A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Poetic Epidemic

Fresh off his enlistment as a Soldier on the second F.T.S. album, Money Motivated in 2000, Seattle musical artist Byrdie was ready to take a giant leap of his own. Having joined the Street Level family, he had VIP access to beats by D-Sane, and also tons of MCs for guest spots. Byrdie got his ducks in a row and released his first CD, Poetic Epidemic in 2001. Poetic Epidemic was a solid debut that flagged him as an artist on the rise.

The tracks cover a variety of topics, which keeps the listening interesting. An unlikely name check of a Supreme Court Justice shows up in “Dirty Politics,” with the humorous line, “I’m not arrogant, I’m just honest, Street Level Records, all my CDs sell out like Clarence Thomas.” “Lyricide” produced by Syko carries a gothic, vampire vibe, drenched in echo and reverb as though it was recorded in an actual castle. Jonathan “Wordsayer” Moore, the mayor of Seattle hip-hop, appears on “Society,” dropping a forceful verse, “for brothers out on the grind, and sisters with conscious minds.” It’s probably an uncontroversial take, but the strongest cut on Poetic Epidemic, in my opinion, is “Player’s Policy Pt. 2” produced by D-Sane, and featuring vocals from Wanz. The first version of “Player’s Policy” including Byrdie, BD, and Creep Lo appeared on Money Motivated.

Thanks to some direct action and protests, “Player’s Policy Pt. 2” actually got rotation airplay on KUBE 93 FM, Seattle’s notoriously insular pop music station. According to the excellent 2020 history text by Dr. Daudi Abe, titled Emerald Street, “the tension that had been growing between KUBE and the local hip-hop community eventually came to a head in the spring of 1997.” The movement was led by Seattle hip-hop artists including Silver Shadow D who felt like they had no chance of being on the radio in their own city. Thanks to their efforts, over the next few years KUBE made some adjustments, allowing for “Player’s Policy Pt. 2” to get on the air and become a hit in 2001.

Byrdie has the intangibles that can carry a rapper to the top of the pack. His flow is airtight, with literally no space between the syllables. This is basically a modern flip of iambic pentameter, a written style worshipped for centuries. Very few artists ever climb to this level of lyrical altitude, and with his golden voice, the words just roll off his tongue. But Byrdie fans would have to be patient, for there would still be three more years of waiting before Byrdie would drop his true masterpiece, 2004’s N Flight. Written by Novocaine132

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Money Motivated

F.T.S. dropped their first CD titled Full Time Soldiers in 1998 with six official members, D-Sane, J Dub, Villain, Drama, BD, and Madd Dogg. This debut album introduced F.T.S. as a mafia-style crime family, primarily representing the Aurora strip from 85th to Shoreline. But because of the crew’s numbers, their reach extended throughout the 206. On tracks like “Jackin Season,” “8-5 Dippin,” and “Million $ Dreams” the Soldiers described bleak scenarios of shootouts, drug deals, and pimping, the glamorous yet dead-end lifestyle of gangsters and hustlers.

Money Motivated in 2000 was the second CD from F.T.S., and this time instead of six there were nine faces pictured on the cover. Five of the six artists from Full Time Soldiers remained; however, Villain decided to leave the group. The four additions were early group members Brazy-J and Smoke Dog, who were joined by YG Red and Byrdie. A lot of names to be sure. The second album continues the themes of the debut. The combination of vocalist Lauren Salee and guitarist Josh Flack brings a new musical element to two songs, which helps to create more of a distinct mood on this album. Of all the voices on Money Motivated, one that shines is newcomer Byrdie. With a rhyme style that, for some reason, reminds me of verbal-machine-gun Big Pun, Byrdie is a double threat due to his sweet singing voice.

Right after the humorous “Hater Hotline” skit, title track “Money Motivated” jumps off right away, transmitting lots of punchy energy. Rapper Tuff Nitti and local group Self Tightld are featured on the mournful “Rest In Paradise.” “I got a head full of chemicals, stressed over that concrete, everything’s obsolete,” goes a line on standout track “Wet Dreams.” Believe it or not, album closer “Full Time” has eight performers as credited artists, and “I’m Still High” lists eleven! With so many voices it’s easy for the tone of a track to get lost, but the Soldiers maintain a good unity throughout these entire-crew-showcasing songs.

According to D-Sane, F.T.S. broke up in mid 2001 “due to internal fighting amongst members of the group.” Four of the Soldiers released an album, Kash Me Out, in 2001 under the name I.K. which stood for Independent Kash. Byrdie subsequently completed a solo project, Poetic Epidemic which also came out in 2001. Both of those albums were on Street Level Records, D-Sane’s rapidly growing brand. Written by Novocaine132

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Full Time Soldiers

In 1996, Jeru The Damaga teamed up with DJ Premier and dropped a searing critique of ’90s gangsta rap music. The track was called “Ya Playin Yaself,” and the lyrics broke down the risks associated with the art form. Jeru was borderline incredulous as he rapped, “I never knew hustlers confessed in stereo or on video, get caught you’ll know who turned state’s evidence, murder weapon, confession and fingerprints. Mama always said ‘watch what comes out your mouth,’ tight case for the DA from here to down South.” Tupac, possibly the world’s most famous gangsta rapper, was killed in Las Vegas that same year, and Biggie was shot dead in Los Angeles in 1997. What was the future for gangsta rap in 1998? Seattle rap group F.T.S. decided to show us with their self-titled album Full Time Soldiers on Street Level Records.

F.T.S. started when MC/producer D-Sane met fellow rappers Smoke Dog and J-Dub. Along the way they added Villain, Drama, Brokedown, and Brazy-J for a total of seven members. By 1998 during the recording of Full Time Soldiers, Brazy-J and Smoke Dog had left the group and a new MC named Madd Dogg had come aboard, putting the group at six people. The first half of the album contains tracks which document the gangster lifestyle of hustling, revenge, and maintaining status. Violence is the predominant language, and F.T.S. position themselves as a mafia-style crime family. “Jackin Season” is typical, with lines like, “We hit the scene, kick the door in, the bullets start flowin, n****s droppin like rocks, the getaway car is stolen…Licked em up like some stamps, lit two cops up like a lamp.” At the end of “Jackin Season” a voice says, “The stories you just heard are based on factual events that have occurred.” Another song called “8-5 Dippin” tells a similar story of desperation, “n**** tried to…hate on me and grab my crack sack, but fuck that, I bust back, with the all-black mini-mac strap and the hundred round clip.” In “Situations Get Thick” there are graphic scenes of gunfire, and the last verse menacingly reminds the listener, “When the shit pops it’s unexpected, undetected, fuck with the F.T.S. this shit gets hectic.”

It’s not all gangster life on Full Time Soldiers, the second half of the album brings that weed smoking and partying side of things. Songs like “All My Bitches Left Me,” “Let’s Get High,” and “Who Can Hustle?” provide a lighthearted break from the shoot-em-up tales. There are several moments where members of the group question their choices which have led them into a life of crime. “Can’t live and die by the gun, gotta get a million dollars before my life is over and done,” goes a standout line on “Million $ Dreams.” The ubiquitous blunts and cognac/40s in many of the tracks serve to numb the pain that comes with street life.

In 2023, activists in the US Congress and many individual states are trying to pass laws which prevent District Attorneys from using rap lyrics in court proceedings. Rappers like Georgia’s Young Thug want impunity to describe their crimes, but don’t want to face any responsibility in cases where they have literally confessed on tape. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis explained the heart of the matter in a mid-2022 CNN interview, “I believe in the First Amendment; it’s one of our most precious rights. However the First Amendment does not protect (rappers) from prosecutors using (lyrics) as evidence if it is such.” Would a group like F.T.S. be found guilty in court based on their lyrics? Regardless of the answer, the group established itself as true ambassadors of the Seattle gangsta rap genre. The album was re-released in 2018.Written by Novocaine132

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