl includes the extended “Bass Mix” with additional lyrics, an instrumental version, and two new songs—“Lockjaw” and “Sprung On The Cat” from his then-forthcoming 1992 atom bomb album Mack Daddy. What this record made clear—when it promptly sold more than 50,000 copies—was that Mix was finally back on the scene, and victorious.

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Another notable release from the early days of Tacoma rap is this 12” single from 1991, Jealousy, by Mac 10 Posse. The trio was composed of Alcatraz on the beat, DJ Razor Ray with the scratches, and MC Kazy D on the mic. In his lyrics, Kazy D explains his arrival to the Northwest—from Texas—as part of a Navy deployment. (Military connections shaped a lot of ‘90s NW rap: Kazy D has this in common with contemporaries Chilly Uptown, Whiz Kid, and Bobby G.)

This vinyl single includes four versions of “Jealousy.” The song starts with a challenge to “do something dope” and “blaze a trail.” What follows is an autobiographical tale of success in the face of all the haters. The drums bang like car doors and there are synth stabs galore. At the song’s crescendo, after revealing his truths, Kazy D asks “So why ya gotta be so jealous?” before pausing to add “…Suckers!”

The song straddles common attitudes from early gangster rap with Tacoma’s hopping ‘80s B-Boy scene. Long instrumental breaks throughout the song are perfect for breakdancing. There’s also a six-minute all-instrumental mix, too.

In the lyrics, Kazy D refers to this as his third record, but we can’t find any evidence of anything before this one. Regardless, from here, Kazy D launched a Northwest legacy. He was one of the state’s first nationally distributed independent artists, and he and the Posse released many, many more records after this one.

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