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The Coolout Legacy

NYC filmmaker Georgio Brown moved to the Northwest in the early ’90s. In 1991, along with VJ D, he founded The Coolout Network, a public access show on cable television that would record the evolution of Seattle’s early hip-hop scene. As Georgio says at the beginning of this film, “we went to the community centers, parks, schools, clubs… Every place that hip-hop was happening… We wanted to cover it.” They certainly did. Coolout ran for 16 years on television, from 1991 until 2007. Various forms of the project continue online to this day.

This particular film, The Coolout Legacy was made by Georgio Brown himself. He narrates and reflects on the impact of the show and its importance to our local hip-hop community.

There’s vintage footage here galore: A teenage Funk Daddy shows off a trophy “taller than me” that he won at a DJ contest, before showing us some of the moves that earned him the victory. Laura “Piece” Kelley addresses the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated rap scene. She often faces the insult that “she can rap pretty good for a girl.” But she replies, “I rap good for the world… And I don’t rap good. I rap well.”

Rapper H-Bomb heaps some well-deserved praise on Specswizard: “Nobody’s been doing hip-hop in Seattle longer than Specs.” We then catch up with the ‘Wizard and he shares a book of graffiti sketches from ’93. The late, great J. Moore shares his wisdom for success and acknowledges the importance of that Coolout played in “coalescing a scene.”

There are numerous live performances and freestyles of Seattle legends in their early days, as well as national acts like Mary J. Blige and Leaders of The New School. Brown talks about encouraging young artists who bravely stand on a stage with a mic and bear their truths. It’s hard. But with Coolout filming you, “every little victory helps,” adds Ghetto Chilldren’s B-Self.

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Coolout 18

This film drops you into the crowd at the 18th-anniversary party for The Coolout Network, in 2009. Show creator Georgio Brown says the event was something of a dare: When he proposed a showcase featuring 18 of the top talents from The Town, everyone told him, “18 acts in one night? You can’t do it.” Nonetheless, this party proves the skeptics wrong.

There’s some wild live footage here, such as Sinsemilla performing their 2000 hit “Destiny,” or Silver Shadow D showing off his ability to rap and beatbox simultaneously.

Gabriel Teodros explains how meaningful both Coolout and Georgio himself have been to his growth as an artist. He recalls being 18 and rapping at the back of the bus, and Georgio walked up to him, handed him his Coolout card, and said, “You’re tight. You should do your thing.” You hear similar stories from many of the other artists in attendance, shouting out Georgio for “holding it down and documenting the scene. Y’all seeing history right here.”

This movie captures those elusive feelings of camaraderie and casual socializing: Watching it, you really feel like you’re hanging out at a Seattle hip-hop show on a Tuesday night, and everyone’s here and nobody’s in a rush to get anywhere.

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Evolution of Hip-Hop

In 2004, Seattle’s hip-hop scene was in transition. Enter Tendai Maraire of the group C.A.V.E’. which had recorded their album Holy Haters a few years prior in 2000. Tendai, a virtuoso musician who would later join with Ishmael Butler to create Shabazz Palaces, looked around Seattle, pulled fifteen tracks from fifteen different DJs and MCs, and combined them into this amazing compilation.

Evolution Of Hip Hop is an unfiltered look at Seattle’s diverse hip-hop community in the mid-2000s, and the music is top-notch. Ghetto Chilldren’s track “Young Tender” shows how good Vitamin and B-Self are at breaking words down to their syllables and rearranging them into a roller coaster of inflection. “Peaches and Cream” by Merm and Mal snaps the funk so hard that it was also included on the Town Biz mixtape six years later. In a nod to hip hop DJ culture, there are DJ-only tracks by Funk Daddy, Topspin, and DV One, three of Seattle’s veteran party and club entertainers.

Evolution Of Hip Hop has so many great artists that it’s hard to believe. With names like Candidt, E-Dawg, Jace and Blak, Boom Bap Project, Skuntdunanna, and many others, there is something for every possible listener. “Yeah Yeah Baby” by C.A.V.E. is one of the most blazing tracks on the whole project, careening like a car chase loaded with drama.

When compilations are at their best, they can capture a moment in time like a Polaroid. Evolution Of Hip Hop allows you to see through the camera from the point of view of a young Tendai Maraire. Push the button! (Written by Novocaine132.)

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The Revival

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. For example, check this great live document I slept on. The group is Seattle’s Beyond Reality, playing a hype show from way back in April 2001.

Back then, Source of Labor’s Wordsayer (also the business and romantic partner of Beyond Reality’s Kylea) used to put on a weekly hip-hop workshop and jam session at the local live venue Sit n’ Spin, called Sureshot Sundays. Every Sunday afternoon, the local hip-hop community would congregate at the cafe/club/laundromat(!) to spin, break, emcee, and just get together.

Being the shut-in hermit that I am, I regrettably never attended, although I used to try to screw up my courage every Sunday to head on down the hill from my apartment to the Belltown spot to get my muddy-ass beat tape heard.

However, since I was just starting out I felt like I’d be in over my head amidst all the “true” hip-hoppers…. like I said earlier about hindsight…

In any case, Sureshot Sundays closed up shop probably a decade ago now, but this release is a snapshot of what it must have been like. Kylea is joined on the decks by Topspin and Kamikaze, and Wordsayer joins on the mic here and there. Incredibly live and overflowing with solidarity and positivity (not to mention the stellar flows of Kylea), this album just makes me regret more not getting my burned-out ass down the hill to the Sit n’ Spin to be a part of it all. It’s a dope record, full of tracks never released otherwise, in professional sound quality.

Beyond Reality was supposedly set to drop a studio record in 2001, and as far as I know that never actually happened. Apart from a few early singles and compilation cuts, and the 2008 A Soul’s Journey CD, this is as close as you get to the classic BR sound. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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EMP: Seattle Hip-Hop

This short film about the history of Northwest hip-hop was shot by Darek Mazzone in 2001. It was made to highlight the local scene as part of the “Hip-Hop Nation” exhibit put on by the Experience Music Project in Seattle.

There’s a lot packed into four minutes, including all-too-brief interviews with Sir Mix-A-Lot, DJ Riz, Wordsayer, Mr. Supreme, Kutfather, Piece, and others. They cover off what hip-hop is and whether or not it’s a fad. Supreme explains the four elements, you learn the story of NastyMix and The Emerald Street Boys, and Topspin does some cool scratching.

At one point, DJ Riz shares the most wonderfully Seattle thing ever: “Seattle was there right from the beginning, close to the origins of regular hip-hop.” Go devote the next four minutes to learning some new knowledge about the culture.

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Destiny/Haters

With this 12″ release, H-Bomb and Topspin dropped two of their unmistakable tracks. I say unmistakable because as blenders of the old-school party jam aesthetic and new-school consciousness, they were unparalleled. Listen to H-Bomb’s delivery, his rhyme stanzas, and on which syllables he places the emphasis; and you get the sense that he pays homage to the originators of the art with every verse. But both lyrically and musically the vibe was firmly embedded in the current style (at least, for 2000-era hip-hop).

“Destiny” is a melody-driven, achingly beautiful track, and a Tribal Production through and through. “It is our destiny to be the best we can be, while the rest will be trying to learn our recipe,” they rap without a hint of irony. I say that because, in 2000, the writing was on the wall for Tribal Productions, so for Sinsemilla to rap about success in the game would have normally come across as absurd posturing.

However, the “destiny” they speak of has nothing to do with making ends or high rolling: it’s about personal skill, staying true to the art, and ultimately leaving behind a legacy that one can be proud of. And the b-side, “Haters,” might as well have been the official 206 hip-hop anthem in the ’90s. It’s been said many times, the Northwest couldn’t catch a break back then no matter what. This was the last I saw of Sinsemilla. It’s a fitting and poignant end to this crucial and historic NW duo, at least collectively. As for now, Topspin is still producing and dropping ill mixtapes, while from what I hear H-Bomb is active with studio work. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Classic Elements

Classic Elements was released by Olympia’s K Records in 1998. It contains tracks by sixteen Northwest hip hop artists, including some certified legends. The lyrics are consistently excellent throughout the compilation. These are songs for the mind, and many are vignettes in the true sense of the word, a good example being the captivating saga contained in “A.N.I.T.A.” by Nobody. The production on Classic Elements glows softly like a vintage Edison light bulb. DJ Sayeed (Black Anger) and Brian Weber (Dub Narcotic) both play a large role in shaping the sound of this compilation. Mr. Supreme drops a sublime Twin-Peaks-esque beat for Jace on “What’s Ya Definition,” and Topspin captures a tempest in a teapot with his beat for “Sleep” by Sinsemilla. Every track on this compilation is a genuine artistic expression, and that carries some risk because the performers put their feelings out on display which renders them vulnerable to misunderstanding, or worse, indifference. One of the highlights is “Hip Hop Was” by Ghetto Chilldren, which shines with professional polish among some of the dustier tracks. When you include a track by Source of Labor with Beyond Reality, “Aunt Anna,” and a couple of underground heat rocks from Silas Blak, “Only When I’m High,” and “Blak And Blind,” there’s every reason to make sure this compilation is part of your music collection. (Written by Novocaine132.)

Here’s another take:

Like the four leaves on a lucky clover, four ’90s era Seattle compilations showcase the diverse hip-hop collectives in Washington State and with them your windfall of sounds and explorations: Do The Math, 14 Fathoms Deep, Walkman Rotation, and here, Classic Elements (co-released by Impact Entertainment and K Records). Back then getting the handful of cassettes and comps was a great thrill, and the Seattle area offered up the best. Classic Elements was released at a time when the main place to hear local hip-hop was on the street at Westlake Center or on KCMU’s Rap Attack. Like the title, the classics here are Ghetto Chilldren, Source Of Labor, Black Anger, and Tilson, all offering hits that transcend national radio rap and bring a better class of words and thoughts. Some groups won’t be found outside of this collection – Nobody, Jaleel, 5E, Ski, and Arson have songs that play smooth and timeless. Classic Elements is as relevant today as it was twenty-some years ago. Released on cassette, CD, and on an abbreviated LP – Find it, get it. Good! (This review was submitted by reader Brett Sandstrom.)

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Freestyle Demo Tape

I came across this often-rumored, seldom-heard tape today when I visited Tribal’s Bandcamp page, and couldn’t believe my eyes. I instantly downloaded it, but there was work to do and guests coming over and it had to wait there on my desktop until everything else quieted down. It’s just after Eleven at night and I have now finished listening to this for the first time and the euphoria and dopamine is still circulating in my head, so my apologies in advance if I dork out. But what am I supposed to say about this? To convince you of the value of this work? I tend to gush, and I have been called a Seattle hip-hop Stan by more than a few, and I readily accept the label – after all, have I ever posted up a negative write-up, or had anything less than stellar words to say about who I choose to post about? I can understand that what I have to say has to be taken with a grain of salt because I have an undying love for the Town and the artists in it and the music it shapes. When I was 13 years old Nirvana broke out, and a few short years later I first heard Tribal Productions’ Untranslated Prescriptions, and the rest is history. I’m a lost cause; for me Seattle was, is, and will continue to be the coolest city on the face of the Earth. In short, I know I’m biased. But, the memory of driving around in a car with my friends after school, listening over and over to Sinsemilla’s “Confrontations” and PHAT Mob’s “P.H.A.T.” above the grind of the heater – those are oddly some of my most cherished mementos I have of the heady, emotional roller-coaster ride that is adolescence. Out through stock radio speakers from a warbly tape came rough, beautiful music made by kids not much older than myself, living a few short miles away, that was unlike anything else out there. There was East coast and West coast, and then after Untranslated there was Seattle. To this day when I listen to that tape or Do The Math and hear those young voices over thin, scratchy, heart-wrenching instrumental tracks, it gives me a feeling of pride for my home – and also that the world can still be surprising, and as full of promise and terrifying opportunity as only a teenager can imagine. And now with the Freestyle Demo Tape, I have something else to invoke those emotions in me, even though I never got the chance to listen to it back then. But those young voices are still there, as is the atmosphere of that wonderfully familiar 4-track – and even without the nostalgia I chain it to, it still sounds fresher than fresh. And that my friends is why I’m all bubbly about this release – and actually everything else I post up about Seattle music. Tribal’s vibe is understated but it extends deep, throughout the Northwest and outward. That sound crafted by Vitamin D and Topspin has soaked into the Town and set the mood and tone of its music to this day, whether you like it or not. And I for one love the hip-hop of Seattle because of that mood – the whole genre in this neck of the woods has become part of Tribal’s legacy. That grey jazz, the substance of the lyrics, you can hear it all over the 206 – it still gives me a thrill whenever I catch it. And to be honest I’m here writing on this blog because of Tribal. I want people to hear this largely unknown music and understand its greatness and influence, in the hope of conveying that spark. Who I choose to write about are those that give me that same thrill, that child-like wonder, that sense of excitement that is, unfortunately, more and more rarely found as I get older. I don’t know what listening to this will do for you, as I’m sure very few of you have the same experiences with Tribal Productions but listen to it anyway. Use it to think about the music that you’re passionate about, and to think about what artists helped move you and shape you into who you are now. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Do The Math

Here’s one of many local archeological gems: Tribal Music’s Do The Math, from 1996, is an appropriate start, with collegiate cover, that is an essential part of any Seattle musical education. Damn is this record great.

This compilation was primarily compiled and produced by Vitamin D. It also features several cuts from his underappreciated supergroup, Ghetto Chilldren. Tribal Music was an important ’90s label that we should thank for cataloging our city’s golden boom-bap era, all those jazz samples and scratching, at a time when Seattle was awash in grunge hangover. Do The Math arrow-points to the origins of our uniquely laid-back upper-left sound, summarizing the underground roots of today’s scene. You can find this record for free on Bandcamp. If you have any interest or involvement in local hip-hop, you owe it to the many Duwamish ghosts to go listen to this today. The cover photo was taken by Diana Adams of Vermillion fame.

Here’s another take:

The giant that all Northwest acts have had to measure up to: The Do The Math compilation. Sounding only marginally more professional than their earlier tapes, the Tribal artists deliver with track after track of murky, jazzidelic perfection. Vitamin D and DJ Topspin are the obvious stars of the show, setting the gray, rainy tone for an expanded array of talent to rhyme over. Phat Mob, Ghetto Children, Sinsemilla, Union of Opposites, and the rest of the Tribal family are joined by such artists as the Silent Lamb’s Silas Blak, Source of Labor’s Wordsayer, and the Elevators’ Specs, rounding out the sound more than on Untranslated Prescriptions. I kid you not; this is a heavy release. To put it into perspective, this is to Seattle what the Project Blowed comp is to LA. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Intro To Da Central

One night at the Coolin’ at Havana, Porter Ray and I got to talking about 1995’s Intro To Da Central by Narcotik. He was saying how important it was as a kid that instead of hearing raps about Brooklyn or The Bronx or L.A., he was hearing rhymes about the Central District, in Seattle, where he lived, and that hearing this record was a big inspiration for him and his career. Narcotik were the rap duo of Tizzy T (R.I.P.) and MC C-Note aka The Notework. Intro To Da Central was originally released on cassette by Tribal Productions and was produced by Vitamin D and Topspin: There’s much magic at work in the wide stereo space, the left-right interplay, beats set to the back, the guitars, the long outros, all relaxed and hella charming. Musically, this one’s an ear-tickling journey. There’s often some slightly odd looping sample buried in the mix that it takes you a while to notice—like a door hinge—but when you do, it makes you laugh. When this record spins, let me say, the couch is very comfortable. Back in the mid-‘90s, in The Rocket, Payton Carter described Intro as having that “laid-back, West Coast, 40 and a blunt, Infinite Tribal feel, along with mad lyrics,” while in early ‘90s hip-hop rag The Flavor, Strath Shepard said, “their metaphors and creative name-checks flip the norm and keep you listening for what’s next.” The standout single, “All Up In My Mix,” features rapper Infinite and also appeared on the legendary 14 Fathoms Deep compilation. Intro’s original cassettes have become so rare as to be mythical. Beetbak’s Jack Devo called it “the most criminally hard-to-find record to ever come out of the Northwest.” So it’s great that this classic was recently remastered and reissued on vinyl and CD by Belgium-based Back2DaSourcerecords in very limited quantities. You can also grab it digitally on Bandcamp, and I strongly urge you to do so.

Here’s another take:

Back in 1995, when Intro To Da Central was first released, Strath Shepard reviewed it in The Flavor magazine:

Add Narcotik to the list of Seattle area artists who, with the right scheme and exposure, have the skills needed to blow up on a national level. With M.C.s who show multiple influences and versatile production which transcends traditional divisions, Into To Da Central carries appeal for all types of hip-hop listeners.

If you aren’t already familiar with Narcotik through the many shows they’ve played in Seattle, the due is kind of on some traditional West Coast type shit. But what makes them more interesting is that they actually have a lot to say, and they do it in creative ways. One of the things that has separated the East and West in hip-hop is the East’s misconception that all g’s from the West Coast “talk and talk, but ain’t sayin’ nothin’.” Once you get past Intro’s intro, it quickly becomes apparent that this just isn’t true. Narcotik may cover the usual topics, but their metaphors and creative name-checks flip the norm and keep you listening for what’s next.

On the production end of things, Vitamin D and Topspin prove (once again) how twisted and wrong it is that the rest of the country sleeps on Seattle. “All Da Time” offers that signature sentimental sound Vitamin D is known for, while “Crushin’ Crooz” and “Rap Styles Vary” show that he’s not confined to one style. Topspin’s track for “Urlin’ In Da Mornin’” incorporates an unexpected but tight-fitting snare with a smooth backing loop, and ties for my favorite cut along with “All Da Time.” Vitamin D and Topspin co-produce on “Intro To Da Central,” which features Infinite on the mic along with Narcotik. Though the title is strictly Seattle, the album will bob heads across the country.

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