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The Coolout Legacy

NYC filmmaker Georgio Brown moved to the Northwest in the early ’90s. In 1991, along with VJ D, he founded The Coolout Network, a public access show on cable television that would record the evolution of Seattle’s early hip-hop scene. As Georgio says at the beginning of this film, “we went to the community centers, parks, schools, clubs… Every place that hip-hop was happening… We wanted to cover it.” They certainly did. Coolout ran for 16 years on television, from 1991 until 2007. Various forms of the project continue online to this day.

This particular film, The Coolout Legacy was made by Georgio Brown himself. He narrates and reflects on the impact of the show and its importance to our local hip-hop community.

There’s vintage footage here galore: A teenage Funk Daddy shows off a trophy “taller than me” that he won at a DJ contest, before showing us some of the moves that earned him the victory. Laura “Piece” Kelley addresses the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated rap scene. She often faces the insult that “she can rap pretty good for a girl.” But she replies, “I rap good for the world… And I don’t rap good. I rap well.”

Rapper H-Bomb heaps some well-deserved praise on Specswizard: “Nobody’s been doing hip-hop in Seattle longer than Specs.” We then catch up with the ‘Wizard and he shares a book of graffiti sketches from ’93. The late, great J. Moore shares his wisdom for success and acknowledges the importance of that Coolout played in “coalescing a scene.”

There are numerous live performances and freestyles of Seattle legends in their early days, as well as national acts like Mary J. Blige and Leaders of The New School. Brown talks about encouraging young artists who bravely stand on a stage with a mic and bear their truths. It’s hard. But with Coolout filming you, “every little victory helps,” adds Ghetto Chilldren’s B-Self.

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Top 10 Songs

Throughout the ’90s, writer Novocaine132 extensively covered the Seattle hip-hop scene. You’ll find his byline on feature stories and record reviews in both The Rocket and The Stranger, and he contributed to the marketing of several Tribal and Loosegroove releases, too.

Over the past few years, he’s been posting a series on YouTube called Top 10 Songs where he digs deep into the work of a particular Seattle rap legend, surfacing the not-to-be-missed songs from their catalogs. Whether or not you agree with the specific choices, each video provides a great overview of each artist’s career and there are lots of audio samples so you can hear what each song sounds like.

He adds, “The project began in 2017 when I heard that Wordsayer had passed away. At the time I was retired from music and print journalism, and I was concentrating my efforts on documentary filmmaking. When Jon died it hit me very hard, and I had to evaluate my life and my work. He and I were good friends in the 1990s, and he inspired much of my work in the area of hip-hop writing. I made a Top 10 Songs video of Source Of Labor at the end of 2017 to help deal with the pain of losing Wordsayer. Then in 2018, I made one for Ghetto Chilldren, and it started to become a series. I named my enterprise “Overstanding Seattle” to give tribute and honor to Jonathan Moore, one of the most truly amazing musicians I have ever known.”

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Table Manners 2

Last weekend I was thrilled to pick up a copy of Vitamin D’s Table Manners 2 on wax at The Big Dig event at Vermillion. Here’s a truly unique gem in the long canon of Seattle hip-hop: It’s from 1999 and it plays like one long, uninterrupted 45-minute jam, Vita on the decks sampling and scratching his way through the crates, while a revolving door of late-90s emcees takes turns freestylin’ over top. (Are there any other Seattle hip-hop record so devoted to the art of Turntablism?) Many of the Tribal gang are featured on this record: Samson S, Silas Black, B-Self, H Bomb, Wordsayer J. Moore, and there’s even a short segment of rival scratching, called “Jake’s Breaks,” starting Tuxedo’s Jake One. Table Manners 2 is such a fun record from start to finish. It’s easygoing and raw and loose. You feel like you’re in the studio, hanging out with our Town’s top talent at the turn of the millennium. Local music rag The Rocket said this album “breathes new life into classic breaks like the Headhunters and Kool & The Gang, and still manages to mix it up with lesser-known gems for the record nerds… featuring guest MCs busting over the breaks.” In their review, The Stranger described Vita as “a compulsive scratcher who is inclined to funk and soul beats… Table Manners 2 is like being taken for a wondrous tour through a museum of sounds.” This record is a uniquely rare treasure in the lineage, and everyone should own a copy. It’s a joy from start to finish.

Here’s another take:

Table Manners 2 is a NW classic: One of the few examples of exemplary turntablism to come from Seattle. It’s a Robin Williams-style “come into my mind” for local hip-hop legend Vitamin D. Vitamin invites the listeners to get on a roller coaster full of old soul, jazz, and funk breaks. Table Manners 2 is a history lesson with dozens of classic musical arrangements from every decade flawlessly woven together by a hip-hop-scratching real-live human DJ. Mixed throughout the melodies are several freestyles from local Seattle rappers such as Samson S, B-Self, and the true legend: Wordsayer from Source of Labor. Vitamin has an encyclopedic knowledge of breaks and the history of hip-hop sampling, which makes this record such a fun listen. He knows just which parts of the track to use in order to let the famous sample sneak up on you. If you want to get a picture of what it looks like inside Vitamin D’s head, all you have to do is pick up a copy of Table Manners 2 and you can find out. It’s a pretty cool place. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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Freestyle Demo Tape

I came across this often-rumored, seldom-heard tape today when I visited Tribal’s Bandcamp page, and couldn’t believe my eyes. I instantly downloaded it, but there was work to do and guests coming over and it had to wait there on my desktop until everything else quieted down. It’s just after Eleven at night and I have now finished listening to this for the first time and the euphoria and dopamine is still circulating in my head, so my apologies in advance if I dork out. But what am I supposed to say about this? To convince you of the value of this work? I tend to gush, and I have been called a Seattle hip-hop Stan by more than a few, and I readily accept the label – after all, have I ever posted up a negative write-up, or had anything less than stellar words to say about who I choose to post about? I can understand that what I have to say has to be taken with a grain of salt because I have an undying love for the Town and the artists in it and the music it shapes. When I was 13 years old Nirvana broke out, and a few short years later I first heard Tribal Productions’ Untranslated Prescriptions, and the rest is history. I’m a lost cause; for me Seattle was, is, and will continue to be the coolest city on the face of the Earth. In short, I know I’m biased. But, the memory of driving around in a car with my friends after school, listening over and over to Sinsemilla’s “Confrontations” and PHAT Mob’s “P.H.A.T.” above the grind of the heater – those are oddly some of my most cherished mementos I have of the heady, emotional roller-coaster ride that is adolescence. Out through stock radio speakers from a warbly tape came rough, beautiful music made by kids not much older than myself, living a few short miles away, that was unlike anything else out there. There was East coast and West coast, and then after Untranslated there was Seattle. To this day when I listen to that tape or Do The Math and hear those young voices over thin, scratchy, heart-wrenching instrumental tracks, it gives me a feeling of pride for my home – and also that the world can still be surprising, and as full of promise and terrifying opportunity as only a teenager can imagine. And now with the Freestyle Demo Tape, I have something else to invoke those emotions in me, even though I never got the chance to listen to it back then. But those young voices are still there, as is the atmosphere of that wonderfully familiar 4-track – and even without the nostalgia I chain it to, it still sounds fresher than fresh. And that my friends is why I’m all bubbly about this release – and actually everything else I post up about Seattle music. Tribal’s vibe is understated but it extends deep, throughout the Northwest and outward. That sound crafted by Vitamin D and Topspin has soaked into the Town and set the mood and tone of its music to this day, whether you like it or not. And I for one love the hip-hop of Seattle because of that mood – the whole genre in this neck of the woods has become part of Tribal’s legacy. That grey jazz, the substance of the lyrics, you can hear it all over the 206 – it still gives me a thrill whenever I catch it. And to be honest I’m here writing on this blog because of Tribal. I want people to hear this largely unknown music and understand its greatness and influence, in the hope of conveying that spark. Who I choose to write about are those that give me that same thrill, that child-like wonder, that sense of excitement that is, unfortunately, more and more rarely found as I get older. I don’t know what listening to this will do for you, as I’m sure very few of you have the same experiences with Tribal Productions but listen to it anyway. Use it to think about the music that you’re passionate about, and to think about what artists helped move you and shape you into who you are now. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Do The Math

Here’s one of many local archeological gems: Tribal Music’s Do The Math, from 1996, is an appropriate start, with collegiate cover, that is an essential part of any Seattle musical education. Damn is this record great.

This compilation was primarily compiled and produced by Vitamin D. It also features several cuts from his underappreciated supergroup, Ghetto Chilldren. Tribal Music was an important ’90s label that we should thank for cataloging our city’s golden boom-bap era, all those jazz samples and scratching, at a time when Seattle was awash in grunge hangover. Do The Math arrow-points to the origins of our uniquely laid-back upper-left sound, summarizing the underground roots of today’s scene. You can find this record for free on Bandcamp. If you have any interest or involvement in local hip-hop, you owe it to the many Duwamish ghosts to go listen to this today. The cover photo was taken by Diana Adams of Vermillion fame.

Here’s another take:

The giant that all Northwest acts have had to measure up to: The Do The Math compilation. Sounding only marginally more professional than their earlier tapes, the Tribal artists deliver with track after track of murky, jazzidelic perfection. Vitamin D and DJ Topspin are the obvious stars of the show, setting the gray, rainy tone for an expanded array of talent to rhyme over. Phat Mob, Ghetto Children, Sinsemilla, Union of Opposites, and the rest of the Tribal family are joined by such artists as the Silent Lamb’s Silas Blak, Source of Labor’s Wordsayer, and the Elevators’ Specs, rounding out the sound more than on Untranslated Prescriptions. I kid you not; this is a heavy release. To put it into perspective, this is to Seattle what the Project Blowed comp is to LA. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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'90s Unreleased, Demos & Rare Tracks

Casual fans of Tribal Productions know about the collective’s famous 1996 rap compilation called Do The Math which now sells for hundreds of dollars on Discogs. More serious followers not only have Do The Math but also trade copies of Untranslated Prescriptions, the crew’s rare earlier compilation from 1995. But then we come to the third category of Tribal fan, the completist. Fellow Town Love writer Jack Devo fits into this third category, and he has written an excellent piece here about the obscure Tribal Productions release titled Freestyle Demo Tape which was uploaded to Bandcamp in 2013. Back 2 Da Source Records in Belgium has been releasing an incredible series of Tribal reissues on vinyl, including Narcotik’s classic album Intro To Da Central in 2018, and then Untranslated and Math in 2019. In 2021, Back 2 Da Source gave us another dose of that sweet Tribal goodness, this gatefold collection of a dozen early tracks called 90’s Unreleased, Demos & Rare Tracks by foundational Tribal group Ghetto Chilldren.

Ghetto Chilldren began as four members, Culture, Capabilities, B-Self, and Vitamin D. The four young musicians came together at a time when hip-hop was rediscovering its identity after several years of domination by gangster rap. Groups like De La Soul and Freestyle Fellowship were showing a blueprint for rap that dealt with complicated emotions caused by issues of identity, progress, and everyday life. Ghetto Chilldren rapped about their academic successes and failures, their attempts at meeting women, and fears about neighborhood violence. These topics were relatable to listeners, and the tracks were entertaining and educational. Ghetto Chilldren caught a huge buzz in Seattle, which led to attention from major labels. They got a demo deal from Geffen, but creative differences crashed that project and the group returned to Seattle.

90’s Unreleased, Demos & Rare Tracks proves the unparalleled skill of GC despite the extremely lo-fi sound. The songs were recorded at The Pharmacy studio, which at that time was Vitamin D’s basement bedroom. Vocals were recorded using a single Shure mic in the middle of the studio, with all the resulting hiss and background noise. If you listen closely you can catch snippets of voices or laughter from other people in the room. Even with the lo-fi setup, the tracks are masterpieces. The beat for “On The 1’s and 2’s” has a carefree, moon-gravity astronaut bounce, and don’t miss B-Self’s hilarious verse about avoiding gangbangers. “Detour To The Left” disarms with its clever inventive hook that bursts open like a flower in spring. But “Free Enterprise” featuring Narcotik is the star of the show. Found on a never-released Tribal project called Therapeutics, this track sounds sparkling and streamlined next to the earlier amateur material on this release. “Free Enterprise” is the dope theme song of Y2K and it exemplifies the unlimited potential of rap to create its own billion-dollar industry.

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Monologs And Soliloquys For Your Mom

Tribal Productions was a collective of rappers and DJs who came together in the late 1980s and early 1990s in Seattle. They were a diverse crew with street-influenced acts like Narcotik positioned alongside more backpack-style groups like Union Of Opposites. Four members of Tribal formed a group called Ghetto Chilldren: Vitamin D, B-Self, Culture, and Capabilities. The group’s first release was a four-song cassette called Monologs And Soliloquys. Ghetto Chilldren caused a huge buzz with this release. It established the Tribal sound, which was dusty yet hard drums mixed with acutely chosen jazzy samples. Where artists like Puffy were taking top 40 hits and remaking them into rap karaoke, producers like Premier, Pete Rock, and Vitamin D were looking for obscure arrangements and turning them into new melodies. Monologs & Soliloquys is a stellar example of a paradigm shift in Seattle rap, a quantum leap of creativity.

The first song is titled “Odd Ball Sindrome,” and it introduced Ghetto Chilldren as outsiders to the mainstream rap culture. They were more like sketch comedians at times, with little snippets of samples and dialog before and after the tracks. “BBQ Sause & The Stank Nasty” is the second song. In this lighthearted track, the crew shares stories of trying to meet girls at barbecues. It succeeds on a number of levels, capturing the wildness of youth and the “anything can happen” feeling of long summer nights.

“Questions” begins side B with a long intro featuring Vitamin’s younger brother bugging him while he tries to work on the track. By side B it’s evident that clever wordplay was the currency of the group. It’s thesaurus rap but wait, it’s not about just showing off SAT vocab like Jack Harlow in an SNL NFT rap, but more about using language artistically in a way that it has never been used before. The lyrics are never cute or overbearing, rather the verses leave you with a feeling of brain tickle. I don’t know how else to describe it. The last song “20 Bucks” is all about the value of money to someone in high school. This might be my favorite beat of the four, it’s extremely catchy.

All in all, this tape is valuable as a snapshot of the four-member lineup of the group. By their next releases on Untranslated Prescriptions and Do The Math, the group had slimmed to just Vitamin D and B-Self performing as a duo. Ghetto Chilldren in any configuration is a foundational group in Seattle hip hop. This tape allows the listener to hear them take their first unsteady steps, and it’s magic each time you play it! (Written by Novocaine132.)

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