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Save Me

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Jonathan Moore Speaks

A classic moment from The Coolout Network: Jonathan Moore speaks at a hip-hop peace rally at Westlake Center in Seattle, WA. after a shooting in Pioneer Square. He describes the power of hip-hop musicians and rappers to tell the stories of Black youth. “We are the media,” he repeats.

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Enter The Madness

Enter The Madness is an hour-long film from 2000 that provides an essential time capsule of turn-of-the-millennium hip-hop in the Pacific Northwest. It was directed by King Khazm and produced by DJ Scene, and includes flashes of late-’90s Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver, too.

The film adheres to the four pillars of hip-hop, devoting a roughly equal amount of time to riveting turntable battles, incredible, lengthy breakdancing sequences, freestyles, rap battles, and walls painted with now long-gone graffiti. The film captures many moments that even at the time were fleeting… That today would be forgotten were it not for the existence of this film.

There are some curious editing choices here–like, say cutting back and forth between graffiti and a peeing elephant–or the addition of picture frame borders, fisheye lenses, and inverted film negative effects, but there are also dozens of blink-and-you’ll miss cameos from Seattle hip-hop greats like Silver Shadow D, Kutfather, Asun, Khingz, and others. Sit back with your favorite accompaniment and enjoy this visual spectacle.

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Holy Haters

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Chapter II: A Hustlaz Livin Hell

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Money Motivated

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The Trade

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By The Way

Back in the day I used to live up the road from this oasis of cool in West Seattle known as Easy Street Records. I’d literally spend hours in a day there. They had imports, singles, a barrel of tapes to sift through, t-shirts, bootlegs, stickers, pins, and an entire upstairs dedicated to used vinyl. Famous acts would, and still, show up there and do free shows. They shared a wall with a cafe or a pool hall or something, and eventually, they broke the wall down. Add to that it lies on the corner of Alaska and California, known as “The Junction”, on several major bus routes. It’s a hopping locale and caters to a diverse crew.

So when I was a teenager I’d save up all my money from whatever shitty job I had and go spend nearly all of it down at that shop. I spent most of my time upstairs in the used record section. At the time I was infatuated with hip-hop, especially producing, but I had yet to really dip my feet into it. But years before I ever bought a sampler or turntable I was there sifting through the used jazz and soul records, digging for breaks.

Dylan, the record buyer there, was an immeasurable help to me back then. He was one of the few cats out there who let me know what was up. For example, he was the guy who steered me away from Chuck Mangione and towards Herbie Mann. He told me about great musicians like Grant Green and Ramsey Lewis, and about great sources of dopeness like the CTI label. At the end of a long day digging through musty old stacks of records, I’d head downstairs with my purchases and he’d be at the counterpointing out which tracks had the dopest grooves for each record, and what other records to hunt for.

At a time when I was young, timid, and had no idea how or where to jump into the vast universe of hip-hop culture, he destroyed my preconceptions of the crate-digger who jealously guarded their loops, and made me feel a little more confident that I could do this shit. By the Way is a record he made back in 2000.

From one listen you can tell he’s a literal library of loops and breaks. He’s worked with diverse acts like Kirk Dubb, the Beasties, and 764-Hero, and his current project, “The Slew” is a collab with him, Kid Koala, and two former Wolfmothers.

For comparisons’ sake, By the Way has sounds similar to DJ Frane and the Propellerheads. Among several other tracks “Alki Beach Drive” stands out as the shit. I used to get off work in the middle of the night, blaze, then take the scenic route home. I’d drive along the Alki Beach Drive, stoned out of my gourd, eating 7-Eleven hot dogs, listening to this stoney old mixtape I made that had this track on it. Mmm, hotdogs.

Well, um, thank you Dynomite D, for all the encouragement and knowledge and direction, and for this very dope record you made. It’s great instrumental hip-hop. Seriously groovy music here. Kirk Dubb co-produces one track and Kid Koala guests on another. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Parallel To Hell

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H.O.R.

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Soul Liquor

I always thought that if this album dropped in any other city it would have been a huge, huge hit. Likewise, if it had dropped a couple of years after its release. But in 2000, Seattle was still off the hip-hop radar, and The Silent Lambs Project (Jace and Blak) was unfortunately just too far ahead of their time.

You can hear their voices on the early Seattle compilations, over the grey, murky, rainy musical backdrop, but when they joined forces as The Silent Lambs, they took that bleak, damp atmosphere to a whole new level.

Soul Liquor is a dark album. Dark and ominous. Jace’s rhymes are sedated and deadpan like he hasn’t seen the sun in months, while Blak’s deep-bass voice growls and stutters on the offbeat like some sick troll under a bridge.

Producer King Otto (along with Mr. Hill and Bean One) provides the perfect sonic backdrop. Listen to the string section straining for a resolution that never comes on “H.O.R.”, or the disjointed piano loop from “Original Conviction.” Or the empty, cave-like quality of the live cuts. This is a dark record.

Whereas Seattle compatriots Oldominion tend to glorify and romanticize the dark side of existence, The Silent Lambs give it to you straight. There’s no glorification here. Every metaphor is spoken in a monotone, like a grocery list, making the blasted aural landscape even bleaker. So I guess this album wouldn’t have been a hit in another city, as it is so definitely a Northwest record. And if it had come out later, it might have just been dismissed as another act cashing in on the “Northwest Sound” credited to Oldominion. It’s too bad because The Silent Lambs Project deserves to be recognized as one of the great inspirational acts in the underground hip-hop constellation. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Destiny/Haters

With this 12″ release, H-Bomb and Topspin dropped two of their unmistakable tracks. I say unmistakable because as blenders of the old-school party jam aesthetic and new-school consciousness, they were unparalleled. Listen to H-Bomb’s delivery, his rhyme stanzas, and on which syllables he places the emphasis; and you get the sense that he pays homage to the originators of the art with every verse. But both lyrically and musically the vibe was firmly embedded in the current style (at least, for 2000-era hip-hop).

“Destiny” is a melody-driven, achingly beautiful track, and a Tribal Production through and through. “It is our destiny to be the best we can be, while the rest will be trying to learn our recipe,” they rap without a hint of irony. I say that because, in 2000, the writing was on the wall for Tribal Productions, so for Sinsemilla to rap about success in the game would have normally come across as absurd posturing.

However, the “destiny” they speak of has nothing to do with making ends or high rolling: it’s about personal skill, staying true to the art, and ultimately leaving behind a legacy that one can be proud of. And the b-side, “Haters,” might as well have been the official 206 hip-hop anthem in the ’90s. It’s been said many times, the Northwest couldn’t catch a break back then no matter what. This was the last I saw of Sinsemilla. It’s a fitting and poignant end to this crucial and historic NW duo, at least collectively. As for now, Topspin is still producing and dropping ill mixtapes, while from what I hear H-Bomb is active with studio work. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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The Narcosis

Another Tribal 12″ from 2000. Tizzy T and C-Note are the sharp-edged Narcotik, one of the harder acts in the Tribal Productions collective. Lyrically they keep it streetwise, and their style is direct, which makes them somewhat of an anomaly when compared to Ghetto Chilldren or Union of Opposites. They represent here with two classic Vitamin D – produced tracks, “The Narcosis” and “Makes Me Wanna Bust”. Vita really demonstrates his versatility as a beatmaker with this release, as he puts his usual penchant for mellow, jazz-inflected tracks on hold in favor of a cleaner and more dramatic score. “Bust” features a sick verse from Silent Lamb Silas Blak. Another ill offering from the formative days of the 206. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Sedated Thoughts

From 2000, this is the sophomore 12″ by Seattle emcee Nomad da Nomadic. This is one of my personal favorites in the 206 section. Nomad is a Northwest cat through and through–his flow is heavy-footed and grimey, and the top-notch beats on these three tracks (by Jake One, Bean One, and Proh Mic) are mid-tempo, dusty, and rough.

There are no tricks here. No ironic raps in double-time, no clever pop-culture samples, no guests emcees to dilute what he has to say. Nomad delivers his message straight to your head in plain language. This release sums up what I love about the old-school Northwest scene: In an era of hip-hop known for its unchecked expansion and wild experimentation, this record remains understated, direct, and wholly refreshing because of it. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Time Called Think

One of the sickest 12″s I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing, this is Silas Blak and King Otto’s “Time Called Think” b/w “How Obnoxious” and “I Know Why” from 2000.

As a lyricist and stylist, Blak is unique; a true artist unlike any other. His dark, abstract imagery is only made more vivid by his deep and off-beat delivery. Otto comes with a set of beats that are equally impressive. “Time Called Think” is haphazardly carried along by a chopped, stumbling bass loop with little else to fill the empty space; while in contrast, “How Obnoxious” utilizes a big band. Always a fan of the b-side, my personal favorite is the epic and atonal dirge “I Know Why”. If ever a track was too short, it’s this one.

These tracks were meant as a sampling from the forthcoming album Slowburn that apparently never made it to the store shelves. If this 12″ was any indication of the quality present, it’s truly a shame it never materialized. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Non-Fiction

This is the high-energy sophomore single from Seattle class act Bedroom Produksionz. BP is one of those great acts that could move the crowd as well as move minds in equal measure. MC Kendo comes like the man on a mission that he is, loud and demanding your attention; while Sayid’s cleanly-sliced, sample-heavy production could leave Babu in the dust on his best day. His beats just make you want to move, to jump. Simultaneously the lyrics are a dense, impassioned social commentary where no word is wasted – definitely coming from a cerebral angle. It’s a winning combination.

This is the last single they put out collectively, which is a shame, to say the least. With such a strong output (no matter how slim) it makes me wish there was an album or two to cop out there for sure. Get your head nod on and your fist pump warmed up for “Non-Fiction” b/w “Temple N0.8”. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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The Shinin' Director's Cut EP

Olympia’s K Records put out some surprising stuff back in the day. Take this, for example: The Shinin’s Directors Cut EP. This West Coast release, produced entirely by Take One and None, featured the rare combination (at least at that time) of both Cali and Northwest emcees. PM, Universal, DR. OOP, and J-Thorn represent the south, while Samson S, Vitamin D, and Bedroom Produksionz stand up for the north. 8 tracks in all, 5 vox, and 3 instrumental. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Stolen Lives

Source of Labor’s Stolen Lives, from 2000, is a masterpiece of Seattle hip-hop. Source Of Labor was unlike any other rap group before or since. Everyone should have this in their collection. I can’t speak highly enough about this contribution to our city’s musical canon. (It’s oft-cited as the record that inspired a young Macklemore to begin rapping, FWIW.)

If you’ve never heard of this record, go seek it out immediately. Pictured here is the 19-track double vinyl. As Wordsayer raps on the opener, it’s an “out-of-body audio excursion.” If you can’t snag the vinyl, there’s also a CD version, with a different cover.

Source of Labor was primarily the work of emcee Wordsayer (the late, great Jonathan Moore) and Negus I, with contributions from Vitamin D and MC Kylea, aka Beyond Reality. Stolen Lives was the long-anticipated debut full-length album from a group whose influence is hard to measure. And they deliver here an album that is viscerally emotional, expansive, and experimental, sometimes with a careening rap flow that feels like a car accelerating down a very large hill without brakes. It’s thrilling.

The album is also defiantly proud of its Seattle roots, with civic anthems like “Wetlands,” or there’s “Sunshowers,” which opens with an audio clip that suggests that the people of Seattle think that “the sun is evil.” (LOL.)

The songs often incorporate live performance recordings, which I have to say groups today don’t do enough. I especially love Side 4 and the song “Invaded Lands”, featuring Beyond Reality, which I’ll confess I’ve often had on repeat, playing just that one side over and over again. Treat yourself and seek this own out today.

Here’s another take:

Source of Labor’s prominence on the local hip-hop scene is growing in accordance with the effort the group (and Jasiri Media as a whole) keeps pourin’ into it. If you’ll pardon the play on words, the labor that goes into the source of this sound is massive: From their regular, high-energy shows in Seattle to Stolen Lives, their new full-length album, Source of Labor are working hard to carve a distinct niche for themselves in a corner of the country that still isn’t recognized for the quality hip-hop that keeps sprouting up out of the region’s soggy, intellectual thought-generating climate.

It’s precisely that climate that Source of Labor keep paying tribute to on songs like “Emerald City,” “Sunshower” and “Wetlands,” a catchy song released last year as a 12-inch single. (Anyone else want to get “Wetlands” nominated as the city’s honorary theme song?)

Razor-sharp turntablism, an assortment of humorous, Northwest-specific samples and nice mixing touches make for a strong, original album, and Wordsayer (vocalist and songwriter Jonathan Moore) has got an unquestionable knack for loose, flowing, historically and socially grounded microphone poeticism. To be sure, not every track is particularly memorable-or even seems designed to be-but songs like “Easy” are standout cuts by any standard. Opening with a live version and segueing smoothly into the studio recording, “Easy” rushes you off on a kind of laidback, intergalactic journey, and stops along the way for some schoolin’ on the importance of a positively conscious lifestyle in word, intent, and deed. That’s the kind of message that we could all stand to incorporate more fully into our lives. (This review originally appeared in The Rocket and was written by Silja J.A. Talvi.)

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

One

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