A film about Northwest hip-hop from

The Blank Canvas

Filmmaker and hip-Hop musician Rafael Flores spent six years making The Blank Canvas: Hip-Hop’s Struggle for Representation in Seattle. The film attempts to document the unique identity of hip-hop culture in Seattle, through interviews with over 100 rappers, producers, DJs, graffiti artists, break-dancers, fashion designers, and promoters from The Town.

It takes us on a journey that investigates the origins of Hip-Hop in the Northwest, the legacy of Sir-Mix-a-Lot, the notorious 1985 Teen Dance Ordinance, Clear-Channel’s dominance over commercial Hip-Hop radio, the increasing popularity of white rappers in Seattle, and hip-hop’s struggle for representation in a seemingly liberal city.

The full 96-minute film is available for rent on Vimeo for $5. Watch the trailer below.

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Town Biz Mixtape

No list of essential Seattle hip-hop compilations would be complete without the inclusion of Jake One’s 27-track opus, the Town Biz Mixtape. He dug deep into the crates, surfacing lost hits, deep cuts, and the finest local hip-hop spanning more than 20 years. (From 1989 to 2010, when this CD was released.)

The mixtape is an essential playlist that surfaces forgotten gems and unexpected bangers. My favorite track here is Vitamin D’s “Who That??” feat. The Note (from Narcotik), but there are so, so many solid tracks. Everyone’s on this, from Blind Council to Mash Hall, The Physics, Tay Sean, J. Pinder, and Shabazz Palaces. Listening to Town Biz will leave you realizing how blessed we are to have so much musical talent in our own backyard. But we knew that already, didn’t we? Thanks to Jake One for compiling this so we can spin it on a sunny summer afternoon and feel hella proud.

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Born Day EP

Vitamin D has a thing about holidays. His group Sta Hi Brothers, made up of himself and Maneak B, has put out three Christmas albums, and a Valentine’s Day album. In 2010 Vitamin dropped the classic Born Day EP, which is all about celebrating a birthday. On Bandcamp, Vita wrote a quick note to accompany the release. “I recorded and produced most of this s*** on my b-day, didn’t have time to mix it tho, but enjoy it anyway!”

The Born Day EP opener “Begin” starts with the traditional version of “Happy Birthday,” but then suddenly switches to a different melody, the beautiful 1980 Stevie Wonder version of the song. “Worse Burfday” effectively samples the classic Biggie line, “Birthdays was the worst days,” and contains difficult memories about growing up poor. For that familiar Vitamin D musical ear-tingle, “Twist It Till It’s Gone” brings the magic in my opinion. Vitamin chops his samples so carefully that even small sounds take on huge significance in the final beat. The track is slow and leisurely, and he drops some hilarious, weed-inspired lyrics.

“Nga Plz” features Vitamin D’s son Yung Rebel, who had a strong solo run as Malcolm Rebel until sadly passing away in 2020. Vitamin and guest emcee The Note from Narcotik break down how dating and relationships have been affected by technology’s changes over the decades in “Who Dat _____.” From landlines, to caller ID, to cell phones, to the internet, the lyrics explain how all these different gadgets make it hard for a player to keep their peccadilloes secret. This was only the first of the Born Day series, the second installment appeared in 2014. Written by Novocaine132

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

White Van Music

Hmmm... There's not a lot of information about this project in the museum encyclopedia. We'd love your help! TOWN LOVE is maintained by an awesome community of passionate volunteers who keep it all up to date.

Do you know something about the history of this record? Do you have a favorite lyric or a favorite memory? Send us an email on why this is one of the great hip-hop albums from the Northwest. Thanks!

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The Narcosis

Another Tribal 12″ from 2000. Tizzy T and C-Note are the sharp-edged Narcotik, one of the harder acts in the Tribal Productions collective. Lyrically they keep it streetwise, and their style is direct, which makes them somewhat of an anomaly when compared to Ghetto Chilldren or Union of Opposites. They represent here with two classic Vitamin D – produced tracks, “The Narcosis” and “Makes Me Wanna Bust”. Vita really demonstrates his versatility as a beatmaker with this release, as he puts his usual penchant for mellow, jazz-inflected tracks on hold in favor of a cleaner and more dramatic score. “Bust” features a sick verse from Silent Lamb Silas Blak. Another ill offering from the formative days of the 206. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

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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Intro To Da Central

One night at the Coolin’ at Havana, Porter Ray and I got to talking about 1995’s Intro To Da Central by Narcotik. He was saying how important it was as a kid that instead of hearing raps about Brooklyn or The Bronx or L.A., he was hearing rhymes about the Central District, in Seattle, where he lived, and that hearing this record was a big inspiration for him and his career. Narcotik were the rap duo of Tizzy T (R.I.P.) and MC C-Note aka The Notework. Intro To Da Central was originally released on cassette by Tribal Productions and was produced by Vitamin D and Topspin: There’s much magic at work in the wide stereo space, the left-right interplay, beats set to the back, the guitars, the long outros, all relaxed and hella charming. Musically, this one’s an ear-tickling journey. There’s often some slightly odd looping sample buried in the mix that it takes you a while to notice—like a door hinge—but when you do, it makes you laugh. When this record spins, let me say, the couch is very comfortable. Back in the mid-‘90s, in The Rocket, Payton Carter described Intro as having that “laid-back, West Coast, 40 and a blunt, Infinite Tribal feel, along with mad lyrics,” while in early ‘90s hip-hop rag The Flavor, Strath Shepard said, “their metaphors and creative name-checks flip the norm and keep you listening for what’s next.” The standout single, “All Up In My Mix,” features rapper Infinite and also appeared on the legendary 14 Fathoms Deep compilation. Intro’s original cassettes have become so rare as to be mythical. Beetbak’s Jack Devo called it “the most criminally hard-to-find record to ever come out of the Northwest.” So it’s great that this classic was recently remastered and reissued on vinyl and CD by Belgium-based Back2DaSourcerecords in very limited quantities. You can also grab it digitally on Bandcamp, and I strongly urge you to do so.

Here’s another take:

Back in 1995, when Intro To Da Central was first released, Strath Shepard reviewed it in The Flavor magazine:

Add Narcotik to the list of Seattle area artists who, with the right scheme and exposure, have the skills needed to blow up on a national level. With M.C.s who show multiple influences and versatile production which transcends traditional divisions, Into To Da Central carries appeal for all types of hip-hop listeners.

If you aren’t already familiar with Narcotik through the many shows they’ve played in Seattle, the due is kind of on some traditional West Coast type shit. But what makes them more interesting is that they actually have a lot to say, and they do it in creative ways. One of the things that has separated the East and West in hip-hop is the East’s misconception that all g’s from the West Coast “talk and talk, but ain’t sayin’ nothin’.” Once you get past Intro’s intro, it quickly becomes apparent that this just isn’t true. Narcotik may cover the usual topics, but their metaphors and creative name-checks flip the norm and keep you listening for what’s next.

On the production end of things, Vitamin D and Topspin prove (once again) how twisted and wrong it is that the rest of the country sleeps on Seattle. “All Da Time” offers that signature sentimental sound Vitamin D is known for, while “Crushin’ Crooz” and “Rap Styles Vary” show that he’s not confined to one style. Topspin’s track for “Urlin’ In Da Mornin’” incorporates an unexpected but tight-fitting snare with a smooth backing loop, and ties for my favorite cut along with “All Da Time.” Vitamin D and Topspin co-produce on “Intro To Da Central,” which features Infinite on the mic along with Narcotik. Though the title is strictly Seattle, the album will bob heads across the country.

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