A film about Northwest hip-hop from 1998
From the very beginning of Hustlin-N-Hell it’s clear that Central District representatives Self Tightld are going to take the listener into a dystopian drug dealing and gang banging lifestyle. The cover art shows a chaotic scene in which a cigar smoking skeleton, itself a symbol of death, appears to be wreaking havoc on Seattle. Self Tightld came together in the mid 1990s founded by Maine 1 who teamed up with four other members, Rob Doe, Popsykle, Sikface, and 2elevn. Whether the album glorifies the gangster lifestyle or warns against it will probably depend on the listener, for the tales are rich with ups and downs, victories and defeats, and of course the notorious legacy which comes with going out in a blaze of bullets.
Track two, “Hustlin In Hell” is emblematic of the album’s themes, namely survival is not guaranteed and you don’t get what you deserve but only what you bargain for. “Hustlin In Hell” drops a bread crumb which leads to another famous street rap from Seattle, “I’m not from Union but I’m hustlin,” referring to “Union Street Hustlers” by Ice Cold Mode. The album continues with bleak rhymes about violence in the neighborhood on “Northwest Gunfest,” “Ill Thoughts,” and “Problems.” “Leave these crimes alone and your life just might pop, or a pistol might pop and give your life an early stop,” goes one of my favorite lines on “Problems.” Lack of opportunity for youth is addressed in tracks like “Self Tightld,” “Live4Today,” and “Negatives.”
The group doesn’t only rap about gunplay and trap life, there are also songs like “MC Fo Short,” and “Rhymes Top Of The Line,” which show off verbal skills and drop challenges to other rappers. To their credit, Self Tightld don’t delve too deep into the “Rap about rap” rabbit hole in which rappers spend all their energy talking about their record label or other rappers.
There are several highlights on Hustlin-N-Hell including “Pleasure Pouches” which features an appearance from California’s B-Legit. “Pleasure Pouches” is predictably a paean to pot smoking, and the group celebrates cannabis with various clever rhymes. “Watch That B/N” is a reminder to be careful who you trust, because there is a hustle lurking around every corner. Another track that shines is “Growth And Development,” a very meta message about how to choose the right path in life. Each of us is “Chillin in a crossroads,” as the song puts it, and we must do the right thing or risk a literal dead end. Due to its popularity, Hustlin-N-Hell was re-released by Point Side four years later in 2002. Rest in peace to group members Rob Doe who passed in 1998, and Popsykle who passed in 2018. Written by Novocaine132