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Town Biz Mixtape

No list of essential Seattle hip-hop compilations would be complete without the inclusion of Jake One’s 27-track opus, the Town Biz Mixtape. He dug deep into the crates, surfacing lost hits, deep cuts, and the finest local hip-hop spanning more than 20 years. (From 1989 to 2010, when this CD was released.)

The mixtape is an essential playlist that surfaces forgotten gems and unexpected bangers. My favorite track here is Vitamin D’s “Who That??” feat. The Note (from Narcotik), but there are so, so many solid tracks. Everyone’s on this, from Blind Council to Mash Hall, The Physics, Tay Sean, J. Pinder, and Shabazz Palaces. Listening to Town Biz will leave you realizing how blessed we are to have so much musical talent in our own backyard. But we knew that already, didn’t we? Thanks to Jake One for compiling this so we can spin it on a sunny summer afternoon and feel hella proud.

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Finally

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The Playoffs

In 1994, DMS dropped a short six-song album called Takin’ Ends on D-Shot Records which established them as serious players in the 206 rap game. Two years later, their spiky track “Keep Da Change” was featured on Loosegroove’s 14 Fathoms Deep rap compilation. By 1999 they left D-Shot Records and dropped their sophomore album titled The Playoffs, which came out on Clear Head Entertainment.

“Hytymez” and “Jonzin'” document the weed-smoking lifestyle which is so familiar in rap music, you already know. “Drunk Words…Sober Thoughts” talks about struggles with alcohol abuse. “206 N’It” includes shout outs to other Seattle and Tacoma rap artists, and also a list of some local landmarks like the Pike Place Market, Mt. Rainier, and the Space Needle. Most of the album lyrics relate to everyday life, their pride in our city, and their identity as rappers in Seattle. The genre is squarely in the reality rap camp, with less wordplay and concepts and more newspaper style reporting of daily events in the neighborhood.

Highlights on The Playoffs include a slow burner titled “Freak Show,” which is an interpolation of “And The Beat Goes On” by The Whispers. “My World Too” is a moving sequel to “My World” from Takin’ Ends, and this track written solo by group member Moe-B is filled with frank and honest lyrics concerning fear of failure and his own personal struggles. “Outro” names every track on the album in a clever twist. The best thing about The Playoffs is the level of lyrical and philosophical growth compared to the songs on Takin’ Ends. One minor complaint I have about this album is that the songs are all extremely long, and sometimes overstay their welcome. Sometimes a tight three minute track can say more than one that rambles for five or six minutes.

DMS were in a large club of Seattle rap groups and artists who were excellent at their game. They had the breath control which is so important for balanced verses, plus their vocal tones were varied and compelling. The beats were tight, conforming to the highest standards, and the aesthetic was 100% hip-hop. They had the dope style and the swagger to fit the description. If a group like DMS checked all the boxes, then why didn’t they become millionaires? The answer is what some people like to call the ‘X Factor.’ The X Factor means there is something magic or supernatural about your music that is undeniably unique, and thus your content instantly differentiates itself from that of other artists. Without the X Factor, DMS didn’t have one definable quality which could set them apart from the thousands of other rap groups in the 1990s. Therefore, even though they solidly represented their art form, this was their last album according to Discogs. Written by Novocaine132

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14 Fathoms Deep

Exponential growth, part one: Woman gives herself a home permanent. Her hair looks so good that she tells two friends, and they tell two friends, and so on…

Exponential growth, part two: Andre “Dr. Dre” Young gets on with NWA, and goes on to make some of the best beats ever produced. On Dre’s Deep Cover track he employed the velvet-tongued Snoop, who hasn’t looked back since beginning his pursuit of Death Row domination. Once Snoop hit platinum status, he was quick to put Daz and Kurupt on a disc, and from there forward those two certainly haven’t done too shabbily. The point is this: Every artist has friends they want to help out once they themselves have safely achieved success.

Keeping this in mind, it is with eager anticipation that I await the exponential growth of Seattle’s rap/hip-hop scene following the long-coming release of the new Loosegroove compilation, 14 Fathoms Deep. This record is so heavy it could hang with Tad. Let’s face it: Its weight is just plain ridiculous. This is the kind of music that could inspire 14 empires, build 14 record labels, or, at the very least, boost 14 of Seattle’s hip-hop groups a little bit closer to well-deserved fame and fortune.

Allow me to break it down track by ahead-of-its-time track. Sinsemilla contributes the perfect opener for the compilation, a scherzando club track titled “Drastic Measures.” Verbal twists like, “Down with a criminal Jill we Jack together” can and will get you open extra wide. Next, 22nd Precinct barges in with the unruly honesty of “Great Outdoors”: “It’s a pity the way the city treats the poor” had me thinking of the forgotten and misplaced, huddling over downtown Seattle’s iron steam grates.

“Official Members” by Mad Fanatic (featuring Raychyld) will definitely catch you rewinding. It’s slow and hypnotic, and lyrics like “My rhyme’s deep in the dirt/ Worms can’t find it” beg to be heard twice. DMS furthers the slow groove on “Keep Da Change,” but spiky attitude is the key here: “The six is in the mix so domino motherfucker” rides a keyboard-funk beat.

A powerhouse Source of Labor dazzles with their track, “Cornbread.” It’s all about musical subtlety when lines like “How can you claim to be an MC/When an MC’s what you just can’t be/ You can’t be an MC and not freestyling” make the point undeniable. Ghetto Chilldren get their OJ on with “Court’s in Session,” and Pulp Fiction’s most enduring catchphrase becomes Forrest Gump’s threat to “get medieval on your buttocks.” The sparest of basslines and flute notes flutter prettily behind harsh words like “You stand accused of being wack in the first degree/ Premeditating slang terms for your hardcore soliloquies.” “All Up in the Mix” by Narcotik opens with the most breathtaking sample on 14 Fathoms Deep (“The 206 is in my mix”). The rhyme proceeds to kick some street philosophy with plenty of drinking and smoking thrown in for good measure.

Beginning vinyl side three is Jace (featuring Dionna), with “Ghetto Star.” Its catchy chorus and storyline lyrics ensure this track will be engraved front-and-center in your brain for weeks to come. Beyond Reality–who are listed on the album as Kylin–brings on the spirit of the Jasiri Media Group with their track “Can.” “Let me take your mind on a little mental journey,” invites lead MC Kylea. For the most metaphors per line, look for “Higher Places” by Prose & Concepts, a group that falls into the “survival of the fattest” category.

“Insomniack Museick” by NS of the O.N.E Corporation is probably the moodiest track on the compilation. Dark clouds of drifting keyboards become still more ominous layered behind introspective lyrics such as “Sometimes I’d even trade a nightmare/ Just for 50 winks.” The beat on “Interrogation” by Blind Council bubbles like the scuba gear on the compilation’s cover, and the rhyme is strictly for the connoisseurs out there. Union of Opposites (featuring Shonuph) put down a forward-moving track titled “Continuations”-its relay-style chorus is as fresh as the verses, and the melodic tone moves the disc into another direction entirely. “Wipe off the dust from your mind and recline in my oration.” It’s at once relaxing and educating.

The last cut, also by far the longest, is the most difficult to categorize. The group is the Crew Clockwise and their song, titled “A New Day,” is a heady mix of the many styles showcased on 14 Fathoms Deep. Now I know what Specs meant on Do the Math when he said, “Soon to hit wax I can’t wait.”

So now you know the deal. When these groups start putting their friends on future projects, it may mean more than some heads can handle. 14 Fathoms Deep is not just another hip-hop compilation. In actuality, it’s a promise of even lovelier things to come. Instead of talking about how materialistic and useless today’s rap is, these 14 groups are doing something positive and proactive. Rap music is not dead. Seattle has the Phoenix in the mix. (This review originally appeared in The Stranger in 1997 and was written by Novocaine132.)

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Takin' Ends

DMS was a Seattle rap group with three members, Dee.aLe, Moe-B, and Sheriff. In the early ’90s they were discovered by D-Shot from The Click, who founded his own eponymous Bay Area record label in 1994. That same year the label released a short DMS cassette and CD titled Takin’ Ends. There are only six tracks, but I feel it has enough varied content to call it an album. Overall the beats might be basic but they are undeniably clean and punchy, and it’s a very professional-sounding and well-balanced project.

Takin’ Ends begins with the title track which is a play on words. ‘Making ends meet’ has always been a common phrase for earning money, but DMS aren’t gonna make it, they’re gonna take it. As the song fades in, the group members spy on and discuss another hustler in a drop top who is going to get “caught slippin.” The emphasis on the words “drop top” could be seen as a swipe at fellow Seattle rapper E-Dawg, who had released a single called “Drop Top” only a year prior in ’93. Track two “Which Game” finds the protagonist trying to make a difficult life choice, and it uses a classic Too Short lyric to describe the dilemma, “Do you wanna rap or sell coke?” In fact, the slow simple delivery on “Which Game” is reminiscent of Too Short’s easy going, slow, humorous rhyme style. “Drunk Drivin” is song three, but just like a drunk driver this autobiographical track unfortunately never really finds its direction.

Tracks four and five, “Back Up Off My Tip,” and “Sunshine,” were both featured by Jake One on the legendary 2010 Town Biz Mixtape. “Back Up Off My Tip” is a direct warning to scandalous, gold digging women who might try to use the group for their money. Powerhouse single “Sunshine,” easily the biggest hit on the album, is all about smoking grass. The song deftly turns a sped-up Alexander O’Neal line into a head-nodding beat. “I can’t go a day without my sunshine,” goes the chorus. The last song, “My World,” is all about various circumstances faced by African-American youth growing up in the United States.

This release in 1994 began a several year run for the group which pushed them to higher status in the Seattle rap game. In 2012, a remastered version of Takin’ Ends came out, which included two bonus tracks: “Hoes Be Trippin” and “Typical Tough Guy.” At eight songs Takin’ Ends can finally be called a true album, congratulations fellas. Written by Novocaine132

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