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Black Babylon

Black Babylon came out in March, so I’m a little behind in writing about it. Artist Donte Peace calls this work his “three-year diary,” and it’s full of reflections on the passage of time and the rejection of labels. “Trapped Folk” reminds us how the game is gamed, disadvantaging black communities through urban living, poverty, and lack of education. The song “Ghetto Boys” is a contemplative, thinking man’s number punctuated with pensive pianos. Much of the production is courtesy of producer D-Sane who brings gravitas to these tracks, alongside reverb-heavy classical music instrumentation. Indeed, lotsa innovative producers on display here, including one of my personal favs Max Watters, who works some magic on “Soufside,” with a funky beat and a never-ending slowdown over the final two minutes of the track. “Flaw” features UK rapper Just Jess, providing an accented counterpoint to Donte’s often relaxed flow. These are 12 songs worthy of your contemplation.

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Byrd's Eye View

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 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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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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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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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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Full Time Soldiers

In 1996, Jeru The Damaga teamed up with DJ Premier and dropped a searing critique of ’90s gangsta rap music. The track was called “Ya Playin Yaself,” and the lyrics broke down the risks associated with the art form. Jeru was borderline incredulous as he rapped, “I never knew hustlers confessed in stereo or on video, get caught you’ll know who turned state’s evidence, murder weapon, confession and fingerprints. Mama always said ‘watch what comes out your mouth,’ tight case for the DA from here to down South.” Tupac, possibly the world’s most famous gangsta rapper, was killed in Las Vegas that same year, and Biggie was shot dead in Los Angeles in 1997. What was the future for gangsta rap in 1998? Seattle rap group F.T.S. decided to show us with their self-titled album Full Time Soldiers on Street Level Records.

F.T.S. started when MC/producer D-Sane met fellow rappers Smoke Dog and J-Dub. Along the way they added Villain, Drama, Brokedown, and Brazy-J for a total of seven members. By 1998 during the recording of Full Time Soldiers, Brazy-J and Smoke Dog had left the group and a new MC named Madd Dogg had come aboard, putting the group at six people. The first half of the album contains tracks which document the gangster lifestyle of hustling, revenge, and maintaining status. Violence is the predominant language, and F.T.S. position themselves as a mafia-style crime family. “Jackin Season” is typical, with lines like, “We hit the scene, kick the door in, the bullets start flowin, n****s droppin like rocks, the getaway car is stolen…Licked em up like some stamps, lit two cops up like a lamp.” At the end of “Jackin Season” a voice says, “The stories you just heard are based on factual events that have occurred.” Another song called “8-5 Dippin” tells a similar story of desperation, “n**** tried to…hate on me and grab my crack sack, but fuck that, I bust back, with the all-black mini-mac strap and the hundred round clip.” In “Situations Get Thick” there are graphic scenes of gunfire, and the last verse menacingly reminds the listener, “When the shit pops it’s unexpected, undetected, fuck with the F.T.S. this shit gets hectic.”

It’s not all gangster life on Full Time Soldiers, the second half of the album brings that weed smoking and partying side of things. Songs like “All My Bitches Left Me,” “Let’s Get High,” and “Who Can Hustle?” provide a lighthearted break from the shoot-em-up tales. There are several moments where members of the group question their choices which have led them into a life of crime. “Can’t live and die by the gun, gotta get a million dollars before my life is over and done,” goes a standout line on “Million $ Dreams.” The ubiquitous blunts and cognac/40s in many of the tracks serve to numb the pain that comes with street life.

In 2023, activists in the US Congress and many individual states are trying to pass laws which prevent District Attorneys from using rap lyrics in court proceedings. Rappers like Georgia’s Young Thug want impunity to describe their crimes, but don’t want to face any responsibility in cases where they have literally confessed on tape. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis explained the heart of the matter in a mid-2022 CNN interview, “I believe in the First Amendment; it’s one of our most precious rights. However the First Amendment does not protect (rappers) from prosecutors using (lyrics) as evidence if it is such.” Would a group like F.T.S. be found guilty in court based on their lyrics? Regardless of the answer, the group established itself as true ambassadors of the Seattle gangsta rap genre. The album was re-released in 2018.Written by Novocaine132

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