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Life of a backup singer

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Go Far

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Live At Sasquatch 2010

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Capitalize EP

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP gave this record an honorable mention as one of their top albums of 2011. They said:

From the land of pristine suburbia (otherwise known as Kirkland) comes Kung Foo Grip and their decidedly un-sterilized update on underground Golden Era rap. The term “old soul” can’t be more aptly applied to these two underage MC’s (Greg Cypher and F is H) who found upstart success as on-the-scene battle rappers. They’ve since moved beyond the corner into high-quality studio productions like Capitalize‘s get-lifted “Def Yoda pt. 3,” a celebration of youth and their own unequivocal dopeness.

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Hip Hop Kitchen Mixtape

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BSIDE: VITAMIN D

BSIDE is a short, three-minute documentary from Andria Millie about prolific Seattle producer Vitamin D. It’s a fascinating interview, alongside some all-too-brief cameos from Wordsayer, Sabzi, and D.Black. He acknowledges his significant role in the history of the scene, saying “locally, I’ve mixed and engineered… I don’t know… A big percentage of what kinda comes out.”

He gives his thoughts on “The Seattle Sound” and where it traces its influences from the East Coast and the West Coast and reflects on how he might be remembered long in the future: “How much will my legacy be involved in what the kids are doing?” Go watch it and find out.

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Ethiopian Tattoo Shop

This is a rare treasure: A document of a singular moment in time, fueled by wild creativity with the force of a pressure cooker. Beauty made under the gun. Phreewil, Nathan Wolfe, and Graves33 wrote and recorded this album, inspired by the book by the same name, in a matter of weeks.

Each track represents a different story or parable from the novel, and therefore the songs play out in a connected fashion; not linearly, but philosophically. Raw and brilliant work, at times jaw-dropping in its psychedelic urgency.

Despite the other-worldliness, this is not some Piper At the Gates of Dawn, “Listen To What the Flower People Say” sort of album. This is vehement and craving, conscious of its mortality. Which makes the hurried and inspired beauty found in each song all the more poignant. Phreewil noted that this is his favorite contribution to music, and although I’m not familiar with all his work I would be duly impressed to find another such passionate, metaphysically connected contribution to the art, from him or anyone else. Quite generously, the ETS crew opened their doors to several of their friends for contribution, including Asun/Suntonio Bandanaz, Leland Jones, Tru-ID, Milo, Khanfidenz, Audiopoet, and Page1. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Adventures in a Helluvastate

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Black Up

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2011,” saying that:

At this moment in time, it’s impossible to place Black Up into appropriate hip-hop context. But that’s because (and any theoretical physicist will tell you this) time itself is merely an illusion. Similar to the career of Shabazz Palaces’ primary motivating force, Palaceer Lazaro (earthly name: Ishmael Butler), the sounds on Black Up ascend to the stratosphere, only to dissipate and fall invisibly to the terra firma where the music is reformed into new lyrical notions and sonic movements. The sounds here are transient, but everything in Butler’s past seems to have been pointing to this moment.

If you had to pinpoint an origin for Black Up, you would say its spirit is rooted most firmly in Africa. The Palaceer’s words stay tethered to a motherland but course off in many directions, just like peoples disseminated (by choice and by force) across the globe. As I type this, Shabazz Palaces is spreading its ethereal sound across parts of Europe, and will likely move beyond that continent. How fortunate we are in Seattle then, to be able to call our city SP’s corporeal home. I don’t think many people in The Town realized a spirit like Shabazz’s existed in their midst. Seattleites (and the world), take note: If that’s cream you’re putting in your coffee — don’t. Better to drink the elixir Black.

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Love is a Business

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2011,” saying that:

A giant leap forward for Seattle hip-hop (and R&B for that matter). The Physics’ Love is a Business was the long-awaited follow-up to the group’s first LP, Future Talk, a record that held many promises for those heads still living in rap’s Golden Era. Love is a Business did have much in common with its predecessor but also moved beyond with a wholly-conceived sound that was more soulful and refined thanks especially to don’t-call-them-back-up singers, Malice and Mario Sweet.

LIAB represents Seattle hip-hop in its most fully-grown incarnation. Thig Natural, Monk Wordsmith, and Justo placed themselves contextually in that realm of maturity where one is still young enough to enjoy a Tuesday night jump-off encounter, but not without a hint of regret at having to face the coming workday on little to no sleep. In these mens’ lives, the intersection of their art, professional careers, and romantic engagements are inseparable, each one informs the other. If there’s any justice in the musical universe someday The Physics will make beats and rhymes for a living, and this album’s description of their current existence will serve as a fond reminder to them of when life was a little less charmed.

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Liberation of the Monster

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2011,” saying that:

A relocation to Vancouver, BC has not changed the allegiance or focus in the subject matter of the South End’s most self-aware rapper, Khingz. Liberation of the Monster was the best collection of tracks the MC has released since 2009’s remarkable From Slaveships to Spaceships. Canadian producer Rel!g!on was responsible for all of the beats, a Pacific Northwest re-working of the SoCal gangsta aesthetic found on 1990s albums like Dogg Food. While Khingz may forever associate himself with that style of rap nostalgically (like many of us who came of age in the 90s), he’s decidedly more responsible and progressive in his rhymes. His course is set on a better future, a destination borne from a dubious past. On tracks like “Monster’s Lib” and “Hard to Say,” the MC is so diffuse in his rhyming it’s hard to keep up with the words. You would be too if you had the rare combination of artistic acumen and social enlightenment of this rapper.

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Late

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2011,” saying that:

Producer 10.4 Rog’s beatific sense of rhythm and electronic adornments made for the perfect counterpoint to The Good Sin’s grounded, low-pitched raps on getting by financially and romantically when success with both endeavors seems fleeting. I recall downloading this free album right around the time Odd Future’s proverbial cream was rising to the top and, upon listening, was happy to experience a different type of hip-hop escape: Finding a relatable and comfortable space of existence between Rog’s airy atmospherics and Sinseer’s lyrics on the everyday struggle. For most listeners in Seattle, this was a formal introduction to both producer and MC. Late set an incredibly high standard for these promising young artists whose stars are still rising.

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Walk into a Bar

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2011,” saying that:

What began on mostly a freebie lark ultimately turned into this 10-track for-profit album with some of the best production value around. Prometheus Brown (known traditionally to Seattle as Geo, of course) and Los Angeles’ Bambu pay homage to their island origination on Walk into a Bar which was released on Bambu’s label (Beatrock Music) and aimed squarely at the Hawaiian Islands, a favorite performance destination for the two MCs. As per standard, Geo and Bambu choose their words carefully always using them to uplift and inform rather than degrade and dispirit. “National Treasure,” for example, is an important commentary on gender politics and features a beat from Vitamin D whose drums somehow always sound bigger than everyone else’s.

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Hold on for Dear Life

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2011,” saying that:

I think Seattle forgets how great an MC Onry Ozzborn is. That’s probably because his creative output sneaks by in the same way his monotonic flow inserts subversive social commentary and unique turns-of-phrases into our collective unconscious. Last year’s Dark Time Sunshine project with Chicago producer Zavala was the region’s rap genius lurking in the proverbial shadows. DTS was the one laughing at silly rappers driving by in rented whips, the fakers’ who used their own beautiful sisters and cousins as stand-ins for video models too expensive for their shallow pocketbooks.

Onry might not be a rich man himself, but when it comes to industry respect he has an abundance. From a musical standpoint, Hold on for Dear Life was the most experimental release from the MC to date. It played in bright electronica, post-dubstep pop, and the familiar gothic gloom specific to Onry’s infamous crew, Grayskul. If and when the Seattle hip-hop weather affects other regions on a greater scale, it will be OG MCs like Onry Ozzborn casting the tell-tale Northwest cloud cover.

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They’ve Got My Number Down At The Post Office

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2011,” saying that:

MC Ricky Pharoe and producer Mack Formway are Art Vandelay, an affiliate of the left-of-center Black Lab Productions camp. On They’ve Got My Number Down At The Post Office they question the honesty of our government, point shotguns at their televisions, and generally wonder indignantly how anyone in their right mind could see worldly goings-on as anything but a degradation of all that is beautiful and just. “Art Vandelay” is a self-delusion perpetuated by Seinfeld‘s George Costanza — a lie in the form of a heroic archetype that helps George feel better about his otherwise mundane existence. Pharoe is calling us the liars on They’ve Got My Number: We’re fools to think for even a second that anything is all good. Oh well, at least when the world begins crumbling down around us we’ll have Art Vandelay’s soundtrack playing in the background, telling us so.

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For The Glory

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2011,” saying that:

Emerging from a Cloud (Nice, that is) of weed smoke and comic book sound effects is Nacho Picasso. Even blazed-up and squinty-eyed this dude is more clever than your average MC, dropping punchlines quippy enough to win the affection of both your girlfriend and high-brow music publications. For The Glory‘s arrival on the scene correlates perfectly with the sonic trends going on in the greater rap arena. Production duties were handled by Blue Sky Black Death, whose hazy take on the Cloud Rap aesthetic fits in nicely next to the genre’s currently favored albums. The star here is inarguably Nacho himself, though. Holding a Marvel comic book in one hand and a Desert Eagle in the other, the man otherwise known as The Tat in the Hat is poised to introduce his specific branch of Seattle rap to the rest of the nation.

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Yuk The World

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2011,” saying that:

Here we have the trio of Brainstorm, S.E.V., and Fearce Villain behaving in the way we’re accustomed to: Mixing top-shelf brag rap with sobering tales about growing up hard in the South End. It’s been over four years since Space Music, the area’s official introduction to the Three Bad Brothas from Renton. Since then, the crew has been missing a key component to their hustle: The production of Bean One, whose lively trunk rattle serves as the perfect delivery vehicle for the three MCs’ sharp witticisms. Thankfully Bean is back here, providing the majority of the framework in which Dyme Def gets busy. One complaint: Yuk The World is too long, but that’s only because Dyme Def’s real voice hasn’t been heard in some time. Consider this a year-ending takeover attempt by one of the SEA’s most important groups in history.

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Ziplock Hip-Hop

From the ghost of Christmas past–or I guess, 2011–here’s Bad Ass Yellow Boyz‘s debut full length, Ziplock Hip-Hop. This album launched the careers of three local hip-hop legends: Jarv Dee, Nacho Picasso and Steezie NASA. And it’s toe-tappingly good, every song a banger and the verses profane in just the right way: They give off the tough guy stance, but you’re well-aware they’re having a blast making these songs. The hit single “Fast Lane” is the one track you should not miss. Also, great trompe l’oeil cover by Tay Sean.

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Sandra Bollocks Black Baby

Sandra Bollocks Black Baby is a 2011 five-track live jam mixtape from THEESatisfaction. It’s a fine example of pulling back the curtain on production and composition to reveal the direct interplay between two creative minds. Sure, it’s a little rough around the edges, but that’s part of what makes this EP such fun — hearing the songs slowly take shape while they’re being played. Great cover, too.

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Cinémetropolis

I’m calling it: It’s time for a Blue Scholars revival. With the many recent waves of economic and social upheaval, it feels as though Seattle could use some new Scholars right about now. On the closing track on their last record, the 2011 magnum opus, Cinémetropolis, Geologic raps the refrain: “Ain’t no America left, it’s all fragments.” It’s but one sentiment here that grows in truth with each passing day. The curiously inventive rolling beat on “Fin” exemplifies Sabzi‘s musical mastery, though I could’ve pointed to almost any of the 15 tracks here for lessons to be learned. This record was an early Kickstarter success story, funded by fans, and generating a pre-album $62,000 in donations over six weeks, and funding a subsequent 33-date national headlining tour.

The strategy allowed the group to film videos for many of the record’s tracks, keeping with the “ciné” theme. I’ve been watching these recently, too. More than one features the duo driving around the town surveying our many eateries and hangout spots. Watching will leave you feeling nostalgic for places gone and those that may soon disappear. But honestly, this album is one of the defining pillars of Seattle hip-hop and should be required listening for anyone in this game. I’m always a sucker for the sweet supportive love song, “Anna Karina” and the opening on “Oskar Barnack”–and later, the bass–which apes the structure of Pink Floyd’s “Money” My copy is oft-played and much loved.

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Regular Show

This is hardly a traditional hip-hop record–whatever that means. This is absurdist punk disco, with occasional rapping, and it’s perfect music for arenas and large sporting events. Play this record loud with a crowd. Whenever I listen to 2011’s Regular Show from Don’t Talk To The Cops!, I wish I could rent Century Link Field, and invite 50,000 friends to listen and sing along. We could all sing in unison “Big Ass Head” that that itemizes all the possible insults toward someone with an oversized cranium or “Girls Buy Me Drinks” which repeats the title over and over again in a plethora of different ways. Ideal music for your next stadium singalong.

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Flatland

One of my all-time top shows was seeing Katie Kate at Capitol Hill Block Party in 2013 in the basement of Barboza. The heavy synths on this record threaten to destroy your stereo. The perfect mix of rap, pop, and attitude. Baby whale? I want a full-sized whale in my swimming pool. (Also some very nice album art by Radjaw)

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