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American Music

This 1997 tape from 206 hip-hop guru Specswizard is quite the treasure. Coming out after the legendary Crew Clockwise and Elevators, American Music is a departure from the previous mellow, jazzy sounds of those projects. This is almost entirely instrumental, with only a few scattered freestyles and one crew cut (Eyeshock along with Erex the Exposer, Vanviesbrook, and Oh Laslo DDS – I think). The beats are frenetic and scratchy – instantly recognizable as a Specs creation, but with an unusually anxious and restless vibe. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Freestyle Demo Tape

I came across this often-rumored, seldom-heard tape today when I visited Tribal’s Bandcamp page, and couldn’t believe my eyes. I instantly downloaded it, but there was work to do and guests coming over and it had to wait there on my desktop until everything else quieted down. It’s just after Eleven at night and I have now finished listening to this for the first time and the euphoria and dopamine is still circulating in my head, so my apologies in advance if I dork out. But what am I supposed to say about this? To convince you of the value of this work? I tend to gush, and I have been called a Seattle hip-hop Stan by more than a few, and I readily accept the label – after all, have I ever posted up a negative write-up, or had anything less than stellar words to say about who I choose to post about? I can understand that what I have to say has to be taken with a grain of salt because I have an undying love for the Town and the artists in it and the music it shapes. When I was 13 years old Nirvana broke out, and a few short years later I first heard Tribal Productions’ Untranslated Prescriptions, and the rest is history. I’m a lost cause; for me Seattle was, is, and will continue to be the coolest city on the face of the Earth. In short, I know I’m biased. But, the memory of driving around in a car with my friends after school, listening over and over to Sinsemilla’s “Confrontations” and PHAT Mob’s “P.H.A.T.” above the grind of the heater – those are oddly some of my most cherished mementos I have of the heady, emotional roller-coaster ride that is adolescence. Out through stock radio speakers from a warbly tape came rough, beautiful music made by kids not much older than myself, living a few short miles away, that was unlike anything else out there. There was East coast and West coast, and then after Untranslated there was Seattle. To this day when I listen to that tape or Do The Math and hear those young voices over thin, scratchy, heart-wrenching instrumental tracks, it gives me a feeling of pride for my home – and also that the world can still be surprising, and as full of promise and terrifying opportunity as only a teenager can imagine. And now with the Freestyle Demo Tape, I have something else to invoke those emotions in me, even though I never got the chance to listen to it back then. But those young voices are still there, as is the atmosphere of that wonderfully familiar 4-track – and even without the nostalgia I chain it to, it still sounds fresher than fresh. And that my friends is why I’m all bubbly about this release – and actually everything else I post up about Seattle music. Tribal’s vibe is understated but it extends deep, throughout the Northwest and outward. That sound crafted by Vitamin D and Topspin has soaked into the Town and set the mood and tone of its music to this day, whether you like it or not. And I for one love the hip-hop of Seattle because of that mood – the whole genre in this neck of the woods has become part of Tribal’s legacy. That grey jazz, the substance of the lyrics, you can hear it all over the 206 – it still gives me a thrill whenever I catch it. And to be honest I’m here writing on this blog because of Tribal. I want people to hear this largely unknown music and understand its greatness and influence, in the hope of conveying that spark. Who I choose to write about are those that give me that same thrill, that child-like wonder, that sense of excitement that is, unfortunately, more and more rarely found as I get older. I don’t know what listening to this will do for you, as I’m sure very few of you have the same experiences with Tribal Productions but listen to it anyway. Use it to think about the music that you’re passionate about, and to think about what artists helped move you and shape you into who you are now. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Northwest Connection: What They Hittin Fo

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Whatever / Overstandings

This split 12″ is the first vinyl release from Beyond Reality and the first post-Blahzay Blah outing from Source of Labor. Beyond Reality’s side features the track “Whatever”, with a hook provided by Felicia Loud. The “Moonlight Remix” of “Whatever” is in my opinion the stronger of the two, which is a sedated, dark trippy gem. On the flip side, Source of Labor represents with the track “Overstandings”, along with its also superior “Wetlands Remix”. What can I say, I’ve always been a fan of the b-side. With this release, Kylea proves to be one of Seattle’s dopest MCs of her era; her flow is impeccably even and on point. In contrast, Wordsayer’s flow is on the dense side, and without Blah he tends to crowd the track a little bit. But he’s an emcee who’s always had a lot to say, and his flow is perfect for his message. Negus I, who produced nearly all the tracks, has always been a dope producer – I love his work with BR and SOL, and consider him one of the best beatmakers out there. He certainly doesn’t disappoint here – Especially the “Moonlight Remix”, which I think is one of his best tracks. Source of Labor, unfortunately, folded after their 2000 album, Stolen Lives. Wordsayer has been successful in managing some notable talent in the new crop of 206 hip-hop, but I can’t find any information on what Negus I has been doing. I sincerely hope he’s still making music. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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It's Raining Dope

From 1997, this is Tacoma WA’s Way Out Record’s showcase compilation of their four featured artists and in-house production team. Although only a short drive south from Seattle and its predominantly indie vibe, Tacoma apparently keeps shit gangsta. You won’t find any rare groove loops here; this is all home-grown, synth, and drum machine produced beats. Likewise, there’s no room for the typical Sea-Town philosophical pontifications on this tape – as evidenced by subject matter that is much more thuggish and street-wise than say, Silas Blak’s abstract poetry or The Saturday Knights’ party jams. Ultimately what this is, is a glimpse at another side of NW hip-hop that may not be as in vogue as their indie counterparts, but is just as vital and integral and real. From what I can gather, Way Out Records has either closed its doors or become a film production studio. However, the four emcees featured on this tape (AWall, Y.Z.E, Mr. Young Krime, and Young Gangsta Dog) can still be found doing their thing on their own releases and as guests on the releases of other local artists. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Where Ya Goin Wo?

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Hustlin-N-Hell

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Everything is Nice

“The country’s losing lives while the leader’s out of touch… The shit that be happening… is what got me rapping…” These lyrics loop throughout the title track of Everything is Nice by Seattle hip-hop OGs Prose & Concepts (aka Six In The Clip) whose trippy self-released second album, from 1997, is perfect headphones music for these times. The production is inventive ear candy, while the lyrics continue to hold deep resonance 23 years on. Novocaine 132 wrote this review for The Rocket music newspaper back in the ‘90s about it:

The second album, Everything is Nice, from Seattle’s legendary Prose & Concepts, is as much a Northwest original as the neon Red Hook sign shown in the cover photo. Their debut record, Procreations, brought increased pride to Seattle rap fans through tracks like “W.O.T.R.” “Do You Know?,” “Allone in This Field” and “Roll Call on the 1 and 2’s.”

Everything is Nice continues to prove that literacy and hip-hop aren’t necessarily antonyms. From the cannabis-soaked “Tiny Bubbles,” to the poetic tactics of “Courting Miss Understood,” to the sweet, drifting chorus on “The Ballad,” the album stands head and shoulders above the recycled gangster releases pervading the charts. My personal favorite cut, “Turntable Rhapsody in E Minor,” had me asking turntablist DJ Ace why he didn’t “put that on something” (for instance, Return of the DJ Volume II, where it certainly belongs). I wish I could truly say that everything is nice, but like Goodie Mob said, “I wanna tell you that it’s all good but it ain’t”; one of the group’s MCs, Michael “Dub” Weltmann, died on the last day of 1996. His verse in the closing song “Loose Cannon” will, to many, always be an eerie reminder of just how fragile life really is. I think we need a moment of silence.

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14 Fathoms Deep

Exponential growth, part one: Woman gives herself a home permanent. Her hair looks so good that she tells two friends, and they tell two friends, and so on…

Exponential growth, part two: Andre “Dr. Dre” Young gets on with NWA, and goes on to make some of the best beats ever produced. On Dre’s Deep Cover track he employed the velvet-tongued Snoop, who hasn’t looked back since beginning his pursuit of Death Row domination. Once Snoop hit platinum status, he was quick to put Daz and Kurupt on a disc, and from there forward those two certainly haven’t done too shabbily. The point is this: Every artist has friends they want to help out once they themselves have safely achieved success.

Keeping this in mind, it is with eager anticipation that I await the exponential growth of Seattle’s rap/hip-hop scene following the long-coming release of the new Loosegroove compilation, 14 Fathoms Deep. This record is so heavy it could hang with Tad. Let’s face it: Its weight is just plain ridiculous. This is the kind of music that could inspire 14 empires, build 14 record labels, or, at the very least, boost 14 of Seattle’s hip-hop groups a little bit closer to well-deserved fame and fortune.

Allow me to break it down track by ahead-of-its-time track. Sinsemilla contributes the perfect opener for the compilation, a scherzando club track titled “Drastic Measures.” Verbal twists like, “Down with a criminal Jill we Jack together” can and will get you open extra wide. Next, 22nd Precinct barges in with the unruly honesty of “Great Outdoors”: “It’s a pity the way the city treats the poor” had me thinking of the forgotten and misplaced, huddling over downtown Seattle’s iron steam grates.

“Official Members” by Mad Fanatic (featuring Raychyld) will definitely catch you rewinding. It’s slow and hypnotic, and lyrics like “My rhyme’s deep in the dirt/ Worms can’t find it” beg to be heard twice. DMS furthers the slow groove on “Keep Da Change,” but spiky attitude is the key here: “The six is in the mix so domino motherfucker” rides a keyboard-funk beat.

A powerhouse Source of Labor dazzles with their track, “Cornbread.” It’s all about musical subtlety when lines like “How can you claim to be an MC/When an MC’s what you just can’t be/ You can’t be an MC and not freestyling” make the point undeniable. Ghetto Chilldren get their OJ on with “Court’s in Session,” and Pulp Fiction’s most enduring catchphrase becomes Forrest Gump’s threat to “get medieval on your buttocks.” The sparest of basslines and flute notes flutter prettily behind harsh words like “You stand accused of being wack in the first degree/ Premeditating slang terms for your hardcore soliloquies.” “All Up in the Mix” by Narcotik opens with the most breathtaking sample on 14 Fathoms Deep (“The 206 is in my mix”). The rhyme proceeds to kick some street philosophy with plenty of drinking and smoking thrown in for good measure.

Beginning vinyl side three is Jace (featuring Dionna), with “Ghetto Star.” Its catchy chorus and storyline lyrics ensure this track will be engraved front-and-center in your brain for weeks to come. Beyond Reality–who are listed on the album as Kylin–brings on the spirit of the Jasiri Media Group with their track “Can.” “Let me take your mind on a little mental journey,” invites lead MC Kylea. For the most metaphors per line, look for “Higher Places” by Prose & Concepts, a group that falls into the “survival of the fattest” category.

“Insomniack Museick” by NS of the O.N.E Corporation is probably the moodiest track on the compilation. Dark clouds of drifting keyboards become still more ominous layered behind introspective lyrics such as “Sometimes I’d even trade a nightmare/ Just for 50 winks.” The beat on “Interrogation” by Blind Council bubbles like the scuba gear on the compilation’s cover, and the rhyme is strictly for the connoisseurs out there. Union of Opposites (featuring Shonuph) put down a forward-moving track titled “Continuations”-its relay-style chorus is as fresh as the verses, and the melodic tone moves the disc into another direction entirely. “Wipe off the dust from your mind and recline in my oration.” It’s at once relaxing and educating.

The last cut, also by far the longest, is the most difficult to categorize. The group is the Crew Clockwise and their song, titled “A New Day,” is a heady mix of the many styles showcased on 14 Fathoms Deep. Now I know what Specs meant on Do the Math when he said, “Soon to hit wax I can’t wait.”

So now you know the deal. When these groups start putting their friends on future projects, it may mean more than some heads can handle. 14 Fathoms Deep is not just another hip-hop compilation. In actuality, it’s a promise of even lovelier things to come. Instead of talking about how materialistic and useless today’s rap is, these 14 groups are doing something positive and proactive. Rap music is not dead. Seattle has the Phoenix in the mix. (This review originally appeared in The Stranger in 1997 and was written by Novocaine132.)

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206 Mix Tapes (Worldwide)

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Better Days

This three-song EP from Third Degree was recorded at both Audio Genesis and Mr. Supreme’s Wax Museum in Seattle, WA. I wish I had more insight into MC Third Degree, but this guy has flown under my radar since I first heard this back in ’98. He name-checks Seattle, South Carolina, LA, and a few other spots along the way. I don’t think he ever released anything else, but then again, maybe he did. Yep. I know nothing. In usual Conception fashion, Mr. Supreme provides the beat for the excellent “Better Days”, while Jake One handles production duties for the flipside (“Uprising”). Third Degree definitely broadcasts his influences in his delivery (think Smif N Wessun), and Jake and Supreme cater their beats to fit. Actually, listening to Supreme’s music you can tell he’s a big fan of Boot Camp as well. In any case, the record is dope: This is timboot-stomping and infectious music. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Maxed Out Singles

Black Anger is an extension of the sibling production team Bedroom Produksionz, consisting of DJ Sayeed and emcee Kindu. With the addition of E-Real Asim, they become Black Anger. In my opinion, they occupy the top tier of ’90s Northwest acts along with Tribal Productions, Silent Lambs, and Source of Labor. This EP was put out by K records in ’97 and remains a high point in the recorded output of local acts – especially “206 Mix Tapes,” one of the dopest tracks in ’90s hip-hop – period. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Block Drama

In 1997, when Block Drama hit the streets, all signs pointed to rap group Diamond Mercenaries being the next big thing from Seattle. The hip-hop duo of Black Star and 3D took their name from a 1976 heist film starring Peter Fonda and OJ Simpson. “Introducing brand new casting on your block,” is how the track begins, with a banging beat courtesy of hot new producer Jake One (appearing for the first time on vinyl) and based off a sample from Seattle royalty Quincy Jones. The thought-provoking verses that follow cover quick money made, making deals, street survival strategies… “Crime’s my only topic.” The vinyl-only “Block Drama” single was the seventh release from hip indie label Conception, founded only a few years earlier by superstar DJ Supreme La Rock, Shane Hunt, and The Flavor’s Strath Shepard. And yet… Despite much promise, heaps of praise from critics and DJs, and a rumored full-length album recorded and ready, Diamond Mercenaries only ever released this single and a couple of other standalone songs, none of which are available online today. Conception folded not long after and that album never materialized. Diamond Mercenaries blazed bright like a match for only a moment in time. In an interview in The Rocket, Black Star says, “If we get on TV, that’s cool and all, but I ain’t doing it to get on a video. I ain’t doing it to flash gold and diamond rings and all that. I’m doing this to make y’all rock. That’s what I love to do.”

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Earth Wind & Fire

From ’97, here is the lone single by Cuneiform and Sub-Zero (AKA Trust and Nickle Slick, at least according to the interwebs), collectively known as Fourfifths. I’m not sure where these cats are from, but this release was on Mr. Supreme’s Conception Records, so the chances are they were Seattle emcees.

Side A contains the Remix of “Earth, Wind & Fire,” with an early production effort by Jake One. Side B has the original version of “Earth” as well as “The Science,” both by Supreme. I’m struck by how different the two versions of “Earth Wind & Fire” are from one another. Jake One’s beat gives the track a slinky, nocturnal, and dangerous vibe, while Mr. Supreme’s trademark penchant for melancholia turns the song into a world-weary grind. Oddly enough, Supreme’s beat totally wins out. (In fact, I think it’s one of the best cuts he’s ever done.) It’s an infectious and beautiful track with a melody that sticks with you.

Apart from this 12″, Fourfifths can also be heard on two of the best tracks from the Sharpshooters’ Choked Up (“Analyze” and “Trust No One”). It’s a shame that they didn’t go further, because as their slender output attests, they were heat. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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General Inna Penitentiary

From Conception Records back in 1997. DJ Sureshot and Mr. Supreme on deck. Sureshot produced the A-side, while Supreme provided his ample programming skills. The Diamond Mercenaries show up to add flavor on the b-side, where Supreme handled all production duties. This dancehall-infused 12″ is sadly all Selassie I Soldier ever released commercially. I say sadly because both the original and remix are truly infectious tracks. More dope Seattle flavor that went under the radar. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Word Sound Power

Jasiri Media Group arrived on the Seattle scene in 1993 as the brainchild of Jonathan Moore, a.k.a. Wordsayer. The Jasiri record label was created primarily to express the heritage of African culture and how it developed in the United States. This meant confronting harsh truths about racism and the 400-year history of slavery in America. Jasiri did not dance around these difficult subjects but rather forced the listeners to think about them. Wordsayer even named his group “Source of Labor” to describe how the slave merchants viewed their human cargo. Word, Sound, Power is an ambitious musical project from 1997 which features many artists on the Jasiri label, including Source of Labor and Beyond Reality. “Overstandings” is one highlight track by SOL, and it sums up many of Wordsayer’s philosophies and observations about life. The real dynamo of this compilation is Beyond Reality. On tracks like “I Reality,” “Whatever,” and “333” emcee Kylea drops her typewriter-click-clack lyrical technique that captures the urgency of the group’s message. SOL and BR collaborate on one spectacular track, “SolBr,” which crystallizes the talent and drive of these two groups. Word, Sound, Power is necessary and beautiful, and this compilation is a key part of Seattle’s long hip hop history. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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