A film about Northwest hip-hop from

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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Movement Music

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

The Blank Canvas

Filmmaker and hip-Hop musician Rafael Flores spent six years making The Blank Canvas: Hip-Hop’s Struggle for Representation in Seattle. The film attempts to document the unique identity of hip-hop culture in Seattle, through interviews with over 100 rappers, producers, DJs, graffiti artists, break-dancers, fashion designers, and promoters from The Town.

It takes us on a journey that investigates the origins of Hip-Hop in the Northwest, the legacy of Sir-Mix-a-Lot, the notorious 1985 Teen Dance Ordinance, Clear-Channel’s dominance over commercial Hip-Hop radio, the increasing popularity of white rappers in Seattle, and hip-hop’s struggle for representation in a seemingly liberal city.

The full 96-minute film is available for rent on Vimeo for $5. Watch the trailer below.

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

High Rhymes Smoking Jackets

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Talking Buildings

The freshest tracks to come out of the 206 in a minute, which is saying a lot. These three individuals have a lot of history between them. Through them, you hear the formation of Northwest hip-hop: You have The Fourth Party, you have Blind Council, you have Jasiri. You have Silent Lambs. You hear beats by Vitamin D, you hear beats by King Otto. These are some of the supreme rulers of 206 hip-hop, the originators of the style. And like the masters they are, they know how to mold raw materials into something new and unseen.

Black Stax manages to push the boundaries of hip-hop into unknown regions. This has been labeled “Avant guard”, and for lack of a better term, it works. For although the formula of mixed-gender, jazzy hip-hop has been played time and time again with similar results, the Stax turns it inside out and upside down, making it unrecognizable, and ultimately much purer than past experiments. Listen to the projects of some of the jazz greats – Ayler, Sanders, Coltrane – you listen to their albums and you don’t hear songs. You don’t get anything that structured. You get impressions. You get feelings, you get swept away by pure emotion.

With Black Stax’s music, you are left in similar care. This album isn’t a collection of songs. This is more a tapestry of sound and emotion, a Burroughsian cut-up experiment on the sonic level, taking what we knew, deconstructing it, distilling it, and ultimately bringing it back into sharper focus. There is none of the linear progression we’ve been trained to expect to hear. You are required to unfocus your ears and allow the music to rewire your mind. This is hip-hop reaching its maturity. Buy the record and let it wash over you. Put it on loop. Let it be your soundtrack. Listen to what they have to say and how they say it. With each listen, let it blow your mind a little more. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Hidmo Next

Between 2006 and 2010, a Central District Eritrean restaurant called Hidmo served as an important hub for Seattle’s hip-hop scene. Its location at 20th and Jackson was “a community center masquerading as a restaurant,” according to Gabriel Teodros. It was run by two sisters–Rahwa and Asmeret Habtes–community organizers, activists, chefs, and entrepreneurs who offered up a safe space for artists, musicians, youth groups, nonprofits, and activists.

This 21-minute documentary from Scott Macklin captures the final closing night party for Hidmo. It’s “the place that fostered my art,” says JusMoni, before launching into a stunning acapella. Felicia Loud, Suntonio Bandanaz, THEESatisfaction, and OCnotes also share acapella songs and raps. The latter three crowd around a single microphone, for some “do-wop shit,” adds OCnotes.

There’s a real feeling of family throughout this film. Toddlers dance in the background during freestyle raps. You really get a sense of how special Hidmo was to the community. At one point, the camera veers away from the action and visits the kitchen staff and other people working behind the scenes. The director, Scott Macklin, makes a brief appearance in front of the camera to remind us that “Hidmo is about the we,” while addressing apprehension about what comes next.

This wonderful portrait is a beautiful testament to what culture can be fostered when “people just got together and did it.” Watching Hidmo Next in 2021 hits a little different: We lost Rahwa in August 2020 during our pandemic year. In a memorial tribute in The Seattle Times, Hollis Wong-Wear tried to sum up her impact: “Rahwa was the engine, the nucleus, the crucible of that space — I saw her as a titan.”

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

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Here

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Stolen Lives

Source of Labor’s Stolen Lives, from 2000, is a masterpiece of Seattle hip-hop. Source Of Labor was unlike any other rap group before or since. Everyone should have this in their collection. I can’t speak highly enough about this contribution to our city’s musical canon. (It’s oft-cited as the record that inspired a young Macklemore to begin rapping, FWIW.)

If you’ve never heard of this record, go seek it out immediately. Pictured here is the 19-track double vinyl. As Wordsayer raps on the opener, it’s an “out-of-body audio excursion.” If you can’t snag the vinyl, there’s also a CD version, with a different cover.

Source of Labor was primarily the work of emcee Wordsayer (the late, great Jonathan Moore) and Negus I, with contributions from Vitamin D and MC Kylea, aka Beyond Reality. Stolen Lives was the long-anticipated debut full-length album from a group whose influence is hard to measure. And they deliver here an album that is viscerally emotional, expansive, and experimental, sometimes with a careening rap flow that feels like a car accelerating down a very large hill without brakes. It’s thrilling.

The album is also defiantly proud of its Seattle roots, with civic anthems like “Wetlands,” or there’s “Sunshowers,” which opens with an audio clip that suggests that the people of Seattle think that “the sun is evil.” (LOL.)

The songs often incorporate live performance recordings, which I have to say groups today don’t do enough. I especially love Side 4 and the song “Invaded Lands”, featuring Beyond Reality, which I’ll confess I’ve often had on repeat, playing just that one side over and over again. Treat yourself and seek this own out today.

Here’s another take:

Source of Labor’s prominence on the local hip-hop scene is growing in accordance with the effort the group (and Jasiri Media as a whole) keeps pourin’ into it. If you’ll pardon the play on words, the labor that goes into the source of this sound is massive: From their regular, high-energy shows in Seattle to Stolen Lives, their new full-length album, Source of Labor are working hard to carve a distinct niche for themselves in a corner of the country that still isn’t recognized for the quality hip-hop that keeps sprouting up out of the region’s soggy, intellectual thought-generating climate.

It’s precisely that climate that Source of Labor keep paying tribute to on songs like “Emerald City,” “Sunshower” and “Wetlands,” a catchy song released last year as a 12-inch single. (Anyone else want to get “Wetlands” nominated as the city’s honorary theme song?)

Razor-sharp turntablism, an assortment of humorous, Northwest-specific samples and nice mixing touches make for a strong, original album, and Wordsayer (vocalist and songwriter Jonathan Moore) has got an unquestionable knack for loose, flowing, historically and socially grounded microphone poeticism. To be sure, not every track is particularly memorable-or even seems designed to be-but songs like “Easy” are standout cuts by any standard. Opening with a live version and segueing smoothly into the studio recording, “Easy” rushes you off on a kind of laidback, intergalactic journey, and stops along the way for some schoolin’ on the importance of a positively conscious lifestyle in word, intent, and deed. That’s the kind of message that we could all stand to incorporate more fully into our lives. (This review originally appeared in The Rocket and was written by Silja J.A. Talvi.)

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Blessed 2 Mic Check

Blessed 2 Mic Check, the wax debut from Nomad Da Nomadic, is a quintessential slab of NW wax, and in many ways typified the Seattle area hip-hop scene in the late nineties. What that means is basically it was hella dope and you missed it. With production by Mr. Supreme on the title cut, and DJ Sayeed and DJ Swift on the two B-sides, this record is sonically tight – especially Sayeed’s track “Da Movement,” which happens to feature Sayeed’s group Black Anger. “Shantae,” Swift’s slower number, comes with its own bonus, as it’s blessed by local heroine Felicia Loud on the hook. Nomad has no problems holding his own amid all this greatness, and in fact, his direct and gritty flow is surprisingly complimentary to the bombastic delivery of Black Anger and Felicia’s gorgeous crooning. Likewise, the beats fit Nomad’s style perfectly, especially Swift’s dark and sedated track, with its murky organ and vibe loops. From here, Nomad went on to release a couple 12″s in 2000 and 2001, as well as a full-length in 2001. His entire output is strong and worth tracking down. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Whatever / Overstandings

This split 12″ is the first vinyl release from Beyond Reality and the first post-Blahzay Blah outing from Source of Labor. Beyond Reality’s side features the track “Whatever”, with a hook provided by Felicia Loud. The “Moonlight Remix” of “Whatever” is in my opinion the stronger of the two, which is a sedated, dark trippy gem. On the flip side, Source of Labor represents with the track “Overstandings”, along with its also superior “Wetlands Remix”. What can I say, I’ve always been a fan of the b-side. With this release, Kylea proves to be one of Seattle’s dopest MCs of her era; her flow is impeccably even and on point. In contrast, Wordsayer’s flow is on the dense side, and without Blah he tends to crowd the track a little bit. But he’s an emcee who’s always had a lot to say, and his flow is perfect for his message. Negus I, who produced nearly all the tracks, has always been a dope producer – I love his work with BR and SOL, and consider him one of the best beatmakers out there. He certainly doesn’t disappoint here – Especially the “Moonlight Remix”, which I think is one of his best tracks. Source of Labor, unfortunately, folded after their 2000 album, Stolen Lives. Wordsayer has been successful in managing some notable talent in the new crop of 206 hip-hop, but I can’t find any information on what Negus I has been doing. I sincerely hope he’s still making music. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Word Sound Power

Jasiri Media Group arrived on the Seattle scene in 1993 as the brainchild of Jonathan Moore, a.k.a. Wordsayer. The Jasiri record label was created primarily to express the heritage of African culture and how it developed in the United States. This meant confronting harsh truths about racism and the extensive history of the Atlantic Middle Passage. Jasiri did not dance around these difficult subjects but rather forced the listeners to think about them. Wordsayer even named his group “Source of Labor” to describe how the European slave merchants viewed their human cargo. Word, Sound, Power is an ambitious musical project from 1997 which features many artists on the Jasiri label, including Source of Labor and Beyond Reality. “Overstandings” is one highlight track by SOL, and it sums up many of Wordsayer’s philosophies and observations about life. The real dynamo of this compilation is Beyond Reality. On tracks like “I Reality,” “Whatever,” and “333” emcee Kylea drops her typewriter-click-clack lyrical technique that captures the urgency of the group’s message. SOL and BR collaborate on one spectacular track, “SolBr,” which crystallizes the talent and drive of these two groups. Word, Sound, Power is necessary and beautiful, and this compilation is a key part of Seattle’s long hip hop history. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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