A film about Northwest hip-hop from

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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The Coldest Winter

Mad Passion was a Seattle record label run by Matt Wong in the early 2000s. It only released a handful of projects, including this terrific 2003 album titled The Coldest Winter by Mista Ock. In the CD credits, Mista Ock writes to Wong personally, “thanks for not only believing, but also giving me a platform to be heard.”

There are a few tracks that don’t quite hit for me. For instance “Come Home With Me” is romantic but trite like an LL Cool J love ballad. “Ride Tonight,” featuring Central Intelligence members Key and Diopolis, is an attempt at gangsta rap but the beat is too basic to capture any real tension or suspense. By contrast, the sound effects and tonal urgency found in “Countdown To Genocide” combine these same violent themes into a more successful track. High-energy club joint “Workin It Out” tries its best, but this is another style which isn’t a natural fit for Ock, who sounds too laid-back and calm here to convey the requisite party/dance hype.

But enough criticism, the majority of The Coldest Winter is top level. Ock’s talent shines when he speaks from a place of honesty about overcoming struggle, and those songs are serious and downright compelling. The line, “S*** was all a joke, but it wasn’t too funny, I remember days, Mom scraping up ends for lunch money,” in “All I Ever Knew” is a descriptive and visual example of the humiliation that accompanies poverty. Tracks like “Changes,” “Through My Eyes,” and “Hold On,” feature Mista Ock baring his soul and his feelings to the listener. On “Forgiveness,” Ock speaks to his deceased father in a moving confession.

Title track “The Coldest Winter” is excellent, probably my favorite on the CD. “You only lose when you stop trying, and I ain’t trying to stop,” he cleverly raps to a solid beat. That’s going to be my new motto. After the success of The Coldest Winter, Seattle trio Cancer Rising signed with Mad Passion to put out their second album Search For The Cure in 2005. Written by Novocaine132

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The Sport-N-Life Compilation Vol. 1

Sportn’ Life Records launched in 2002 with a two-song, twelve-inch rap single. The A-side was called “We Are” by Last Men Standin, and the cut lyrically served as a rectangle-sticker-on-their-chest introduction to the group and the label. The single’s B-side was by Danger, later known as D. Black and now Nissim Black, and titled “You Need A Thug.” Both tracks were produced by Vitamin D of Tribal Productions fame. Sportn’ Life co-founders Devon Manier, Emery “Slim” Buford, and Jamal Henderson quickly began to attract talent, and in 2003 the label put out a massive collection of Seattle hip-hop called The Sport-N-Life Compilation Vol. 1, containing twenty one tracks.

Let me apologize ahead of time to some of the fine artists that I will not have time to mention, there are too many tracks here to cover them all. Danger and Fatal Lucciauno start things off with their excellent “Make A Change.” Both performers have an economic way of rapping, using supply and demand to create phrases, sentences, and verses of extreme value.

The aforementioned Vitamin D carries some weight on Compilation Vol. 1, producing four cuts on the CD. Besides the two songs from the 2002 Sportn’ Life single which both appear here, Narcotik’s easy-paced Seattle classic “Chips To A Cell” from the group’s 1995 album Intro To The Central is also featured. Vitamin’s own track “Pimp Of The Year,” is yet another example of his talent both in the booth and twisting the knobs.

Producer J Bellamy gets flutey on J. One’s pop-sounding “Tonight,” featuring a short rap by Wojack and vocals by Sophia. “No Ordinary” by Footprints is one of my favorites of the whole set. “The rumor is I’d make a million overseas. America, she’s so hard to please,” is one of Proh Mic’s effortless lyrics. Mall Saint also entertains with “Caught In The Red,” showing off his very unique, speedy rapping style.

Three huge names finish the long compilation, Silent Lambs, Fleeta Partee, and Candidt. Sportn’ Life managed to accomplish so much with this ambitious CD. The thoughtful project brought together artists who may not have otherwise appeared together, which added so much character to the listening experience. I would be remiss if Bean One did not get a shout out too, for producing over a dozen beats on Compilation Vol. 1. Written by Novocaine132

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Central Intelligence was a five MC hip-hop group from the 206 active at the turn of the millennium. Their sole album, C.I., was released in 2002. It’s bars upon bars upon bars, handing the mic between Citizen Cain, Dialect, Diopolis, LowKey, and SeaJay, backed with beats from Vitamin D and Bean One Everyone’s at the top of their game here. The track “Handle These Deeds” is a rapped autobiography, detailing how the group came together and how five opinionated emcees came to a consensus. “Dear Poppa” explores a child’s anger at an absentee father. “Real Estate” is a hidden track and a biting criticism of the gentrification of the Central District: “Watch the city rezone my hood and change its name—forced to sell the land we can’t afford to maintain… Waking up to the smell of a new Starbucks smack dab in the CD.” The whole C.I. record is one of powerful opinions, and an urgent call to action, like on “Call It As I See It,” that confronts the history taught in school, voicing that “blacks are often left without a past to trace.” With five emcees trading verses, there’s a lot to digest here. Vita and Bean keep the beats simple so the bars can shine. But it’s also not all life lessons. As the group spits on one track, “When you need that ass droppin’, the beats hard-knockin’, you’re left with one option. Who do you call? C.I.!” The song “Move!” with guitars from H-Bomb is particularly poppin’.

Here’s another take:

Criminally overlooked, Central Intelligence was among the greatest Seattle hip hop acts in the ’90s and early ’00s. Similar in sound and style to Black Anger, Source Of Labor, and Narcotik, these five emcees spit knowledge in styles that were concrete, definitive, and mature. The subject matter on this self-titled album from 2002 ranges from the personal to the political, spoken in 5 distinct, articulate voices. With like-minded beats from two of the major architects of the sound, Vitamin D and Bean One, this album is a hidden classic of the Tribal era. Besides this album, CI also contributed to the crucial Sportn’Life Compilation from 2003. They also were reputed to put on a mean live set. A slim but 100% quality legacy. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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