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Street Smartz

Dropping a second album is a difficult hurdle for many musicians, especially if their first one was well received. The challenge is to give fans enough of the same vibe that initially hooked them, but then to also introduce some new components, which allows the artist’s identity to evolve. Laura “Piece” Kelley set a high bar for herself with her complex, self-titled debut Piece in 2003. Piece was an album which drew from both the rap and poetry worlds. Hip hop tracks like “Caution,” and “Once Upon A Dream,” coexisted happily with poetic volleys such as “Gray,” or possibly her best known track “Central District.” Four years later, Piece released her second album Street Smartz in 2007. Luckily for the listeners, the energy is just as high and the quality of the tracks is equally stunning.

Street Smartz has something for everyone, and it shows Piece’s range as a performer. The snappy “We Do This,” for instance, defines inclusivity with its repeated mantra, “this movement is we.” It reminds me of the 1995 Seattle classic “Come With We,” by Source Of Labor. The expert scratching by DJ DV One on title track “Street Smartz” adds to the four-elements affirmation in the lyrics. “Street smarts, master your craft, DJs, MCs, breakdance and graf,” goes her rousing chorus. Two conscious cuts, “Peace Keepers” and “Weapens,” are calls to action and social awareness that can’t be ignored.

I found the technique of “Letters 2 Life” very compelling. In the lyrics, Piece writes letters to “Fear,” “Time,” and “Truth,” and by treating these abstract concepts as if they were people, she opens up an intensely philosophical correspondence. The vulnerability found in “Letters 2 Life” shows that Piece is not afraid to reveal her deepest personal feelings on the microphone. “Rap Star” has an easily understood, anti-materialism message. “I don’t wanna be a rap star talking about my cash flow or my dope car,” she sings defiantly. Because there are very few words on “My Precinct,” and “Keep It Moving,” the music does the heavy lifting on those two tracks, putting them in the same neighborhood as Madonna’s “Justify My Love.”

While the album bursts with creative compositions, I will say that there is not a ton of spontaneity. Similar to a live theater production, Piece’s raps and songs sound well-rehearsed. We never hear any bloopers, coughs, or off-beat rhymes that might serve to humanize the artist a little. Piece is no accidental musician, she clearly inhabits her music one thousand percent. Plus, her love of language is evident in the way that she writes. Street Smartz is impeccable and important, so let’s consider the ‘sophomore slump’ averted. Written by Novocaine132

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Khazm & The Pearl Street Associates

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Black Evergreen

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The Only Forgotten Son

In a podcast interview with DJ Peg, Fatal Lucciauno remembers the first rap that he ever wrote when he was a young child of seven or eight years old. Then he proceeds to spit the verse, which uses the hook, “Education is the key.” Fatal also remembers a second early rhyme that he wrote about having a positive Black identity, despite the legacy of historical American racism.

Fast forward to 2006, and Seattle rap family Sportn’ Life Records was having a huge year. The label put out Cause & Effect by D. Black, an album so heavy that it has been described here at Town Love as a “debate-ending anvil from a talented prodigy.” Sportn’ Life then teased an album from Fatal Lucciauno by dropping a three-song promo CDr. The hard hitting tracks, “Watch My Back,” “You Ain’t Hood,” and “Opportunity (feat. J Pinder),” made an impression on Seattle rap fans, and by 2007, Fatal had completed his debut album, The Only Forgotten Son.

“I’m Here” starts things off like a shot of strong liquor, instantly setting the mood. Before The Only Forgotten Son, Fatal had collaborated a couple of times with D. Black, and early in their careers the two rappers shared a lyrical and thematic gangsta rap lane. Fatal’s delivery on “I’m Here” definitely reminds me of D. Black, and that’s a good thing. The music sounds doom-filled and ominous, and the lyrics are hungry, “So fuck the label, fuck the law, fugitive artist, I just duck and draw.”

“Won’t Change” brings Tribal Productions legend Vitamin D onboard to drop his herky-jerky jalopy flow over a slinky groove. In fact, Vitamin keeps his production batting average high by effortlessly smacking beats like this one out of the park. Vitamin shares some of his life history so we can understand his pedigree, “Raised Democrat, soul child, used to bump Pendergrass, into rap, plus there’s a little pimping in the cat.” Fatal’s lyrics are more defiant, and he stakes a claim to his hood identity which is set in stone. Things get even more gritty on “Don’t Grind Don’t Eat,” and the song reminds us that everyone needs a hustle to survive, whether it’s a legit one, or something more criminal.

My favorite track on the album is “Gangsta Groove.” This absolute classic was produced by D. Black, who made six of the beats on the album, including “I’m Here.” “Gangsta Groove” drops little bon mots and aphorisms alongside punchlines and hard rhymes. With references to David Hasselhoff and O.J. Simpson, the track weaves humor with real talk in a very effective way. Fatal would go on to have one of the most accomplished careers of any Seattle MC, with at least six full albums under his belt. The Only Forgotten Son is another big win for Sportn’ Life Records. Written by Novocaine132

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Time Ta Shine

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The Greatest Fuckin' Adventures of Bruce Illest... Streaks and Blurs and Shit

Mash Hall is at it again with a truly massive album. The title immediately requires an acronym: TGFAOBISABAS. And holy Toledo there are 28 tracks listed. This is a lot of music! I have separated it into categories, just so my brain can begin processing it.

One category of track on TGFAOBISABAS is hip-hop ’80s and ’90s classics reimagined into blesOne’s Mash Hall world. “Super High” is inspired by “I’m Your Pusher,” and “Mash Hall Hustler” is based on “New Jack Hustler,” both by Ice T. “Rid Of Her” will give you strong LL Cool J “I Need Love” vibes. “D-J-B-L-E-S-O-N-E” brings an English accent, not unlike that of Slick Rick. “Guns Yo” begins like a sped-up, party version of the classic Schooly D cut “Saturday Night,” with elements of “Love’s Gonna Getcha” by KRS One found later in the track. “Hit Em Up” is named after a very famous Tupac track. DJ blesOne clearly has a love for the luminaries of hip-hop and he is giving his own special form of tribute here on this album. He brings a humorous tilt to every song he approaches, an example being the whispery voice he employs to heightened comedic effect in “Rid Of Her.”

A second category of tracks on this tremendous collection is remixes of tracks from other sources. Five tracks from Mash Hall Love Family Thicker Than Blood are remixed on TGFAOBISABAS. The remix of “Bitch I Look Good” changes the mood from sneaky private investigator to something more ‘Mid-60’s British Invasion’ with organ on reverb. “Butterfly” gets a remix here that changes the melody from dark and dreary to more mysterious and clever. Considering the subject matter of the track, I would argue that the original version of “Butterfly” is more effective and achieves the fourth dimension. “Girls They Love Bruce Illest” appears in a much more relaxed, spacey version compared to the tighter original. “Stomp Em With The Jodeci Boots” is expanded while “Time’s Up” is presented stripped down with live drums. In addition to those five remixes, a very early track from the group’s first e.p. release in 2004 (Mash Hall) titled “Warning” is also remixed on TGFAOBISABAS. There’s even a track here from the third Cancer Rising album which blesOne had helped to produce.

But luckily it’s not all just Weird Al Yankovic-type parodies and remixes of previous Mash Hall tracks. A third category contains original compositions, and plenty of new material abounds here. TGFAOBISABAS gathers dialog samples from across pop culture and places them between the most psychedelic drum tracks. DJ blesOne began his quest in the ’90s to be the ultimate B-Boy. He is a turntablist with an ear for sounds that have never been crammed into a song before. Mash Hall pushes the envelope of hip hop norms, and when you add Gatsby and Ronnie Voice the result is an imagination explosion with no boundaries. DJ blesOne breaks down the letters of his name in “Mona Lisha” and that might be a good place to end: “B – belligerent, L – love sex, E – every day I drink a Guinness, S – for the sneakers that I got like a million fuckin pairs, Number 1 – that’s my spot.” Nuff said. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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Joe Metro

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Seattle Producers on Crossfader

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The Coolout Network

Here’s a full episode of Georgio Brown’s The Coolout Network, from either 2006 or 2007. (This might be Sportn’ Life Swagger Fest from April 2007?)

Coolout hosts Gloria Medina and Royce hang out backstage at Chop Suey and chop it up with the performers, surfacing candid comments and impromptu freestyles from Fatal Lucciauno, D. Black, Mackelmore, and Dyme Def.

There are some great live performances here from big names working small stages early in their careers. “If you weren’t here at Chop Suey on a Tuesday, you missed it.” How familiar does that sound? This scene never really changes.

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Backpack Wax

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A Souls Journey

In the early 1990s, a music and art collective named Jasiri Media Group began to appear on the Seattle rap scene. Jasiri’s first musical release was a 1995 self-titled four-song cassette from Source Of Labor, which began with a track called “Come With We.” Later that year Source Of Labor dropped a three-song vinyl Maxi Single/E.P. titled Sureshotsingles, featuring a remix of “Come With We” with a verse from an MC named Kylea.

Kylea soon formed a group called Beyond Reality with another performer named Shelin. Beyond Reality released two 12″ singles on Jasiri, “Whatever” in 1997 and “IReality” in 1998. By 2001, Jasiri was the most influential rap label in Seattle by far and began holding weekly rap gatherings at the Sit & Spin laundry in Belltown. On Easter Sunday, 2001 the Beyond Reality live hip-hop performance at Sit & Spin was recorded and subsequently released as a CD titled The Revival.

2007’s A Souls Journey falls at the end of the Beyond Reality recording career, and it is a perfect exclamation point capping Kylea’s important body of work. The liner notes are a celebration of Kylea’s family with a lot of sepia-tone childhood photos which set a mood of reflection and heritage. Beyond Reality enlists one of Seattle’s top producers on A Souls Journey, the legendary BeanOne. Kuddie and Bubba also make appearances. Bean’s work on the beats is excellent, two highlights are the upbeat track “The 1-2” with its sticky scratching, and the more laid back “Souls Journey” which creates a big sound with horn blasts.

Lyrically there’s no question that Kylea is among the top MCs to ever come from Seattle. She uses a variety of styles to deliver her message of true empowerment. Every track has lyrics that remind you to try your hardest and do your best. Kylea wants you to know your American history, both the good and the bad. Her raps about “knowledge of self” can serve as positive daily affirmations. It’s very different from rap by the top women MCs of 2022 like Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, and Megan Thee Stallion. Those artists made explicit sex a huge part of their brands. Kylea’s style and subject matter were literally the opposite of this, and therefore A Souls Journey can be enjoyed by any age group without shame. It is a beautiful and timeless hip-hop album. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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Bayani

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Silas Sentinel

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Love Saves The Day

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The Key With No Lock

This is the laid-back collaborative effort from Ricky Pharoe & Tru-ID, from 2007. Both emcees are adept at fire; Ricky P’s debut album, Civilized, was an angry young paranoiac’s manifesto, while Tru-ID’s one played out like the diary of a poet in front of a dramatic, cinematic score. Here they tune it down a few notches, creating an album together that rarely achieved the energy of either emcee’s solo outings, but instead played out easy like a late summer afternoon.

Neither emcee tries any stylistic acrobatics in favor of relatively basic flows and sing-song choruses. The beats are likewise relaxed and mid-tempo. Mr. Xquisit, Jewels Hunter, and Camila lend their vocal cords, and Budo, Apoulo, Laidback Luke, Stuart Rowe, Graves, and Artistic Propaganda produce. The album was recorded and mixed by Macklemore (who also contributes lyrically to “The Real Kings.”)

Up until recently, I wrongly thought Ricky was getting beef for making this record; as it turns out for whatever reason it was Ricky who didn’t feel it was up to par with the rest of his work. He may not be naked on the news screaming “come and get me” on this album as much as his previous efforts, but I for one appreciate it as a fine stand-alone record, and as my introduction to these two distinguished emcees. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Cancer Rising

After experiencing their first two albums, you might have begun to get comfortable in the familiarity of what Cancer Rising was all about. The group’s third, self-titled album is like having the rug pulled out from under you when you least expect it. The group introduced DJ Bles One as a production/lyrical force, and in doing so effectively nullified Cancer Rising’s previous identity, while simultaneously synthesizing an entirely new sound. On track two, “Watch Your Step,” and track three, “Let’s Start Some Shit,” Bles (as Bruce Illest) brought all of the purposefully offensive, bizarre energy that made his sought-after mixtapes so innovative and fun. The original CR sound survived intact on cuts like “Perseverance,” “We Gonna Make It,” and “Truckin,” but those three songs are tucked away at the end of the album, and they sound quaint and proper next to the rest of the album’s bacchanalia. The chemistry of Cancer Rising interacting with Bles One is successful because Bles took the existing meld of influences and put it on hyperdrive. “Evryday Bidness” is perhaps the most perfect distillation of this crazy new mixture, and it combines that CR soul with the drunken-chameleon production style of Bles One. Cancer Rising would be the third and final album from this celebrated Seattle hip hop group, but the friendships created here continued in the saga of Mash Hall and later Don’t Talk To The Cops. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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Lovework

In the most recent issue of City Arts, you’ll find a poem contributed by Gabriel Teodros honoring the memory of J. Moore. Consequently, I found myself listening to Lovework on headphones at the moment when I ran into Gabriel himself outside of Neumos at last Friday’s memorial show.

This record recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary, and it sounds as fresh and honest today as it did in 2007. Exploring wide-ranging “big” issues from sexism to classism, immigration to geopolitical struggles, Lovework is also very damn funky. Press play and two songs in I’m already chair dancing. The way the bass drums and the bass guitar interplay throughout “Beautiful” is simply sublime as is the syncopated rhyme scheme in “East Africa.” Here’s a musician who understands the responsibility and opportunities of the microphone to influence hearts and minds. Seek this record out.

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