A film about Northwest hip-hop from 1987
The Black United Front is a national African-American activist group that was formed in the 1970s to advocate for criminal justice reforms, reparations, and Pan-African solidarity. In 1987, the organization partnered with Undercurrent Records to produce an eight-track vinyl compilation called Frontliners ’87. The album celebrated Black excellence and featured new jazz, percussion, and funk by emerging musical voices from across the country: The New World Percussion Ensemble from Washington, D.C., Oakland’s Phavia Kujichagulia, and Bird/Trane/Sco Now! from Detroit. The album includes a single hip-hop song, “The Times,” from young Seattle rap group the DI-RA Boys.
This local trio named themselves “DI-RA” as an acronym for “Devastating Interesting Rap Alliance.” The group combined the talents of teenage brothers Mic J (Jamal Farr) and Demo Demone (Nigel Farr) as tag-team rappers, passing the mic over beats created on a Roland TR505 by 15-year-old DJ/producer DJ Acsean (aka Sean Malik). Everyone was young.
“The Times” delivers almost seven straight minutes of bare, bombastic beats, alternating between verses, cutting, and scratching solos. The lyrics are critical of then-President Regan, saying how his tie is too tight and “it’s cuttin’ off the blood circulation to your head.” They mention the Iran-Contra affair, the threat of nuclear war, and the need to fight for your rights. Socially-conscious lyrics paired with raw, mechanical drums set the song apart from what other artists in the Northwest were doing. When interviewed by The Rocket, Demo Demone insisted the track wasn’t political. “The song is about problems in the US… It’s just about letting people know what’s going on.” DJ Acesean adds, “Seattle hip-hop is too soft right now. We’d like to take it into something more hardcore.”
Buoyed by their newfound fame, the trio played festivals across Seattle, added a fourth member, DJ DD, and began work on an album. But tragedy struck in 1989 when DJ DD was shot and killed. In the aftermath, Demo Demone hung up his mic for good and the remaining members disbanded the group.
Mic J kept on grinding. He began rapping under the name Jace and The 4th Party. After memorable appearances in the mid-’90s on two of the most storied Northwest rap compilations–14 Fathoms Deep and Classic Elements–he partnered with Blind Council’s Silas Blak to form The Silent Lambs Project in 1998. That legendary group would tear up the Seattle music scene for several years through the turn of the millennium. In 2010, soul songstress Felicia Loud joined their ranks, and the group changed its name to Black Stax. Although Silas Blak left the group a couple of years later, Jace and Loud have continued to perform together and release music as Black Stax to this very day. Indeed, Jace is one of the few Northwest artists who’s maintained a continuous, active presence in the scene since its very earliest days, becoming a central pillar in the city’s hip-hop community.
DJ Acesean formed another mid-’90s crew named Shabazz Coalition with Fleeta Partee, and he started performing under his own name, Sean Malik. The group Shabazz Coalition was featured on the local Phamily Orientated compilation in 1996. (Fellow Coalition member Partee would himself co-create the venerable local hip-hop label Sportn’ Life Records in 2002.) Malik went on to produce numerous tracks for a wide variety of artists through the decades. He released a solo album in 1998 called Put It On The Line that again featured Jace on vocals.
“The Times” was indeed one single song that launched a long local hip-hop legacy.