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Mix Tape Volume 1

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Madd Demos

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Ear Protection

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Nocturnal Rage

Seattle’s notorious rain clouds set the backdrop for the thunderous reign of Nocturnal Rage. These three colorful emcees emerge from hip-hop’s gray area, much like a fiery sunrise in a dampened sky. Caligula, Pyro-Maniak, and Fo’ Feva are steppin’ out with their debut album and a perspective on what the rap game means to them. The group delivers hardcore hip-hop with a rock and funk twist combined with a live band. The album features legendary funk icon Rick James, bay area rapper Suga-T, and P-Funk guitarist Spaceman Patterson and many more. Music production includes Bosko, Mr. Roc’Phella, Philly Blunt, and Daddy-O of Stetsasonic.

The Source magazine says “Seattle’s own trio, Nocturnal Rage, packs more zest than a Starbucks menu.”

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Lockdown

“I ain’t moving nowhere to blow up, I’m doing it right here,” raps Li-Fee on the b-side song “Seattle Holla!” which namedrops a wide rollcall of Town talent: Kutfather, Silver Shadow D, Rebelz, Funk Daddy, Mr. D.O.G., Kutfather, and others.

I had never heard of Li-Fee before I found this single in a dusty stack somewhere, and I admit I was a little wary of an unknown artist with a song title like “Seattle Holla”, but I found my reservations were unfounded as soon as I listened. The two tracks on this 12″ (“Lockdown” on the A-side and “Seattle Holla!” on the B) are both great tracks, and Li-Fee’s flow dominates. His voice is akin to Guru (RIP) at times, but grittier and more intense, and his flow is quick and fervent as it skips and wraps itself around the beats. “Lockdown” is the song that sticks in the brain, with its smooth production and vocal hook provided by Crystal. “Seattle Holla” has a rigid, mechanical beat behind it with a grimy hook courtesy of Li-Fee himself, and acts as a nice foil to the smoother A-side. Apart from this 12″ the only music I can find from this guy is a Mr. Hill-produced track “They Don’t Know.” (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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The When It Rains Compilation

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Black Rose

Black Rose was released by MC Class while he was living in Los Angeles, nearly a decade after his time with Seattle rap group Brothers Of The Same Mind. This album feels very comfortable mixing spoken word poetry vibes into a slow, jazzy hip-hop format. The style is a departure from his work in the early 90s in which he rhymed much faster and louder. Black Rose sees the evolution of MC Class from a rowdy stage and cipher blaster to a laid-back armchair mastermind like Mycroft Holmes brilliantly calling the shots from his library with a glass of whiskey in his hand. Gone is the quick tempo and the urgency, and instead the album contains a very introspective rapper who takes his time with every word. A good example of this is the track “Free Your Mind.” Class seems like he has all the time in the world as he slowly drops lyrics explaining that the secret to a happy life is to let go of attachment. “Free Your Mind” captures the irresistible mass appeal that Bobby McFerrin used in 1988’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy” by speaking directly to listeners about their own lives.

“Those Were The Days” is a track about the early days of Hip Hop in New York. Class reminisces wistfully about the good old days of rap. He drops a lot of breadcrumbs for people to follow regarding some of the early names in 1980s hip-hop. Some might find it a little too on the nose, but I love it. Getting into spoken word territory, “Tennis Shoe Pimp” is all about relationships and how difficult they can be. Class wonders why nice guys finish last, rapping, “You didn’t want a nice guy to begin with because that’s boring and no fun, you want a man that’s on the run.” Another excellent track “Psychic Vampires” continues the theme of empowerment from “Free Your Mind,” and Class uses this track to warn us about people who are time and energy suckers, bringing us down. In “Psychic Vampires” Class uses his voice like an instrument dipping and rising, the way a musician would use a horn or a piano.

The album doesn’t always work, “Sticky Rice” might be trying to compliment the beauty of Asian culture, but it feels more like it sexually exoticizes Asian women instead of showing genuine appreciation. But most of the tracks land solidly and there is a great variety of beats to be found. The loose remix of his early ’90s track “Fishin” at the beginning of the album connects this new album to his earlier work, and his delivery is chilled like a bottle of sparkling water. Overall, Black Rose is a tremendous effort and it shows the growth of MC Class as an artist and a writer compared to his short solo tape in 1993 titled Brother From The Projects. When Black Rose is at its best it combines poetry and rap, and the jazz musical environment is the perfect setting for the smooth rap delicacies served up by MC Class. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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Amerika 911

Amerika 911 was a Northwest compilation that dropped in 2002 in response to the increasing hostilities directed towards the Middle East by the US. It’s a brave, gutsy little anti-war testament; as it examines the U.S. motives for engaging in war, and dares to point fingers in directions other than at the obvious motives (i.e. September 11th and Osama Bin Laden). Listen to Kylea’s verse on the first track, “A Call To Arms” for an apt summation of this record’s contents.

If it had been widely distributed it probably would have caused quite a stir among all those of us blinded by pain, bigotry, patriotism, and nationalism. But of course, it didn’t, since it was an unpopular view from an unpopular (at the time) corner of the hip-hop map–and that’s too bad in my opinion.

This compilation is dope on many levels, musically, lyrically, politically, and consciously. Bottom line, we’re all fam. Don’t let any of the powers that be tell you differently. Many notable acts contribute, including Khazm, The Flood, Yirim Seck, Castro, Specs One, Gabriel Teodros, Khingz (back when he was still calling himself Khalil Crisis), Kylea of Beyond Reality, Vitamin D, H-Bomb, Silas Blak, WD4D, E-Real Asim of Black Anger, Surge Spitable, and El Saba, who provides the defining moment with “God Bless Humanity.”

The album is an interesting mix of 2nd and 3rd wave Seattle hip-hop and captures the sound of the Town during that state of evolution. Executive produced by Khazm and G. Teodros, released in part through MADK. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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C.I.

Central Intelligence was a five MC hip-hop group from the 206 active at the turn of the millennium. Their sole album, C.I., was released in 2002. It’s bars upon bars upon bars, handing the mic between Citizen Cain, Dialect, Diopolis, LowKey, and SeaJay, backed with beats from Vitamin D and Bean One Everyone’s at the top of their game here. The track “Handle These Deeds” is a rapped autobiography, detailing how the group came together and how five opinionated emcees came to a consensus. “Dear Poppa” explores a child’s anger at an absentee father. “Real Estate” is a hidden track and a biting criticism of the gentrification of the Central District: “Watch the city rezone my hood and change its name—forced to sell the land we can’t afford to maintain… Waking up to the smell of a new Starbucks smack dab in the CD.” The whole C.I. record is one of powerful opinions, and an urgent call to action, like on “Call It As I See It,” that confronts the history taught in school, voicing that “blacks are often left without a past to trace.” With five emcees trading verses, there’s a lot to digest here. Vita and Bean keep the beats simple so the bars can shine. But it’s also not all life lessons. As the group spits on one track, “When you need that ass droppin’, the beats hard-knockin’, you’re left with one option. Who do you call? C.I.!” The song “Move!” with guitars from H-Bomb is particularly poppin’.

Here’s another take:

Criminally overlooked, Central Intelligence was among the greatest Seattle hip hop acts in the ’90s and early ’00s. Similar in sound and style to Black Anger, Source Of Labor, and Narcotik, these five emcees spit knowledge in styles that were concrete, definitive, and mature. The subject matter on this self-titled album from 2002 ranges from the personal to the political, spoken in 5 distinct, articulate voices. With like-minded beats from two of the major architects of the sound, Vitamin D and Bean One, this album is a hidden classic of the Tribal era. Besides this album, CI also contributed to the crucial Sportn’Life Compilation from 2003. They also were reputed to put on a mean live set. A slim but 100% quality legacy. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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