A film about Northwest hip-hop from

The Otherside

The Otherside is an hour-long documentary predominantly covering Seattle’s Capitol Hill-centric “third wave” hip-hop scene, circa 2010. This was a time when MP3s and streaming were fairly new and completely reshaping the music industry. Artists like Blue Scholars were experimenting with Kickstarter and direct fan support. Everyone was trying something new.

There’s a wealth of great interviews, concerts, and backstage footage from artists across the Town. There are hella people in this movie. It’s clear the filmmaker tried to talk with anyone and everyone who was willing. There are some great long chats with Jake One, Prometheus Brown, and Sir Mix-A-Lot. There’s also lots of footage of pre-stardom Macklemore & Ryan Lewis as they prepare to drop The Heist.

Larry Mizell Jr. offers up a four-point guide to being successful in the Northwest: “Be truthful to yourself. Be respectful and knowledgeable of what’s going on and what came before you. Be good: Work on your craft. Further the culture at all times.”

The Otherside premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival and was an audience favorite, selling out two consecutive screenings. It was also chosen as “Best of SIFF” by festival programmers.

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Tobacco Road

Every morning while making coffee, I stand and stare at a poster of pho ingredients that hangs in my kitchen, designed by Sabzi. It was a promotion for his noodle-soup-positive single, “We Heart Pho.” I met RA Scion while doing illustrations in Alaska. Yet, it was only recently that I discovered this gem of an album that brings their talents together.

Common Market’s 2008 album, Tobacco Road is head-bobbing fun, mixing magisterial spitting, melodic instrumentation, and an overarching concept about the working class. The headier first half gives way to a playfully casual second and features a singalong diss track, “Nothin’ At All.” The best diss tracks are honestly the ones you want to sing along to.

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Common Market

The Stranger picked Common Market as one of the “6 Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2005” saying:

As Common Market, RA Scion and DJ Sabzi released a CD that is rock solid. Unlike Framework’s hypercreative Hello World, which bubbles and froths wonderfully all over the place, Common Market is clean, clear, and shaped by precious patience. Very little is wasted on this CD—which was recorded over four months in Sabzi’s Beacon Hill studio. Every beat and its matching rap is the product of what DJ Premier famously called “deep concentration.” DJ Sabzi and RA Scion first worked together on two tracks on RA Scion’s Live & Learn, and soon after the CD was released the two decided to renew and widen their relationship to a full-length CD. In the way that Mobb Deep’s single “Shook Ones Pt. II” was expanded into the greatest rap CD of the ’90s, Hell on Earth, Live and Learn‘s “The Water” was expanded into Common Market.

“RA Scion is older than me, and he has a style that really comes out of the early ’90s,” explains Sabzi. “Not that it’s out of date or anything. It allowed me to think about hip-hop from a historical perspective. I had to mine sounds and samples that could work with his flow. RA Scion is a conscious rapper and [the early ’90s] was the period of conscious rapping.”

If white rappers are to make a real contribution to hip-hop, it is to connect the music with the global, anti-capitalist movement. And this is precisely what RA Scion does so impressively. For him, it’s not about “elephants and asses” but getting down with “activists”—those who were on the streets in 1999 protesting WTO, those who are against the current war in Iraq, who are against corporate exploitation of Third World labor. Hip-hop must be plugged into these new, post-fordist revolutionary flows.

Although his knowledge of rapping is impeccable—as demonstrated on the CD’s concluding track “Doors”—RA Scion’s moralizing can get a bit heavy at times. In “Every Last One,” Common Market’s best track, he states that the world would be a better place if we changed liquor stores into art galleries. (The problem with this proposition is there’s more good wine in this city than there is good art, and adding new galleries is not going to change that fact.) But then again, RA Scion descends from a long and vital hip-hop tradition of teaching the youth (“for me emcee means mentor the child,” he raps on “Doors”), which is why his hero is KRS-One, the father of hip-hop moralizing (“I don’t eat goat or ham or hamburger, because for me that’s self-murder”—from “My Philosophy,” the record that tops RA Scion’s eternal hip-hop list).

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