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Byrd's Eye View

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The People's Choice Mixtape

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The Black Lab Mixtape

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Reigncraft Volume Seven: Wake Up

The Reigncraft series of Seattle rap compilations is a wonderful place to start if you have no idea about hip-hop culture in the 206. There are hundreds of artists in our town who put out interesting music, even if the national press only covers two of them. Reigncraft Volume Seven: Wake Up, which dropped in 2008, is just as badass as volumes one through six. Let’s take a look at a few highlights, unfortunately there are too many tracks here to cover them all.

“Start Some S*** Pt. 3” by Cancer Rising is outrageous. A DJ named blesOne had just joined the group, and the song is like a Tasmanian devil chewing on your leg. The combination of blesOne and Gatsby from Cancer Rising would evolve into late-stage Mash Hall, including classic albums like They La Soul. Former wrestler Billy The Fridge drops “Smells Like Hip Hop” as his oblique tribute to Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Fridge goes meta and references Reigncraft a couple of times in his verse. For instance, “This city is behind me and we’re on a mission, buy that Reigncraft disc and give it a listen,” and “If you don’t know Grynch or the Blue Scholars, then give me ten bucks and I’ll give you two dollars, and a copy of Gotta Do It.”

“Plague Your Mind” by Second Family is interesting to me for the commitment to wordplay, and the relentless grinding beat. Producer Baked Beatz shows restraint, and the track just drip, drip, drips like water torture. I replayed this track a bunch of times, and I still can’t quite put my finger on it. Backing vocals by Latin Rose enhance the gloomy yet dangerously thrilling panorama, effectively capturing the allure of street life on tape.

I want to like “Homelessness” by Byrdie, but somehow the song never comes together for me. The lyrics are a masterpiece, as they explain all the factors that can lead to someone being unhoused. “I speak for the homeless stuck in the streets, every day and every night trying to make ends meet,” Byrdie practically screams on the chorus. You can tell he feels emotional about this topic, and it’s a revelation to hear a rap that isn’t about selfish materialism. Unfortunately, the production seems oddly mixed to the high end, and doesn’t develop an appropriate vibe for the material. With a different beat, I think this song could be more powerful.

Near the end of Wake Up is nineteen year-old Sol’s “Kno U So Well.” This song is lighthearted and fun, and Sol uses his voice articulately and with good rhythm. The vibe is similar to “My Name Is” by Eminem, complete with circus-sounding production and ridiculous lyrics. “Fuck a pistol, I drop an Iraq missile. Leave nothin but your eyepatch, call it the Slick Rick move.” The song is a bit clumsy, but it shows potential for this young MC. Written by Novocaine132

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After Midnight

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B.Y.R.D.I.E.

Seattle emcee Byrdie released this 12″ back in 2004, along with his album N Flight. Boasting production from the legendary Vitamin D and Bean One, this sampling of what the album has to offer is head-nodding and infectious.

The A-Side, “B.Y.R.D.I.E.”, with its minimal and angular beat, gives Byrdie’s flow ample room to slither and wrap itself around the corners. The B-Side, “Scattin'”, is more of a high-energy club cut. Layers of horns, percussion, vocal samples, and synth lines jump around, with Byrdie shouting to be heard over the cacophony. Entertaining stuff from this Northwest stalwart. Besides album cuts, instrumentals and acapellas are included as well. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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N Flight

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Reigncraft, Volume 4: The Labor

After three successful compilations, Reigncraft series founder KNDNM could have just thrown in the towel and decided that the innovative Seattle rap series had run its course. Thankfully for rap fans across the Northwest, that’s not what happened. This Reigncraft Volume 4: The Labor compact disc dropped at the end of 2004, and it is yet another action-packed assembly of varied hip-hop talent from the 206.

“Questions” by Unexpected Arrival presents a number of deep thoughts to chew on, set to a compelling, stark beat. “Dammit all to hell, my life feeling like a jail. We won’t win the war if we’re still fighting amongst ourselves,” goes a heartfelt line. “Questions” was also featured on Unexpected Arrival’s third album, My Life For Sale in 2005. Bad Luk is a Reigncraft veteran who had a track featured on each of the first three CDs. His cut here, “Expectations” is excellent, and it shows that his hard grind really paid off. Bad Luk’s voice carries a devastating urgency, and the lyrics are very personal. “I wish you had to wear my shoes, so you felt my scars, so you could deal with real life when you was dealt my cards,” he raps.

The strange, zippy Kuddie Mack beat on “Dents In The Trunk” is intriguing. Stretch uses a conversational tone in his lyrics, which makes his voice approachable and familiar sounding, removing the distance between listener and performer. Because of the subject matter, “Dents In The Trunk” reminds me of the 1988 classic “Cars With The Boom” by L’Trimm.

“Pick Me Up” by Cyphalliance and “Stomp” by A-OK both bring the backpack, freestyle-circle vibe. These two songs explore the “metaphorical oratorical” to use a line from “Stomp.” The whole point of Reigncraft is to place tracks from the wordplay world against other more gangsta-oriented type of joints. Now, twenty years later, the genre of hip-hop continues to expand into a splinterverse of styles and experimentation. Reigncraft Volume 4: The Labor reminds us that it all comes back to hip-hop, and we are all part of the same family. Written by Novocaine132

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Hollow Point Lyrics

Dividenz is a rap duo consisting of C.O.L.A. and Notes. Their first album is called Hollow Point Lyrics, and it came out in 2003 on D-Sane’s Street Level Records. Notes brandishes a bullet on the album cover artwork, while C.O.L.A. holds an umbrella. Skuntdunanna helps to fire up the party, dropping a punchline-filled verse on the album’s first cut, “It’s All Official.” “Too Much” featuring Bullet is one of my favorites on the album for its simple, gangstery beat and Nate Dogg-ish vocals on the hook sung by Jazz.

“Million $ Mouthpiece” features Seattle rap legend Byrdie, who had dropped his solo debut Poetic Epidemic two years prior in 2001, also on Street Level. Although the beat is catchy and smooth, the lyrics fall into the rap-about-rap trap, which limits the content of the track to solipsistic musing about being an MC. There are happy exceptions however, “I’m rollin by señoritas, yelling mama mia, they dream like they got shot with anesthesia,” raps Byrdie.

Fans of Hall & Oates may appreciate “We Don’t…” which interpolates H&O’s 1981 classic “I Can’t Go For That.” “I never been a sucker, I’m just a young hustler trying to have the world spinning in my hand,” goes a nice line from “We Don’t…” Overall, Hollow Point Lyrics is a solid debut. Six years later in 2009, the group would drop a second Street Level album, 10% Rap 90% Hustle. Written by Novocaine132

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The Streetz Iz Enough

Skuntdunanna dropped his CD, Trapped In Da Hatrixx, on Sea Sick Records in 1998. By the time his next album The Streetz Iz Enough came out in 2003, Skunt had joined D-Sane’s Street Level Records, home to Syko, IK, Byrdie, and the label’s marquee group F.T.S. The Streetz Iz Enough is a tour de force from one of the slickest rappers to ever emerge from Seattle. Spending all his time and effort in the studio paid off, allowing Skunt to develop a unique personality and character on the mic in real time, and the listener can hear him shifting gears between gangsta, hustler, pimp, comedian, and stone cold MC.

To me, one of the best things about Skunt’s material is the steady flow of truly hilarious punchlines. “Must have got help from the Post Office, because they turned thug overnight,” is one that always makes me chuckle. He makes joke after joke, using wordplay and insults, generally staying three or four steps ahead of the listener. Because his flow is so asymmetrical, there’s no way to know what he’s going to say next. Guest appearances enhance many of the tracks here. Wanz sings the groovy hook on “All I Got,” rap veteran Silver Shadow D lends some ragga chanting to “Soundproof,” and golden-voiced Byrdie drops a delectable verse on “Shake It.”

My favorite cut on this album is the title track, “The Streetz Iz Enough,” featuring underground Seattle rap hero Framework. This song goes so hard with lines like, “Memories of childhood days, but now instead of playing ball, I’m dropping flowers on graves.” Another hot track on this CD is simply titled, “Skuntdunanna.” “Pronounce the f***ing name right, dog,” he exhorts the listener. “Crazy Life Pt. 2” is an autobiographical piece which tells Skunt’s story of coming up in the Seattle rap game. There are even a couple of skits, “Rap Right Commercial,” and “Rejection Hotline,” which add to the entertaining vibe of the album. The cover artwork says this is the first official Skuntdunanna album, and the musical partnership between Skuntdunanna and D-Sane continued to grow throughout the 2000s and 2010s. Written by Novocaine132

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If We Try...

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Poetic Epidemic

Fresh off his enlistment as a Soldier on the second F.T.S. album, Money Motivated in 2000, Seattle musical artist Byrdie was ready to take a giant leap of his own. Having joined the Street Level family, he had VIP access to beats by D-Sane, and also tons of MCs for guest spots. Byrdie got his ducks in a row and released his first CD, Poetic Epidemic in 2001. Poetic Epidemic was a solid debut that flagged him as an artist on the rise.

The tracks cover a variety of topics, which keeps the listening interesting. An unlikely name check of a Supreme Court Justice shows up in “Dirty Politics,” with the humorous line, “I’m not arrogant, I’m just honest, Street Level Records, all my CDs sell out like Clarence Thomas.” “Lyricide” produced by Syko carries a gothic, vampire vibe, drenched in echo and reverb as though it was recorded in an actual castle. Jonathan “Wordsayer” Moore, the mayor of Seattle hip-hop, appears on “Society,” dropping a forceful verse, “for brothers out on the grind, and sisters with conscious minds.” It’s probably an uncontroversial take, but the strongest cut on Poetic Epidemic, in my opinion, is “Player’s Policy Pt. 2” produced by D-Sane, and featuring vocals from Wanz. The first version of “Player’s Policy” including Byrdie, BD, and Creep Lo appeared on Money Motivated.

Thanks to some direct action and protests, “Player’s Policy Pt. 2” actually got rotation airplay on KUBE 93 FM, Seattle’s notoriously insular pop music station. According to the excellent 2020 history text by Dr. Daudi Abe, titled Emerald Street, “the tension that had been growing between KUBE and the local hip-hop community eventually came to a head in the spring of 1997.” The movement was led by Seattle hip-hop artists including Silver Shadow D who felt like they had no chance of being on the radio in their own city. Thanks to their efforts, over the next few years KUBE made some adjustments, allowing for “Player’s Policy Pt. 2” to get on the air and become a hit in 2001.

Byrdie has the intangibles that can carry a rapper to the top of the pack. His flow is airtight, with literally no space between the syllables. This is basically a modern flip of iambic pentameter, a written style worshipped for centuries. Very few artists ever climb to this level of lyrical altitude, and with his golden voice, the words just roll off his tongue. But Byrdie fans would have to be patient, for there would still be three more years of waiting before Byrdie would drop his true masterpiece, 2004’s N Flight. Written by Novocaine132

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Kash Me Out

Street Level Records arrived with a bang in 1998, putting out the debut F.T.S. album Full Time Soldiers, which is a true Seattle gangsta rap classic. After that success, Street Level extended its streak, releasing a second F.T.S. album in 2000, and solo albums by Byrdie and Syko the following year. Within F.T.S. a side project appeared called I.K. which stood for Independent Kash. The new group consisted of four members: BD, Brazy J, D-Sane, and J Dub, and in 2001 they put out a full album called Kash Me Out. According to D-Sane, “In hindsight, I should’ve just called it another F.T.S. album, but BD, the member who conceived and ran the group, didn’t want to.”

Kash Me Out contains similar material to the two F.T.S. albums, and features many of the same rappers. The album art shows I.K. flanked by looming Jacksons and Benjamins, and BD is holding a stack of bills. The theme of money is fully explored, as evidenced on the chorus of “I’m A Hustler,” which goes, “Cash cash, fetti fetti, gees gees, c-notes c-notes, stacks stacks, paper…” The members of I.K. want to be clear that they need to be paid in full for all their hard work. “It’s time for the industry to cash me out,” goes a heartfelt line from the album’s opener, the title track “Kash Me Out.”

Highlights include “Soggy” guest starring YG Red and Madd Dog which discusses “smoking wet,” referring to a blunt or joint that has been dipped in sherm or other dangerous chemicals. “I’m so wet I can’t focus on my fingertips,” admits one MC because the high is so intense, adding, “that’s why I only get soggy every once in a while.” Also, “I Know Where They B” featuring Creep-Lo shows promise with its low-frequency bassline, and lyrics about the need for retaliation. Josh Flack plays guitar on three tracks, “Mackadoshis,” “I’m A Hustler,” and “Ride Right,” adding texture and flavor to the mix. “R.I.P. To My G’z N Thugz” is a shout out to all those friends and family that lost their lives to the hardships of the game, and includes appearances by 211 and Popsykle from local group Self Tightld.

Shortly after Kash Me Out was released, F.T.S. split up due to internal differences between the nine group members. This meant that I.K. also stopped recording together, and Kash Me Out was the group’s only album. Despite the roster changes, Street Level continued growing its impressive catalog, dropping albums by Sarkastik, Dividenz, and Skuntdunanna in 2003. Written by Novocaine132

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Sykotherapy

On his first full album, Lyrikally Insane in 1999, Portland-based rapper Syko (Skilled Young Kreative Organism) incorporated what appeared to be an actual voicemail from Cellophane Square record store. The message politely informed him that the store could continue selling his ’98 Warpath EP project on consignment, but because of shopper complaints, he needed to replace the explicit artwork on the cover with something more PG rated. For the most part, Lyrikally Insane was hardcore gangsta rap, with a couple of notable exceptions. “When It Comes Down To It” took some experimental, artistic chances, and it showed Syko’s more creative, less destructive side. Another cut that stood out to me was “Famboshis” with its pleasant, addicting beat and the confessional tone of the track.

His second album in 2001 was titled Sykotherapy, and for this one Syko hooked up with famous Seattle producer D-Sane and his rap label Street Level Records, which already had success with Byrdie, I.K., and label marquee group F.T.S. aka Full Time Soldiers. The album art for Sykotherapy is unsettling. Syko, dressed in a hospital psyche-ward gown aims his best thousand-yard stare at the camera while writing in a huge three ring binder.

Byrdie features on four different tracks, “This World Of Mine,” “Ain’t S*** Changed,” “Chozen,” and “I Just Wanna,” which has a hook from honey-voiced local star Wanz. The emotional “I’m Goin Thru It” explains some of the circumstances that cause people to stay trapped in the game. “I’m goin through it man, keeping a pistol close, because it’s my life that I cherish the most,” goes the chorus. The album finishes with “End Game,” sampling the famous “greed” speech by Gordon Gekko from the movie Wall Street.

After Sykotherapy, he continued making music. In 2004, famous thizz-popper Mac Dre put out Syko’s album called Amerikkkan Syko. Syko was not just a rapper, but also an accomplished producer, and he made dozens of beats throughout the 2000s and 2010s. One of his last projects was creating three beats for former Full Time Soldier J-Dub’s album Envy Breeds Contempt in 2014. Syko, real name Theophilus Adams, passed away in 2018. Written by Novocaine132

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Money Motivated

F.T.S. dropped their first CD titled Full Time Soldiers in 1998 with six official members, D-Sane, J Dub, Villain, Drama, BD, and Madd Dogg. This debut album introduced F.T.S. as a mafia-style crime family, primarily representing the Aurora strip from 85th to Shoreline. But because of the crew’s numbers, their reach extended throughout the 206. On tracks like “Jackin Season,” “8-5 Dippin,” and “Million $ Dreams” the Soldiers described bleak scenarios of shootouts, drug deals, and pimping, the glamorous yet dead-end lifestyle of gangsters and hustlers.

Money Motivated in 2000 was the second CD from F.T.S., and this time instead of six there were nine faces pictured on the cover. Five of the six artists from Full Time Soldiers remained; however, Villain decided to leave the group. The four additions were early group members Brazy-J and Smoke Dog, who were joined by YG Red and Byrdie. A lot of names to be sure. The second album continues the themes of the debut. The combination of vocalist Lauren Salee and guitarist Josh Flack brings a new musical element to two songs, which helps to create more of a distinct mood on this album. Of all the voices on Money Motivated, one that shines is newcomer Byrdie. With a rhyme style that, for some reason, reminds me of verbal-machine-gun Big Pun, Byrdie is a double threat due to his sweet singing voice.

Right after the humorous “Hater Hotline” skit, title track “Money Motivated” jumps off right away, transmitting lots of punchy energy. Rapper Tuff Nitti and local group Self Tightld are featured on the mournful “Rest In Paradise.” “I got a head full of chemicals, stressed over that concrete, everything’s obsolete,” goes a line on standout track “Wet Dreams.” Believe it or not, album closer “Full Time” has eight performers as credited artists, and “I’m Still High” lists eleven! With so many voices it’s easy for the tone of a track to get lost, but the Soldiers maintain a good unity throughout these entire-crew-showcasing songs.

According to D-Sane, F.T.S. broke up in mid 2001 “due to internal fighting amongst members of the group.” Four of the Soldiers released an album, Kash Me Out, in 2001 under the name I.K. which stood for Independent Kash. Byrdie subsequently completed a solo project, Poetic Epidemic which also came out in 2001. Both of those albums were on Street Level Records, D-Sane’s rapidly growing brand. Written by Novocaine132

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