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Dopamine

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High Rhymes Smoking Jackets

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Indigo Children: Tales From The Other Side

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Queen La'Chiefah

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The Message E.P.

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Rogers Thriftway

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Young Seattle

Between 2012 and 2016, musician Sam Lachow created three collaborative short films, each bearing the name “Young Seattle.”

Slightly confusingly, the videos are labeled “Parts 1, 2, and 4.” Part 3 was released as an audio-only track with no video.

Here’s his explanation of the concept: “I make these Young Seattle videos each year simply because I’m a huge fan of all these artists. As a fan, I just thought it’d be badass to put them all on one track. My favorite thing about the Seattle hip-hop scene is that we don’t have any specific sound. There are so many different types of styles in this little city and yet we all fuck with each other. We’re all part of the same culture. It’s fucking cool.”

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50 Next: Seattle Hip-Hop Worldwide

50 Next: Seattle Hip-Hop Worldwide drops you into a literal roundtable conversation between Town legends old and young. James Croone of The Emerald Street Boys tells the story of discovering how “poetry on top of music” could carry a message. Spyc-E shares how she first learned to write rap verses, at age 11, and is kindly teased by the group into performing her first-ever childhood rhymes. Later, Khingz thanks Vitamin D for mentoring him early in his career, and for how it helped him achieve his own success. This half-hour documentary captures several charming, rambling discussions about the long history of Northwest rap. The whole thing is a delight.

Eazeman from ’90s group L.S.R. reflects on how major-label rejection shaped the scene early, saying “If you don’t want to show us for who we really are, then we don’t need you. We’re going to make our own party.” Rapper Candidit adds, “Don’t come if you’re not prepared.”

The group passionately rails against the evils of what they describe as “capitalist hip-hop,” which divides communities and makes local artists into commodities to be bought and sold. There’s a need today for more love and mutual respect and not so much focus on money and fame and numbers. Instead, they explain how everyone making art in the Northwest has a responsibility to fight back against the mainstream, “intended to pacify society” adds CPS da Scientist. Rapper DICE encourages artists to follow their imagination, saying “who cares what is new and cool now. Figure out what it’s going to be cool next, and then be the first to do it.”

50 Next was released as part of a larger online interactive experience by Aaron Walker-Loud and Avi Loud, “a multi-media time capsule of what was, what is, and what’s next…” The whole project is still online and is viewable here.

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Pungwe

The Stranger picked Pungwe as one of the “Top 5 Albums of 2012,” saying that:

“A Toast to Frame & Ro” (featuring Ishmael Butler) is found on the brilliant Chimurenga Renaissance Pungwe mixtape. It blends deep, traditional Zimbabwean sounds with that deep and moody hip-hop that has defined the Northwest’s post–Sir Mix-A-Lot sound since its inception in the mid-’90s. Maraire’s raps are at once angry, thoughtful, political, American, African, post-postcolonial, postcolonial, and anticolonial. As for Ish, Shabazz Palace’s rapper, he delivers some of his most startlingly personal lines. “A Toast to Frame & Ro” is black Africa as Blade Runner.

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MCMXCII

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Old Fashioned

In 2012 Billy The Fridge dropped his second full album titled Old Fashioned and Seattle was never the same.

At first glance the album is just a sad mockery of an art form that was once based on life-or-death issues in New York City, but this project is infinitely more layered than one might immediately realize. Billy has been trying to meme his way into the public consciousness for a long time. One of his early viral songs was called “Cake Day” based on the Reddit tradition. Billy’s first album in 2009 (Million Dollar Fantasy Freak Show) captured his berserk Biz Markie ‘comedian-of-rap’ quality, but Old Fashioned saw exponential growth in his artistic process.

Fridge created a character who matches the weirdness of Slim Shady, appearing to be in on the joke even despite all the sleaze. It’s a complex performance by a man who mastered kayfabe in semi-pro wrestling for years before turning to rapping. His poetic voice is somewhere between George Carlin and Blowfly.

To be clear, Fridge is no novelty rapper, he is a legit talented rapper who tackles novelty subjects, a distinction that is very important. And his actual voice is no less remarkable, as he manages to frantically spit speedy complex lyrics with the clearest diction this side of the Atlantic.

The listener enters a world narrated by a ghoulish character with a wicked sense of humor. Think Al Yankovich trying to do MC Ren or Geto Boys. Fridge is hardcore, Old Fashioned is not a kid-friendly album, but it sure is immature. Tracks like “Brown Bag,” “8 Ton Gorilla,” and the ridiculous crowd-pleaser sing-along “Dumb” present an artist who creates an ‘insta-vibe’ and makes a song out of it. Many of the tracks are memes of pop-culture properties, for instance, “Workaholic” is not-so-loosely based on the sitcom. “Just A Bill” reimagines Schoolhouse Rock while Fridge lands nuclear punchlines on you like elbow drops. It sounds stupidly simple because it is. Fridge is an internet sensation, and he has a classic rap album. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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Private Party

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Live At KEXP

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Careless

The Stranger selected Careless as one of the “Top 5 Albums of 2012,” saying that:

If you want to see exactly why Vitamin D is this city’s all-time best producer, visit the second track on Pinder’s excellent album Careless. “Pilgrimage” is a perfect piece of 21st-century hip-hop. This is how I hear it: After an oneiric opening, Pinder smoothly slips into the melancholy mood provided by the deep end of the piano and echoed finger snaps. As for the beat, which never rises above the piano, it has the kick of a drum machine but doesn’t feel mechanical. Indeed, one of Vitamin D’s gifts is an ability to make hip­-hop that sounds musical without sacrificing the sample-based feel of hip-hop.

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ANX

The Stranger selected ANX as one of the “Top 5 Albums of 2012,” saying that:

This year, Onry Ozzborn (Seattle rapper) and Zavala (Chicago producer) released ANX and thus completed a trilogy that contains some of the most numinous and bumping hip­-hop out there. (The first two albums being Believeyoume and Vessel.) “Cultclass,” the best track on ANX is not only haunting but features, at its end, the appearance of a ghost: Rochester A.P. has been dead for more than a decade, and yet his raps “sound fresher than Wonder Bread.”

Similarly, Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2012,” saying that:

You could never accuse Dark Time Sunshine’s music of being cheery, but on the group’s third album, ANX, Chicago producer Zavala allows enough cracks in his heavy, electro-organic compositions to let a little bit of sunshine in. Onry Ozzborn’s deadpan science drops are illuminated by tad brighter synths, driving breakbeats (which were all but absent on DTS’s previous two albums, Believeyoume and Vessel), and a few well-placed cameos (vocalist Reva DeVito on “Never Cry Wolf” and a livewire Swamburger on “Take My Hand”, for example).

ANX is also less claustrophobic than its predecessors, its aesthetic welcoming well-equalized car stereo speakers rather than just the strict confines of headphone cans. Dark Time Sunshine’s music has always aurally represented the variations in the weather of the group member’s home cities: the frigid wind of Chicago, the lidded grey Seattle sky. But finally, with ANX, we have tunes that go equally well with our Town’s de facto cloud cover and this past September’s exquisite atmospherics.

Don’t get me wrong, everything that makes Dark Time Sunshine one of the best hip-hop crews working today is still here; much of ANX still heaves and sighs like a concrete robot and Onry hasn’t lost a touch of his scathing pessimism. But that glow you see underneath an electronic heart is evidence of an evolved sentience. ANX can be cold to the touch, but the soul under the surface gives off uncommon warmth. It’s this new layer of complexity that elevates ANX above Dark Time’s great past work and places it in a superior class over every other Seattle hip-hop album of 2012.

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Respect

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2012,” saying that:

Fatal Lucciauno’s stubborn refusal of the Seattle rap status quo is probably one of the most important statements made in the local arts. In a city home to the nation’s annual White Privilege Conference, it’s no surprise that the gregarious Macklemore has become Seattle hip-hop’s envoy to the rest of the world. That shit happened basically by default.

On the colder end of town, however, is where Fatal stages his operations. Hardcore and unforgiving to a fault, Respect is the other side of Seattle rap’s truth. It rejects even the militant-light stylings of acts like Blue Scholars and Gabriel Teodros, preferring to cast flickering reds and blues on the folks too preoccupied with basic survival than to be troubled with thoughts of the revolution. And in a year when we viewed all local rap through a Heist-colored lens, it’s important to ask ourselves: What percentage of those “Thrift Shop”-ers actually understood how their discovery of joy in a dirty bargain bin can be construed as yet another ironic luxury is borne out of privilege?

It’s true we’re all better people when re-purposing perfectly useable disposed goods, feeding our souls with something truer than what is marketed to us. But Fatal’s Respect speaks on a different type of hunger: the one for things untarnished after a lifetime of languishing at the bottom.

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Colored People’s Time Machine

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2012,” saying that:

Seatown rappers went certified worldwide in 2012 and that’s the word. But none of them in the fashion of Abyssinian Creole teammate, Gabriel Teodros. His Colored People’s Time Machine cuts a broad cultural swath with guest rappers from different countries rhyming in their native languages (English, Spanish, Arabic, and Tagalog, by my count).

While home is the central theme on CPTM, Teodros fashions the concept on his own terms, grappling with the intricacies of identity as a person of color and the realization that just because you were born in a specific place, it doesn’t mean that locale represents your cultural center. As always, the MC dons a critical, analytical cap, dropping piercing knowledge but always with love and a deft touch. As an ambassador to the rest of the rap world, Seattle can’t do much better than the homie GT.

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Lifemuzik

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2012,” saying that:

Sportn’ Life Records co-founder and OG in the Central District rap game Fleeta Partee (real name, no gimmicks) enlisted the two best area producers for the majority of Lifemuzik, an 8-song EP full of hard-worn street knowledge. Vitamin D lends board work for over half the tracks, his keyboards and drums on “Inception” and “Part of the Game” sounding bigger and deffer than everyone else’s, except for maybe Jake One’s whose “Apathy (No Love)” captures a blues feeling in boom-bap form. As far as the well-traveled Fleeta Partee goes, his free-wheeling, old-school flow rejuvenates rap purists’ earholes the way a pair of fresh laces lends new life to sneakers. Are you feeling bogged down by all the vapid swag excursions through chattering high-hats and cheap synth? Lifemuzik is the remedy.

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Kingdom Crumbs

The debut album by Cloud Nice’s Kingdom Crumbs is the long-awaited culmination of the Cloud’s experimental and forward-thinking sound, image, and attitude. Not so much a collection of songs as a loosely-knitted tapestry of impressions, Kingdom Crumb’s debut LP plays like a song-cycle from the Mad Hatter; it is whimsical and random but with elements a little edgy, and sometimes dangerous. Inspired insanity! With songs that rarely stay fixed in place for long, the album constantly morphs from style to style; from sleek, Chic-influenced soul, to ambient, dreamy washes of colorful tonality, to tribal chanting – often within a single song.

Production visionary Tay Sean’s trademark airy synths dominate the mix, accompanied by clean, stuttering beats and lots of reverb. Electronic rhythms and patterns fade in and out, sometimes ending abruptly, sometimes derailing, going where the wind takes them. Emcees Tay Sean, Mikey Nice, Jarv Dee, and Jerm masterfully fit every vibe. With so many talented lyricists it would be hard to keep ego out of the mix, but they do just that, combining their talents in the right way for the betterment of each song and the album as a whole.

With the ever-changing and experimental quality of the record, it comes as no surprise that the three most cohesive (and for lack of a better word, standard) songs are the ones already released as singles: “Pick Both Sides of My Brain” and “The Mezzanine” are two addictive head-nodding, groove-based gems, while “For The Birds” serves as a distilled vision of the album as a whole – sedated and dreamy, with unexpected changes and breakdowns in the music. However, when placed within the maelstrom of sounds that is the Crumbs’ album, these three tracks fit perfectly, bubbling up at just the right moment to link one passage with the next, or to gently wake the listener from a music-induced trance.

As a genre, this record is obviously difficult to classify. Certainly, hip-hop plays a big role – lyricism and stylistic techniques are present, as are the cultural references and the swagger – but other influences are nearly as dominant. Disco and soul play huge parts, and so do late-sixties-era electric jazz of Davis and Hancock. The ambient electronic music of Kraftwerk and Brian Eno can also be heard. Just as evident as the influences is the certainty that this is something entirely new and unheard of, something that might even not have a name yet. So I’ll call it as I see it: this is evolution. Check it and be amazed. This has been my most anticipated record release yet this year. Based on the three singles the Crumbs have released so far, I knew this was some future shit. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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awE naturalE

The silhouettes moving through the jungle evoke the strongly primal and sensual emotion you feel when listening to THEESatisfaction’s 2012 Sub Pop debut, awE naturalE. This is music you not so much listen to as you hear deep in your ancestral DNA. Track 3, “Queens,” is a song so sultry, so belly-warming, and twitchy, it makes the repeated line “sweat on your cardigan” sound like pure sex. A later track contains the line, “try to deny the funk.” Settle into a comfy chair and listen to this one loud enough that you can feel the enormous bass. It has a physical presence here. Tendai Maraire and Ishmael Butler of Shabazz Palaces make an appearance on a couple of songs, too.

The Stranger picked awE naturalE as the very best hip-hop album of 2012, saying that:

“QueenS”—one of the three tracks arranged by Erik Blood on awE naturalE (he mixed and recorded the whole album)—is not only the best hip-hop track of the year, but also the most seductive. The genius of “QueenS” is how it draws you into its world. You first hear it from the outside, like a party in some house or apartment you are approaching. Upon reaching the door of this place, it magically opens for you—you enter and become a part of what’s really happening. This is why the video for the track, which is also the 206 video of the year (though it was shot in Brooklyn), captures the essence or the feel of the music so perfectly. Directed by hip-hop journalist and culture critic dream hampton, the video leads us into the warm core of a party in an apartment. The women at the party are all black and dreamy. This is their world. This is their music. This is how they party.

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The Heist

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about success. We’re all clamoring and hustling for success in our own ways. Do you follow Macklemore online? That dude works every single day. He’s always in the home studio or on tour. Every day. On “Ten Thousand Hours” he raps, “The Greats were great because they paint a lot,” and you see this with Ben. So when was the last time you listened to The Heist all the way through? I’ve been listening to it a lot lately and there’s such a clear concept from start to finish. It’s not just a collection of random hits: You can see a summer day, walking our green streets, past the big, luxurious northern Capitol Hill homes up to Volunteer Park. You know all these songs, all those songs that played on the radio all summer in 2012 and into the next. There’s so much Seattle on display here. I met Mr. “Thrift Shop” Wanz at a party a few years back and, and I was celebrity struck talking with him. Many of the themes on The Heist have only grown in relevance in 2017, in an America where our president says it’s okay to hate and discriminate. Somewhere between the gentle piano that opens “Same Love” and the chorus of angels that ends it, Macklemore raps, “No law’s gonna change us,” which succinctly summarizes the current mood of defiant Seattle. Don’t be jealous of Macklemore’s money or fame. Be jealous of his impressive flow, his honesty on display, the chart-topping arrangements from Ryan Lewis, and the fact that they did it all themselves on their own terms. No labels. It’s all self-produced and self-released like 90% of the other records I review here. “A life lived for art is never a life wasted.” Pictured here is the 5lb, double vinyl, gator-skin, 18-insert, bonus tracks, box set. It’s a big audacious statement in an age when most are releasing virtual music for free on SoundCloud. Lots of my fav local cats were involved with this record: Nathan Quiroga, Eighty4 Fly, Budo, Hollis Wong-Wear… And then you think, “Damn, this DIY record from Seattle won a Grammy!” What does success mean to you if not this?

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Prologue

I was introduced to KnowMads when they played with Kung Foo Grip and All Star Opera at The Croc this past Thursday. Outside the show, someone told me The KnowMads have a cult-like fanbase, a kinda nouveau Grateful Dead thing but hip hop, based on tattoo evidence. So that was the impression I went into their show. When you hear the opening of “TheCure,” a track on their 2012 EP, Prologue, you’re ready to follow, too: This is the sound of connection, some songs speaking directly to their fans in sort-of rap self-help. “Disregard the energies of people you despise…” Musically there’s a broad range between a ’70s easy-listening vibe (“Firefly”) and just-beats-and-verses ’80s origin rap (“WaxOn”). It feels good to listen to this record.

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Loves Anita Baker

Tonight I’m spinning THEESatisfaction‘s Loves Anita Baker, a 2012 eight-minute EP. These are five glamorously positive songs, the ’80s-esque “Pressed” in sequence promptly followed with “Cabin Fever Sweet Love,” a foot-tappingly sensational standout track. (And now I’m off listening to Anika Baker’s “Rapture.”)

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Bossalona

Introducing Bossalona, a 2012 Seattle banger from Fresh Espresso–rap duo P Smoov and Rik Rude–that comes out swinging. I love the bullfighting cover. There was a time a few years ago when I was obsessed with bullfighting: the spectacle, the dance, the push-pull dynamics between epically opposing forces. (Deadly serious and playfully silly.) All things you’ll find on this record, too. Bullfights are often preordained: You know the inevitable outcome going in and the focus is the journey that gets you there, and this sentiment is especially evident in the album closer, “Goodbye My Love,” a Dear John letter to a life of excess and drugs and an acknowledgment that something is about to end. Along the journey to get there, a plethora of exotic beats and sentiments: Samples from ragtime and funk and Indian melodies on fav “Yommie.” Nocturnal club track “Sunglasses On” is just on the right side of cheesy. Vocalist Shaprece, featured on half the tracks, waves a red cape at all the right moments, propelling the music forward.

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Exalted

I imagine Nacho Picasso to be an excellent chess player. In an age of Kendrick-esque speed-demon rap, Nacho provides refreshing counterpoint–carefully placed and methodically draped defiant verses over beats before coming in for the kill. Exalted was released in 2012, and is the third of four collaborations with Blue Sky Black Death, a hip-hop production duo from SF. There’s heavy use of synths here. Fav track of mine is “4th of July” a Seattle name-check, pedigree diss track. His is the rap of unrestrained ego, dolled out in slow motion, and listening on headphones, well, it’s hard not to feel cool.

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Yours Truly

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2012,” saying that:

On Sol’s Bandcamp page, the rapper dedicates Yours Truly to “the human pursuit of deep understanding,” an endeavor the MC is no doubt currently pursuing on a post-college graduation trip around the world. Most of this album — the culmination of a series of shorter, free EP releases — is an attempt at universal appeal, heavy on the pop hooks and R&B melodies which serve to make it all just feel very…easy. But when you consider Yours Truly in the context of the artist’s statement, it makes sense: we’re more immediately bonded together when our commonalities are highlighted, hence the depth of understanding we can find when enjoying an album like Yours Truly together. This may sound annoyingly meta and shit, but the threads that connect us through musical experience don’t exist at the surface of listening, which is true even when an album as easily enjoyable as this comes along.

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Tomorrow People

Today is one of those beautiful Seattle days with infinite blue skies and cool breezes, where all you want to do is lay on the grass or drive to the coast with the top down. The perfect accompaniment is The Physics 2012 album Tomorrow People. Contrasting many laptop-produced hip-hop records, here you have a group of musicians riffing and jamming and rapping together. Laid-back, organic, and gorgeous.

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2012,” saying that:

Tomorrow People reaches for a broader context than The Physics’ previous album (last year’s outstanding Love is a Business) without sacrificing any of what makes the group so appealing. Soulful, funky, and beautifully nuanced, TP is 13 tracks of grown-man/woman hip-hop. MCs Thig Nat and Monk Wordsmith are thoughtful, conscious, and raunchy always right when they need to be. And producer Justo and don’t-call-them-back-up singers Malice and Mario Sweet put the finishing touches on each track so they shine at just the right angles. This is a crew with a rare nonchalance that never translates to dull, a sure sign of artists who truly know who they are. There is something for everyone on Tomorrow People. You could play this album for your grandma and she would probably love it, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Similarly, The Stranger selected Tomorrow People as one of the “Top 5 Albums of 2012,” saying that:

“So Funky,” the first track on The Physics’ latest album, Tomorrow People, is, for me, hip-hop in a pure state. It’s spare and it has a big and chunky beat, a raw and rubbery bass, bits of scratching, and no singing or chorus—this is a rapper’s paradise.

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COLORS

One of my many favorite moments on COLORS by Eighty4 Fly happens 27 seconds into the second track when the beat reverses just as the verse begins. To say COLORS is a great album is as obvious as saying the Mona Lisa is a great painting. It’s a nearly-perfect first mixtape that emerged fully-formed from marble, effortless, and commanding, with endless top-notch studio trickery and constantly entertaining rhymes. ‘Fly stepped away from the scene after releasing this in 2012–like everyone, I wait with bated breath for whatever he might release next.

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