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The Criminal Nation Movie

During 2020’s Coronavirus pandemic, MC Deff (aka Wojack) set about to tell the story of his ’90s gangster rap group through video chats and a simple question: “When did you first hear about Criminal Nation, and what does the group mean to you?”

What follows is a series of touching video voicemails and personal stories from rappers and producers across the Northwest, including Silver Shadow D, J-1, Squeek Nutty Bug, Josh Rizenberg, and many others. This film has a real feel of hanging with the homies. Clearly, this music meant a lot to a lot of people, and this footage is intercut with photos of memorabilia and record covers.

Many of the interviewed artists were youngsters–only 12 or 13 years old–when they first heard the staccato synth opener of Criminal Nation’s mega-hit “Release The Pressure.” Each was thrilled to have hometown heroes on the radio. Awall Jones talks about the beats and his amazement that “they’re from Tacoma, too?!” Un The Rhyme Hustler says, “I was trying to be MC Deff,” echoing the sentiments of many. Several of the artists rap and sing their favorite Criminal Nation songs, too. It’s charming.

Wojack himself does a freestyle summarizing his thoughts on “Day 34 of quarantine.” Notably absent from this project is Wojack’s Criminal National collaborator DJ E (aka Eugenius), though he and the rest of the NastyMix crew–E-Dawg, High Performance, Kid Sensation–all get plenty of props for their roles in establishing the early Northwest sound.

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Resurrection

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Wet

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Gettin Paid

Shon “Mr. D.O.G.” Peterson is a Tacoma rapper who launched his career in 1997 with this six-song EP called Gettin Paid. The album art shows him on his couch, counting cash and seated next to a gold rim. Leading things off is “Gettin Paid,” the debut single from Mr. D.O.G.’s first full album Wet, which would arrive the following year in 1998. “Gettin Paid” is a banging joint, with lots of heavy drum hits from the very start. D.O.G. is a confident lyricist who relates explicit, violent street tales in the recording booth. “Get your money,” he repeats to any potential hustlers listening, “get your dolla billa, get your paper, get your fetti, get your cash, get your scrilla.”

Next is “Leave Your Strap Down,” which was also featured on the Northwest Connection: What They Hittin Fo compilation using the slightly different title “Leave Yo Strap On.” This song is about how D.O.G. is caught up in the T-Town gangsta lifestyle. “I shot that n**** twice in the head, as his dome bled,” he confesses. The beat effectively assists D.O.G.’s lyrics, creating a somewhat sad, even forlorn tone for the dead-end gun tales of “choppers, TECs, and laser beams, assault rifles and Glocks with them 30-round magazines.”

Four shorter songs complete the project, making this more than just a CD single. My favorite of the four is “20 Sacc.” Mr. D.O.G. brags about his potent weed, “Every day we parlay, sippin on some Alizé mixed with Hennessy, only friends of me can hit the ganga.” Rhyming “friends of me” with “Hennessy” always makes me chuckle, plus the ingredients for this drink are pictured on the cover, lending authenticity and truth to Mr. D.O.G.’s verses. Gettin Paid is definitely a Tacoma gangsta classic, just for its pure commitment to the genre. The EP also launched Mr. D.O.G.’s label, Bow Wow Records, responsible for over a dozen local CD and vinyl releases. Written by Novocaine132

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Show Me The Money

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The Album Volume One

According to the Homegrown Klik website, Homegrown, also known as “HGK,” was created by DJ Eugenius and Pakalolo when their contract with I-5 South Records was terminated due to creative differences. Eugenius was, of course, an original member of Tacoma, WA rap group Criminal Nation. The Album Volume One from 1996 is essentially a compilation of various Northwest rappers rhyming over Homegrown-produced beats. The album art is all about weed, and the cover photo features the duo next to a giant cannabis plant. Even the disc itself features a big pot leaf, which imitates The Chronic CD design from 1992.

Vocalist Camille successfully lends her sultry singing voice to the smooth chorus of excellent “T-Town” by rapper K-Swiss, but her own solo track “Higher and Higher” is marred by what sounds like unfinished drum programming. There are two cuts by rapper No Name, “Just Another Day,” and “G In This Game.” “Just Another Day” has an easy pace and relatable lyrics about everyday life in Tacoma such as, “You know that it’s hard/to listen to my mama so I disregard/the knowledge and the dreams she’ll preach/but a normal life seems so out of reach.” T Love represents for the ladies, dropping a solid rhyme on her standout cut “You Can’t Get With This,” and she issues multiple challenges to all other rappers.

The Album Volume One highlights include “Tha Alley” by Boneyard Players, which incorporates a faint sample from classic “P.S.K.-What Does It Mean” by OG Philly rapper Schoolly D. “Old Cro'” by Alms For The Poor is oddly unique and humorously stands out among some of the more standard g-funk cuts. Two years after this project, Criminal Nation dropped their third and final album Resurrection in 1998. Homegrown Klik continued to put out albums in the 2000s, including Rasta Riden, U Bangin, and Street Life. Written by Novocaine132

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Chief Boot Knocka

Sir Mix-A-Lot left Nastymix after his second album Seminar. Along with Ricardo Frazer he started up a new record label called Rhyme Cartel. Worldwide smash Mack Daddy was released in ’92 by Rhyme Cartel and their partner Def American. As a small historical note, in 1993 Rick Rubin saw the word “def” in the dictionary, held a mock funeral for the word, and then removed it from the label name. Sir Mix-A-Lot’s fourth album, Chief Boot Knocka dropped in ’94 on American/Rhyme Cartel. The image on the cover shows Mix flanked by a glamorous entourage dressed all in black.

Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea slaps strings on the opener “Sleepin Wit My Fonk,” which drops a lyrical reference to Seattle landmark the Edgewater Inn at Pier 67. In “What’s Real,” Mix reminds us that Martin Luther King Jr. Way’s original name was Empire Way, and other bits of Seattle history. Pop culture icons Beavis and Butt-head add dialogue to “Monsta Mack.” Another notable cut, “Just The Pimpin In Me” was also featured on the 1993 Rhyme Cartel compilation Seattle… The Dark Side.

Chief Boot Knocka takes autobiography to its extreme, as Mix tells us every detail of his life, over and over. He is living like Hugh Hefner, with fur coats in the day, silk pajamas at night, and sex all the time. The success of “Baby Got Back” assured Mix-A-Lot a lifestyle that few ever experience. Because of the opulence, Mix-A-Lot’s tales can be a fun window into the life of the super-rich. Shopping for Ferraris and real estate is an everyday thing for Mix. He dares his haters to hate him even more, and their beef doesn’t even bother him. Mix has always been someone who doggedly pursued success, and once he found it he was happy to tell the world how he did it, and what it was like to experience it.

Mix talks about his troubles with the Internal Revenue Service in “Take My Stash.” “I paid ’em two hundred and eighty-five Gs, and that was just the ’91 fees,” raps Mix, asserting that, “I ain’t telling no lies fool, cause I’m real with this.” In a very meta twist, Mix named his publishing company “Where’s My Publishing Inc.” to reference his lawsuit with Nastymix Records. Following the success of Mack Daddy, Mix was the biggest rap player in Seattle by any description. Chief Boot Knocka is a million dollars worth of game for the cost of a record, such a value! Written by Novocaine132

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Drop Top

When Sir Mix-A-Lot and his business partner Ricardo Frazer left Nastymix, they established a new label called Rhyme Cartel. According to Discogs, the first release on Rhyme Cartel was the lead single to Mix-A-Lot’s third album Mack Daddy, a track called “One Time’s Got No Case.” Throughout 1992, the label released titles by Mix-A-Lot, but Ricardo and Mix wanted to grow the business. They began to look for new artists, and E-Dawg was one of the first signees to join. E-Dawg wrote two songs which appeared on the Seattle… The Dark Side compilation, and those same two cuts, “Drop Top” and “Little Locs” were also released as a twelve-inch single.

A-side “Drop Top,” featuring smooth-voiced rapper Filthy Rich, is a local classic, and could be heard everywhere in ’93. Verse one sees E-Dawg talking about an average day, and what it’s like driving around the hood in his convertible. Filthy Rich raps verse two, and also sets the mood at the start of the track, “Just kickin it, got the dank, got the drank, got the bank, and it’s all good.” A slick video for “Drop Top” was produced for BET and MTV audiences, helping the track gain exposure.

The B side is “Little Locs.” It starts with the sound of a gunshot and proceeds with E-Dawg proving his gangsta bona fides. “I know two roads to life, the straight and the crooked, the crooked road is in the O, so I took it,” he raps, highlighting his connection to Oakland, California. Both “Drop Top” and “Little Locs” were produced by Eugenius from Homegrown and Criminal Nation.

In a 1993 interview with Billy Jam available on Youtube, E-Dawg talks about his plans for putting out a record in ’94 on “Def American,” then he remembers that Rick Rubin has stricken “Def” from the name and corrects himself. But that E-Dawg album on American never arrived. Years later, he released two albums, Platinum in 1999 for Spot Entertainment, and How Long in 2010 which was released on Hard Road. After putting out E-Dawg, Rhyme Cartel went on to release music by singer/spoken word artist Jazz Lee Alston, electronic artist Kia, and rap/rock act Outtasite. Written by Novocaine132

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The DCP Organization

The DCP (Deff City Posse) Organization were a huge crew of MCs that came together with Wojack and Eugenius, two artists who are perhaps best known for their group Criminal Nation. DCP members included Bumpy, Clee Bone, D-Rob, D-Wiz, The A, and K-Luv, plus Zell Dogg and The Bom performing as N***** From The Boneyard. Some of these artists had appeared on the posse cut “The Bum Rush” on Criminal Nation’s Trouble In The Hood album. The DCP Organization dropped this self-titled compilation of sorts in 1993, executive produced by Brett Carlson for Cold Rock Recordings.

Wojack and Eugenius perform four tracks together, “You Can’t F*** With The Criminal,” “You Don’t Know Me,” “Something 4 Your Trunk,” and “Stretcher.” My personal favorite of the four, “Something 4 Your Trunk” was also featured on the Crooked Path After Dark reissue which appeared on Southwest Enterprise in 2021.

Gangsta cut “N***** From The Boneyard” by Zell Dogg and The Bom flips the Tom Tom Club “Genius Of Love” beat, which is a perennial hip-hop staple. “How can you talk if your mouth’s on my glock?” the group asks. The laid back “Smooth Night” features The A, Clee Bone, and D-Rob. “Shall I go farther? As long as I’m alive, cemeteries gonna get larger,” mourns one of the MCs in a moment of self reflection. “Nothing But A Come Up” features a groovy Parliament “Give Up The Funk” chorus and solid verses from the MCs. For example, “Coming up is a must, but on the ‘Hilltop’ who the f*** can you trust?”

Approximately three years after The DCP Organization came out, DJ Eugenius and the Homegrown Klik dropped The Album Volume One on compact disc in 1996. The following year saw the release of Wojack’s street classic Where Ya Goin Wo? on all three formats, vinyl, CD and cassette. To celebrate its 20th anniversary, The DCP Organization was digitally re-released on Bandcamp in 2013. Tacoma is in the house! Written by Novocaine132

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Seattle... The Dark Side

BOOM! Here it is. The best rap and R&B coming out of this dirty-white, rock ‘n’ roll lovin’ Emerald City. So says Mix-A-Lot, the biggest rap act out of this area for hundreds of miles. (And sadly, that’s straight up the truth.) He damn near promised us a sure-fire, kick in the ass, hit-to-hit collection by putting this LP out on his own label. (And that’s more proof for my earlier statement.)

BAM. I’ll be dipped in jeri curl juice! There’s some fresh and creative “dark” music being hidden away in this town somewhere. Mix, his new label Rhyme Cartel, and American Records (Rick Rubin dropped the “Def” part) have put out a rough and stylin’ nine-song selection. Not all of this compilation would be banned by the late KFOX playlist, though. There are some mainstream artists on this CD; a good third of it is mediocre at best. But that just makes the best stuff really shine.

My favorite cut is newcomer Jazz Lee Alston’s “Love…Never That.” It sent shivers down my spine. This is probably the best example of how dark it can get in a young adult’s mind. It’s an abstract tale of a female struggling to deal with an abusive boyfriend and the father of her child. It’s delivered in a slow, deliberate spoken-word fashion to a shuffling jazz tempo and haunting keyboard samples — a style few female rappers have dared to try.

I’m a sucker for ’70s soul samples. Two songs, in particular, bent my ear for a funfilled tour to back when. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Sunshine” and Con Funk Shun’s “By Your Side” make for instant grooving on Jay Skee’s “Menace Crook” and Kid Sensation’s “Flava You Can Taste,” respectively.

Not all of the cuts rely on trips to yesteryear. E-Dawg’s “Little Locs” brings this LP back to the ’90s in a big way, using production skills that have had city streets cracking all over the US.

Two of the artists didn’t get their start in Seattle. Jay-Skee is from the LA area and Jazz Lee Alston is from New York City. So is Seattle really putting out new good rap acts? Or are they coming to this area to make it big?

I’m serious! This area has more major label scouts sniffing around than espresso carts on its corners. It is probably easier to count the numbers who are actually from Seattle. This album could be a swan song for most of these acts, or it could be just the beginning of some good, dark music for the future. (This review originally appeared in The Rocket and was written by Scott Griggs.)

Here’s another take:

Times change. This comp dropped in 1993, which to me was the year of the Great Upheaval in Northwest hip-hop. At that time, gangsta had outlived its welcome and new acts like Heiro and the Pharcyde were grabbing the attention. Local artists like Mix-A-Lot and Kid Sensation had lost their cool and had become the stuff of middle school dances, so by the time I heard about this album, my ears were closed.

I was in high school, the future underground was in full swing, and local acts like the Elevators and Tribal had quite effectively turned the early-’90s gangsta and R&B industry into a joke.

Though I did not appreciate this record at the time, listening to it in retrospect, I can hear the value in it. Here is some top-quality hip-hop attempting to assert itself in the face of change, And more poignantly, this is a declaration from Seattle’s Afro-American community and a group of artists who were very much left out of the anglicized Northwest music explosion of the early ’90s (AKA GRUNGE).

Dark Side is a short record. But its 35 minutes effectively showcases an important time in the 206’s long history of hip-hop. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Excuse Me Mr. Officer (Fed Up)

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Trouble In The Hood

Criminal Nation have finally put out their follow-up album to their ’90’s surprise hit, Release The Pressure. They continue the hard-core themes that have brought them limited popularity in the press: Bitches, thievin’, and general gang mayhem abound. It’s been covered many times before. DJ Quick and other LA rappers have just about played this theme out.

The music kicks, though, and the layered sampling and heavy-handed bass will have your speakers jumping. The cameo appearance of the 1st Lady, soon to be a star in her own right, makes for some diversity. Notable tunes are “You Can’t Funk With It” and the jazzy “Just Loungin.” (This review originally appeared in The Rocket and was written by Scott Griggs.)

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It's A Ghetto Thang

Herb Superb recorded “It’s A Ghetto Thang” in Gig Harbor at Sax Recording Company. On the beats, he worked with Criminal Nation’s beat-maker DJ-E, who brings along his signature sample sources like Zapp and Ohio Players. “Ghetto Thang” opens with a piece of Parliament’s “Flash Light.” It’s actually the same opening as we heard on the NastyMix record “Here’s A Party Jam” by High Performance. Here, the beats and raps walk a fine line between gangster jams and dance music.

Herb’s verses on “Ghetto Thang” play like an autobiography. He explains how he’s from California–South Central L.A.–and how it was “so rough, so tough, I had to get out of there.” He explains why he’s moved to Tacoma, how there were just “too many motherfuckers talking.” There are a lot of expletives in this song. Fuck, Bitch. Shit. He’s got sick burns, saying things like, “compared to a pocket of hundreds, you’re one penny.” He says “motherfuckers” at least a dozen times, all but guaranteeing the song would never be played on the radio. On the record label, the song is defiantly described as “Real Game, Gangster Sh_t.”

This record’s biggest surprises arrive on side B. Before we get there, let me do a quick history lesson: At the start of the ’90s, European rave culture was huge. In the charts, it started regularly colliding with rap, leading to a handful of massive International crossover hits. These included “Pump Up The Jam” by Belgium’s Technotronic, Sweden’s Neneh Cherry with “Buffalo Stance,” and “Strike It Up” from Italian music group Black Box.

So after the seriousness of “Ghetto Thang,” it’s quite a surprise to flip over this vinyl and spin the two b-side cuts. Here you have two radio-friendly, dancefloor-pounding, expletive-free anthems. “Get On Up And Dance” and “Y.U.B. Trippen?” gleam and glitter with European house beats and slamming synth stabs. They’re great songs that would readily fit well alongside the international hits described above. Vocal hooks are courtesy of Angela Feel Good, a name that’s no doubt a play on one song’s sampling of Lyn Collins’s “Mama Feelgood” from 1973.

This EP is an unexpected delight, a deep-cut rarity worth seeking out. It heralded new sounds and songs unlike what anyone else was creating in the Northwest at the time. Herb Superb was an early pioneer of Northwest house-rap dance music. This EP shows off two versions of his abilities, from real “Gangster Sh_t” raps to those rave culture clockwork beats. At some point after recording this record, Herb Superb moved East, settling in Virginia, where he still sometimes raps and makes music.

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187 On Wax

When LA Stone dropped this self-released cassette, “187” was a brand new rap shorthand for murder. It refers to the penal code in the state of California. The use of the number in hip-hop music was popularized by the April 1992 drug cartel action film Deep Cover, starring Laurence Fishburne and Jeff Goldblum. Dr. Dre composed the soundtrack for the movie. It was his first new music since the breakup of NWA. Deep Cover’s theme song was popularly known as “187.” It features a young Snoop Dogg on vocals.

LA Stone released his debut cassette, 187 on Wax, sometime in 1992. He collaborated with Criminal Nation’s Eugenius on the beats. DJ E mostly lets the beats ride at a laid-back, cruising tempo while LA Stone raps in a stream-of-consciousness style overtop. The single’s opener, “187 on Wax,” is almost nine minutes long. The second song, “Rollin In Tacoma” clocks in at almost six minutes and has a saxophone solo.

“T-Town’s in effect,” he raps. “Tacoma is the place. Eastside is the base.” He identifies as a Blood. “Hardcore’s my style. Fuck the radio.”

To get by, he just needs a 40 and a spliff. The Hilltop Crips? He’s gonna “smoke ‘em like a joint, and get high as shit.” He’s “eating the beat like Chinese fried rice… With lots of soy sauce. I’m changing the flavor.” For anyone who wants to battle, he’ll “Lick ‘em, lick ‘em, lick ‘em like a snow cone.” When he’s done, “You better ask somebody for a morgue membership.”

Stone is a harsh critic of Mix-A-Lot, calling him a punk.“Baby Got Back?,” he raps, “I got gat.” He continues, “How many brothers has he given a break? Ain’t produced nobody but his goddamn self, always bragging about his goddamn wealth.” Mix’s manager at Rhyme Cartel is also a target. “Ricardo is a token,” he raps, “Must be in the studio giving head.”

The NastyMix label earns a “fuck you,” too. He doesn’t need a record deal anyway: “I’m slanging this tape straight from the curb.”

He followed up this cassette with another one in 1994 called Life in The (206).

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Release The Pressure (Single)

The song “Release The Pressure” by Tacoma rap group Criminal Nation is undeniably one of the best-ever hip-hop tracks released in the Northwest. Seriously.

Even now—30 years since it dropped—the tune captivates from those first few moments of DJ E’s arpeggiated synth and string stabs, followed by MC Deff’s bristling, confident opening salvo, “I’m a human explosive, I got a temper…”

Indeed, during the 2020 lockdown, MC Deff (aka Wojack) made a whole half-hour-long movie about Criminal Nation’s legacy. The film features many local OGs, including Silver Shadow D and Squeek Nutty Bug, commenting on the huge impact “RTP” had on inspiring their own careers. A number of the interviewees charmingly sing and rap their favorite parts of the song. (It’s on YouTube.)

Criminal Nation’s superb 1990 full-length debut album was also named Release The Pressure, which makes it a little confusing when, in 1991, NastyMix then put out this six-song “Release The Pressure” cassette, too. (There’s also a DJ-friendly white sleeve vinyl.) It features bonus tracks and remixes that honestly struggle to compete with the near-flawless original song.

Bonus cut “Rap Criminal” contemplates life in T-Town and Hilltop, set against a banging beat and furious scratching, while “Shoutouts” employs the same beat against two minutes of praise for the group’s favorite West Coast contemporaries, Mix-A-Lot, DJ Quik, BET, radio DJs and so on.

But seriously, if you’re not already hip to Criminal Nation, go look them up on Spotify or your favorite streaming service and be amazed by the earliest days of Tacoma rap.

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The Right Crowd

Tacoma’s Criminal Nation released a full length album in 1990 titled Release The Pressure. The album generated two singles that year, “Black Power Nation,” and “Insane.” Criminal Nation was riding high on their local celebrity, and so in 1991 they put out a third single with two more tracks from Release The Pressure titled “The Right Crowd” and “I’m Rollin.”

“The Right Crowd” has a New Jack Swing swagger with a crooned chorus and snappy, stuttered drum machine work. The lyrics are all about surrounding yourself with the right people, and watching out for fakers in the music business. Criminal Nation was comfortable putting out dancefloor movers like this one in between harder more gangster influenced tracks.

The B-side is titled “I’m Rollin,” and it is built around the funky bassline from the funk anthem “Flashlight” by Parliament. “I’m Rollin” is all about bragging and letting loose with punchlines. It’s slower than “The Right Crowd” and it’s more of a “rap about rap” song, meaning it’s aimed at other rappers rather than the general public. The whole Release The Pressure album was full of various styles showing easy versatility. The group also put out a single of the title track “Release The Pressure” in 1991 capping off a very successful year for the group. Criminal Nation dropped their second album Trouble In The Hood in 1992, and continued their reign as one of Tacoma’s best hip hop groups. Written by Novocaine132

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Black Power Nation

Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood faced genuine social problems: unemployment, poverty, addiction. But an ongoing turf war between two rival gangs—the LA Crips and Cuban immigrants—meant that drive-by shootings and armed attacks became a real danger for the area’s residents. Murders and violence in Hilltop reached their peak in 1989, not long before this song was released.

For mainstream media and local rap groups alike, invoking “Hilltop” became a Northwest shorthand for “dangerous,” and was used to show off one’s street cred the same way NY and LA rappers would namedrop Harlem or Compton.

This early single from Tacoma rap group Criminal Nation, “Black Power Nation,” is a counter-narrative: The group spent a lot of time in Hilltop and provide a rallying cry against the connection between rap music and violence.

On it, MC Deff (aka Wojack) promotes an anti-government, anti-police, pro-Black message, stating that Black women and men coming must work together and unite to fight the drugs, racism, and economic inequality tearing the community apart, while also encouraging greater respect for ourselves and others.

The two B-side tracks are more in the expected gangster vein and prominently feature Criminal Nation’s extended posse, The D.C.P. (D-Rob, Clee-Bone, and D-Whiz). “Niggas From The Ghetto” starts with some seriously funky drums and lists a long litany of dire consequences should you mess with Criminal Nation.

“Tribute To The Ladies,” is exactly the opposite: A revenge song directed at a woman who broke your heart, addressing all her shortcomings and her future regrets. But it’s all fun, “we’re just clowning,” they say, before shouting out their NastyMix label mates, Mix-A-Lot, Nes, etc.

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Insane

Criminal Nation, those bad-ass boys from Tacoma’s Hilltop, never bothered to waste time on literary nuance or metaphors. On “Criminal Hit,” MC Deff makes it clear that “all the motherfuckers in the white sheets can suck dick.” And the reason why is simple: “MC Deff’s got a gun, plus he’s got a big posse.”

The song appears on the B-Side of this Insane vinyl single, an edition made for DJs with bonus cuts. A second bonus song, “Homicide” is a more laid-back, darker, minor-key tune, riding wave after wave of infinitely riffing guitar loops.

Each is a tale of heat-packin’ revenge rap, seeking accountability and justice for police harassment of the Black community, and calling bullshit on being told anyone has gotta accept a raw deal from society.

The A-Side hit single “Insane” is a high-BPM sonic machine gun blast. There’s no doubt this music was popular with breakdancers and at clubs. Chopping, insistent drums get your toes tapping and suddenly the dance floor is full. This music gets you moving.

Throughout Criminal Nation’s whole catalog, DJ E (aka Eugenius De Hostos) invents endlessly creative arpeggiated synths, floor-shaking, growling bass lines, and bucket drummer hi-hat taps. His unique work alongside MC Deff set Criminal Nation apart from their contemporaries in the Northwest. This record also includes an instrumental version of “Insane” where you can really study the CN beat-making magic at work, and contains some damn fine scratching, too.

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Release The Pressure

Release The Pressure is a 1990 hip-hop record from Tacoma gangster rap group Criminal Nation. It’s primarily the work of two musicians: DJ E, “the table-wrecker,” and MC Deff, “the renegade,” with the occasional assist from their extended crew, the D.C. Posse, filling out the album’s front cover. The record was jointly released by NastyMix and Cold Rock and was one of the first to put “life in Hilltop”—the gangs, guns, drugs, girls, and cops—on the map.

It’s a bad-ass debut LP, mixing militant politics with dance floor appeal. DJ E’s production is filled with groovy bass lines, electro synths, scratching and guitar samples, while MC Deff is on the mic murdering emcees with superior rhyme skills.

Release The Pressure infamously bears the Northwest’s first Parental Advisory sticker, and it proudly earns it. Every song is filled with expletives. They’re angry. It’s time for action. Frankenstein rap tune “My Laboratory” slips into “My Lavatory,” and MC Deff is gonna drop his, uh, “bombs” on Seattle.

“We didn’t make no record to play radio,” said Deff in an interview with The Rocket.

Today, rappers tend to say any motherfucking shit they want, so it’s hard to recognize how awesomely in-your-face transgressive Release The Pressure sounded in 1990. Indeed, it spent 13 weeks on the Billboard charts and netted four hit singles.

The vinyl stored in KEXP’s vaults acknowledges the album’s airplay challenges: “So many red dots for profane lyrics… The best tracks, unfortunately. They combine NWA with Public Enemy’s black nationalism. Also, it’s very funky.”

Fun fact: The song “Definitely Down for Trouble” includes Washington’s earliest cannabis reference on vinyl: “The vapors from my lyrics rise through the area, The suckers get blazed from the ways the words is flowing, The way I be blowing.”

For a long time, this record has been, uh, criminally hard to find, but was recently added to Spotify. You can finally go hear Tacoma’s first great rap record today.

Here’s another take:

These bad-ass brothers from the Hilltop (formerly America’s Most Wanted) have put out one of the best debut rap albums I have ever heard. The mix of black awareness songs like “Black Power Nation,” which talks about how black people need to cure themselves before they can cure the world, and hard songs like “Criminal Hit” and “Mission of Murder” make Release the Pressure great. On other songs like “Insane,” “Violent Sound” and “Definitely Down for Trouble,” they are mostly talking about how crazy and bad they are and how big their posse is, but that’s how most rap albums are.

M.C. Deff’s voice and style of rapping give this album a sound like no other. Even “The Right Crowd.” which sounds like a pop crossover, isn’t that bad if you really listen to the lyrics. Another reason for Release the Pressure’s success is that D.J. E. doesn’t over-sample. You might hear an old George Clinton guitar lick or beat, but it’s not overdone.

A lot of credit should be given to Nes Rodriguez and Brett Carlson because, as executive producers, I’m sure they had a large influence on the album. Having Nes as one of the producers was a good move for Criminal Nation because he was one of the main people who brought rap into the Seattle scene.

Overall, Criminal Nation is a kind of Tacoma version of NWA, except they don’t refer to women as “bitches.” In the words of another NastyMix rapper, Kid Sensation, “when you talk to a girl like a bitch, nine times out of ten, that’s what you end up with.” (This review originally appeared in The Rocket and was written by Orion Penn.)

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