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Street Smartz

Dropping a second album is a difficult hurdle for many musicians, especially if their first one was well received. The challenge is to give fans enough of the same vibe that initially hooked them, but then to also introduce some new components, which allows the artist’s identity to evolve. Laura “Piece” Kelley set a high bar for herself with her complex, self-titled debut Piece in 2003. Piece was an album which drew from both the rap and poetry worlds. Hip hop tracks like “Caution,” and “Once Upon A Dream,” coexisted happily with poetic volleys such as “Gray,” or possibly her best known track “Central District.” Four years later, Piece released her second album Street Smartz in 2007. Luckily for the listeners, the energy is just as high and the quality of the tracks is equally stunning.

Street Smartz has something for everyone, and it shows Piece’s range as a performer. The snappy “We Do This,” for instance, defines inclusivity with its repeated mantra, “this movement is we.” It reminds me of the 1995 Seattle classic “Come With We,” by Source Of Labor. The expert scratching by DJ DV One on title track “Street Smartz” adds to the four-elements affirmation in the lyrics. “Street smarts, master your craft, DJs, MCs, breakdance and graf,” goes her rousing chorus. Two conscious cuts, “Peace Keepers” and “Weapens,” are calls to action and social awareness that can’t be ignored.

I found the technique of “Letters 2 Life” very compelling. In the lyrics, Piece writes letters to “Fear,” “Time,” and “Truth,” and by treating these abstract concepts as if they were people, she opens up an intensely philosophical correspondence. The vulnerability found in “Letters 2 Life” shows that Piece is not afraid to reveal her deepest personal feelings on the microphone. “Rap Star” has an easily understood, anti-materialism message. “I don’t wanna be a rap star talking about my cash flow or my dope car,” she sings defiantly. Because there are very few words on “My Precinct,” and “Keep It Moving,” the music does the heavy lifting on those two tracks, putting them in the same neighborhood as Madonna’s “Justify My Love.”

While the album bursts with creative compositions, I will say that there is not a ton of spontaneity. Similar to a live theater production, Piece’s raps and songs sound well-rehearsed. We never hear any bloopers, coughs, or off-beat rhymes that might serve to humanize the artist a little. Piece is no accidental musician, she clearly inhabits her music one thousand percent. Plus, her love of language is evident in the way that she writes. Street Smartz is impeccable and important, so let’s consider the ‘sophomore slump’ averted. Written by Novocaine132

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When It Rains

Ryan “RC The Trackaholiq” Croone has been down since day one. His older brother James Croone was a member of Emerald Street Boys, one of the earliest rap groups in Seattle. As a young man, RC got into rap production, and in the mid-1990s he teamed up with rhymer Squeek Nutty Bug. They went in the studio and subsequently dropped Really Cheat’n, one of the all-time, five-star Seattle rap albums.

There are more than two dozen different rappers on RC’s 2002 compilation When It Rains, it’s a prodigious project. Loosegroove put out 14 Fathoms Deep in 1996, and as a theoretic successor, When It Rains could reasonably be nicknamed “24 Fathoms Deep.” This is guileless rap, concentrating on reporting life experiences. Put it this way, you won’t find anyone here looking through the dictionary trying to find five rhymes for “illuminati.”

“They Never Knew,” by sibling team Twin-G and Skuntdunanna is excellent, “possibly the first song they ever did together,” remembers RC. “You’re a one hit wonder, like Young MC or Jody Watley,” says Twin-G mockingly. I especially appreciate the spacey half-minute instrumental flourish at the end. Actually, Twin shows up again on “Greedy Made,” this time joined by Chedder Hound, Culpepper, and “Drop Top” star E-Dawg. “Greedy Made” has unpredictable, punchy energy from the start of verse one. E-Dawg explains, “I bust a tight verse and make St. Helens erupt,” referencing the May 1980 ash cloud which blasted across the region.

The late Gangsta Nutt represents hard on the g-funk blazer “This Ain’t Livin,” which is a textbook example of true synergy between a producer and a rapper. Nutt’s cadence goes together with the Trackaholiq beat like Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. Another notable cut is the menacing “No Fabrikashun” by Crafty. Famous Seattle turntablist DV One does the scratches on the cut, and the beat creates drama and suspense. Meoshi drops a respectable verse on her edifying track “My Eyes.” “Some take the easy route, some take the pills to the head, because their problems overwhelm them y’all, they’d rather be dead,” she raps. But all is not lost, she reminds aspiring artists to, “strive to be the one immortalized from your hood.”

When It Rains is an ambitious project, it’s really a one stop shop to learn about the diversity of rap talent in Seattle. In 2022, RC celebrated the 20th anniversary of this release, and he recently told me that the compilation wouldn’t have been possible without the help of two key people, G Prez and DJ Kun Luv. G Prez ran Sea-Sick Records which put out the CD, and Kun Luv was the head of Seaspot Promotions, one of the largest media organizations for Seattle hip-hop culture. Thanks gentlemen! Written by Novocaine132

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Hustlin-N-Hell EP

Self Tightld was a five member rap group from Seattle, and according to Discogs the members were Maine 1, 2elevn, Popsykle, Sikface and Rob Doe. Their CD Hustlin-N-Hell came out in 1998. That same year, the group dropped a promo-style vinyl EP containing four songs from Hustlin-N-Hell, and the EP is a good introduction to this prominent Seattle rap crew.

Track one on side A, “MC Fo Short,” is all about how ‘MC’ stands for Mangle Competition. For instance, “I rep from the Central District of Seattle, competition will agonize and die from the battle.” Next up is “Pleasure Pouches” which is all about smoking grass. “Pleasure Pouches” features one of my all-time favorite rappers, B-Legit from The Click who sounds like he’s having fun here. “Seattle’s got greens like California,” he raps in his syrupy style. The third song is “Watch That B…N,” which reminds the listener to always be on the alert for someone trying to hustle them.

Side B starts with a clean radio version of “MC Fo Short,” a smart move for any group trying to gain exposure. If you make it easier for radio to embrace you then you will get more spins, it goes without saying. The last cut on the EP is titled “Negatives,” and features guest appearances by turntablist DV One and Northwest rap heavyweight Gangsta Nutt. “Negatives” sounds vaguely like 1995’s “Gangster’s Paradise” by Coolio with the same moody type of operatic string melody in the beat. During a decade when vinyl was nearing its lowest sales point, Self Tightld still chose that specific format for this EP, which showed a commitment to DJ culture and keeping wax alive. Written by Novocaine132

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