A film about Northwest hip-hop from

The DCP Organization

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Drop Top

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Krakker Bashin

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Monologs And Soliloquys For Your Mom

Tribal Productions was a collective of rappers and DJs who came together in the late 1980s and early 1990s in Seattle. They were a diverse crew with street-influenced acts like Narcotik positioned alongside more backpack-style groups like Union Of Opposites. Four members of Tribal formed a group called Ghetto Chilldren: Vitamin D, B-Self, Culture, and Capabilities. The group’s first release was a four-song cassette called Monologs And Soliloquys. Ghetto Chilldren caused a huge buzz with this release. It established the Tribal sound, which was dusty yet hard drums mixed with acutely chosen jazzy samples. Where artists like Puffy were taking top 40 hits and remaking them into rap karaoke, producers like Premier, Pete Rock, and Vitamin D were looking for obscure arrangements and turning them into new melodies. Monologs & Soliloquys is a stellar example of a paradigm shift in Seattle rap, a quantum leap of creativity.

The first song is titled “Odd Ball Sindrome,” and it introduced Ghetto Chilldren as outsiders to the mainstream rap culture. They were more like sketch comedians at times, with little snippets of samples and dialog before and after the tracks. “BBQ Sause & The Stank Nasty” is the second song. In this lighthearted track, the crew shares stories of trying to meet girls at barbecues. It succeeds on a number of levels, capturing the wildness of youth and the “anything can happen” feeling of long summer nights.

“Questions” begins side B with a long intro featuring Vitamin’s younger brother bugging him while he tries to work on the track. By side B it’s evident that clever wordplay was the currency of the group. It’s thesaurus rap but wait, it’s not about just showing off SAT vocab like Jack Harlow in an SNL NFT rap, but more about using language artistically in a way that it has never been used before. The lyrics are never cute or overbearing, rather the verses leave you with a feeling of brain tickle. I don’t know how else to describe it. The last song “20 Bucks” is all about the value of money to someone in high school. This might be my favorite beat of the four, it’s extremely catchy.

All in all, this tape is valuable as a snapshot of the four-member lineup of the group. By their next releases on Untranslated Prescriptions and Do The Math, the group had slimmed to just Vitamin D and B-Self performing as a duo. Ghetto Chilldren in any configuration is a foundational group in Seattle hip hop. This tape allows the listener to hear them take their first unsteady steps, and it’s magic each time you play it! (Written by Novocaine132.)

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Brother From The Projects

This is a rare one. Seattle rapper MC Class released this classic NW tape back in ’93. Recorded at Shoreline Community College just north of Seattle (and where I went to school for audio engineering), these six songs evoke hip-hop’s golden age. Guest emcee Legacy shows up on one track and Supreme supports with beats on at least a few of these tracks. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Transitions

I can vividly remember the first night I ever heard Elevators. It was way back in ’94, and a couple of dudes I knew and I were crammed into my crappy-ass lowrider, parked at the beach, blitzed out of our minds on some heavy shit. The stereo was on, and Digable Planets’ Blowout Comb had just flipped over in the tape deck back to side 1.

This night would have been memorable just for that: my first listen to that perfect record, which is still one of my all-time favorites.

But what really did it for me was what came next: My man said “Hey, have you heard Elevators?” I mumbled something negatory, at which point Blowout was immediately and unceremoniously ejected in favor of a quiet little home-recorded cassette that has shaped the face of Northwest hip-hop to this day.

For being released in 1993, this tape was on the next level. The beats were rough and low-fi, and the vocals were quiet but confidently conscious. The buzz at the time is that Elevators were Seattle’s answer to Gang Starr, but they were something more as well: They effectively moved Seattle forward beyond the 808-heavy party tracks of Sir Mix-A-Lot, and laid the groundwork that eventually put Seattle on the underground hip-hop map.

From the quietly jazzy and lyrically substantial aesthetic later employed by Tribal and Source of Labor, and beyond to the indie sound of Blue Scholars and Common Market, Elevators’ influence is unmistakable, so give Specs One and E-Sharp a serious head nod for sculpting the sound of the Northwest.

Specs One aka Specswizard aka M See Eye Shock has gone on to be one of the most creative and long-lasting characters in the 206 hip-hop firmament; as an emcee, visual artist, and producer. If you look, he’s literally everywhere. Not to be slept on! (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space)

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

'90s Unreleased, Demos & Rare Tracks

Casual fans of Tribal Productions know about the collective’s famous 1996 rap compilation called Do The Math which now sells for hundreds of dollars on Discogs. More serious followers not only have Do The Math but also trade copies of Untranslated Prescriptions, the crew’s rare earlier compilation from 1995. But then we come to the third category of Tribal fan, the completist. Fellow Town Love writer Jack Devo fits into this third category, and he has written an excellent piece here about the obscure Tribal Productions release titled Freestyle Demo Tape which was uploaded to Bandcamp in 2013. Back 2 Da Source Records in Belgium has been releasing an incredible series of Tribal reissues on vinyl, including Narcotik’s classic album Intro To Da Central in 2018, and then Untranslated and Math in 2019. In 2021, Back 2 Da Source gave us another dose of that sweet Tribal goodness, this gatefold collection of a dozen early tracks called 90’s Unreleased, Demos & Rare Tracks by foundational Tribal group Ghetto Chilldren.

Ghetto Chilldren began as four members, Culture, Capabilities, B-Self, and Vitamin D. The four young musicians came together at a time when hip-hop was rediscovering its identity after several years of domination by gangster rap. Groups like De La Soul and Freestyle Fellowship were showing a blueprint for rap that dealt with complicated emotions caused by issues of identity, progress, and everyday life. Ghetto Chilldren rapped about their academic successes and failures, their attempts at meeting women, and fears about neighborhood violence. These topics were relatable to listeners, and the tracks were entertaining and educational. Ghetto Chilldren caught a huge buzz in Seattle, which led to attention from major labels. They got a demo deal from Geffen, but creative differences crashed that project and the group returned to Seattle.

90’s Unreleased, Demos & Rare Tracks proves the unparalleled skill of GC despite the extremely lo-fi sound. The songs were recorded at The Pharmacy studio, which at that time was Vitamin D’s basement bedroom. Vocals were recorded using a single Shure mic in the middle of the studio, with all the resulting hiss and background noise. If you listen closely you can catch snippets of voices or laughter from other people in the room. Even with the lo-fi setup, the tracks are masterpieces. The beat for “On The 1’s and 2’s” has a carefree, moon-gravity astronaut bounce, and don’t miss B-Self’s hilarious verse about avoiding gangbangers. “Detour To The Left” disarms with its clever inventive hook that bursts open like a flower in spring. But “Free Enterprise” featuring Narcotik is the star of the show. Found on a never-released Tribal project called Therapeutics, this track sounds sparkling and streamlined next to the earlier amateur material on this release. “Free Enterprise” is the dope theme song of Y2K and it exemplifies the unlimited potential of rap to create its own billion-dollar industry.

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

See Level 1991-1993 EP

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

After Dark

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Seattle... The Dark Side

BOOM! Here it is. The best rap and R&B coming out of this dirty-white, rock ‘n’ roll lovin’ Emerald City. So says Mix-A-Lot, the biggest rap act out of this area for hundreds of miles. (And sadly, that’s straight up the truth.) He damn near promised us a sure-fire, kick in the ass, hit-to-hit collection by putting this LP out on his own label. (And that’s more proof for my earlier statement.)

BAM. I’ll be dipped in jeri curl juice! There’s some fresh and creative “dark” music being hidden away in this town somewhere. Mix, his new label Rhyme Cartel, and American Records (Rick Rubin dropped the “Def” part) have put out a rough and stylin’ nine-song selection. Not all of this compilation would be banned by the late KFOX playlist, though. There are some mainstream artists on this CD; a good third of it is mediocre at best. But that just makes the best stuff really shine.

My favorite cut is newcomer Jazz Lee Alston’s “Love…Never That.” It sent shivers down my spine. This is probably the best example of how dark it can get in a young adult’s mind. It’s an abstract tale of a female struggling to deal with an abusive boyfriend and the father of her child. It’s delivered in a slow, deliberate spoken-word fashion to a shuffling jazz tempo and haunting keyboard samples — a style few female rappers have dared to try.

I’m a sucker for ’70s soul samples. Two songs, in particular, bent my ear for a funfilled tour to back when. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Sunshine” and Con Funk Shun’s “By Your Side” make for instant grooving on Jay Skee’s “Menace Crook” and Kid Sensation’s “Flava You Can Taste,” respectively.

Not all of the cuts rely on trips to yesteryear. E-Dawg’s “Little Locs” brings this LP back to the ’90s in a big way, using production skills that have had city streets cracking all over the US.

Two of the artists didn’t get their start in Seattle. Jay-Skee is from the LA area and Jazz Lee Alston is from New York City. So is Seattle really putting out new good rap acts? Or are they coming to this area to make it big?

I’m serious! This area has more major label scouts sniffing around than espresso carts on its corners. It is probably easier to count the numbers who are actually from Seattle. This album could be a swan song for most of these acts, or it could be just the beginning of some good, dark music for the future. (This review originally appeared in The Rocket and was written by Scott Griggs.)

Here’s another take:

Times change. This comp dropped in 1993, which to me was the year of the Great Upheaval in Northwest hip-hop. At that time, gangsta had outlived its welcome and new acts like Heiro and the Pharcyde were grabbing the attention. Local artists like Mix-A-Lot and Kid Sensation had lost their cool and had become the stuff of middle school dances, so by the time I heard about this album, my ears were closed.

I was in high school, the future underground was in full swing, and local acts like the Elevators and Tribal had quite effectively turned the early-’90s gangsta and R&B industry into a joke.

Though I did not appreciate this record at the time, listening to it in retrospect, I can hear the value in it. Here is some top-quality hip-hop attempting to assert itself in the face of change, And more poignantly, this is a declaration from Seattle’s Afro-American community and a group of artists who were very much left out of the anglicized Northwest music explosion of the early ’90s (AKA GRUNGE).

Dark Side is a short record. But its 35 minutes effectively showcases an important time in the 206’s long history of hip-hop. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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