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Top 10 Songs

Throughout the ’90s, writer Novocaine132 extensively covered the Seattle hip-hop scene. You’ll find his byline on feature stories and record reviews in both The Rocket and The Stranger, and he contributed to the marketing of several Tribal and Loosegroove releases, too.

Over the past few years, he’s been posting a series on YouTube called Top 10 Songs where he digs deep into the work of a particular Seattle rap legend, surfacing the not-to-be-missed songs from their catalogs. Whether or not you agree with the specific choices, each video provides a great overview of each artist’s career and there are lots of audio samples so you can hear what each song sounds like.

He adds, “The project began in 2017 when I heard that Wordsayer had passed away. At the time I was retired from music and print journalism, and I was concentrating my efforts on documentary filmmaking. When Jon died it hit me very hard, and I had to evaluate my life and my work. He and I were good friends in the 1990s, and he inspired much of my work in the area of hip-hop writing. I made a Top 10 Songs video of Source Of Labor at the end of 2017 to help deal with the pain of losing Wordsayer. Then in 2018, I made one for Ghetto Chilldren, and it started to become a series. I named my enterprise “Overstanding Seattle” to give tribute and honor to Jonathan Moore, one of the most truly amazing musicians I have ever known.”

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7 Slaps In The Sack

7 Slaps In The Sack is a video interview series created by Carrick Wenke. Shot between 2014 and 2020, the show has more than 50 episodes, each of which involves going record shopping at Everyday Music on 10th in Seattle with “your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper.”

Everyday Music is sadly gone now, but you can view all the episodes from the series on YouTube. A wide range of Town talent has spent the day shopping with Carrick, talking about favorite records, influences, and craft, including Jarv Dee, Keyboard Kid, Nacho Picasso, Romaro Franceswa, Travis Thompson, and many others.

We’ve embedded a few of our favorite episodes below.

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The Otherside

The Otherside is an hour-long documentary predominantly covering Seattle’s Capitol Hill-centric “third wave” hip-hop scene, circa 2010. This was a time when MP3s and streaming were fairly new and completely reshaping the music industry. Artists like Blue Scholars were experimenting with Kickstarter and direct fan support. Everyone was trying something new.

There’s a wealth of great interviews, concerts, and backstage footage from artists across the Town. There are hella people in this movie. It’s clear the filmmaker tried to talk with anyone and everyone who was willing. There are some great long chats with Jake One, Prometheus Brown, and Sir Mix-A-Lot. There’s also lots of footage of pre-stardom Macklemore & Ryan Lewis as they prepare to drop The Heist.

Larry Mizell Jr. offers up a four-point guide to being successful in the Northwest: “Be truthful to yourself. Be respectful and knowledgeable of what’s going on and what came before you. Be good: Work on your craft. Further the culture at all times.”

The Otherside premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival and was an audience favorite, selling out two consecutive screenings. It was also chosen as “Best of SIFF” by festival programmers.

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They L.A. Soul

Any B-girl worth her salt knows of the mighty DJ blesOne. A true Northwest original, blesOne has been making popular DJ mixtapes since the mid-1990s. He boosted his prolific recording career in 2004 with a six-song EP by his new hip hop group “Mash Hall.” Two years later in 2006, (Cancer Rising band member and local rap journalist) Larry Mizell Jr. wrote about Mash Hall for The Stranger saying, “Their boastful, hilarious don’t-give-a-fuck stylings are in full effect on their first proper debut LP, Mash Hall Love Family Thicker Than Blood.” In 2007 blesOne produced half the tracks on the final Cancer Rising album, and developed a creative relationship with Mizell. When Cancer Rising broke up, Mizell was looking for a new band and before he knew it, he was not just a fan of Mash Hall but an actual member of the group!

All the history leads us to this epic Mash Hall album They LA Soul which came out in 2010. DJ blesOne (as Bruce Illest) and Mizell (as Gatsby) unplug from the traditional rap Matrix and go completely off the grid to a secret magic world. Mash Hall creates a bizarre universe where funky drums are paramount. DJ blesOne assaults the listener with break after break after break. Some tracks change drum signatures multiple times within the span of several minutes. It is confusing and schizophrenic, and lots of fun too. Songs are jarringly derailed by random audio samples, only to restart immediately with a new beat. The lyrics are laugh-out-loud witty, downright peculiar in places, but be prepared for rampant objectification of women’s bodies. The fantasy character of Bruce Illest is an unapologetic nymphomaniac who loves to talk about “titties” and “ass that is fat,” while he frequently brags about how many women he has slept with. Gatsby provides a bit more rough and rugged realism in his lyrics, which are all about establishing the superiority of Mash Hall above all other rap groups. The group is defiantly West Coast, and they have the laid-back horns and funk to prove it. Fellow Seattleites THEESatisfaction came aboard They LA Soul appearing on two of the album’s strongest tracks, “Whitney,” and “Get Yo Ass To Mars.”

Shortly after They LA Soul, blesOne and Mizell decided to end the group. They had already tried to end Mash Hall once in 2008 when they changed the group name to “They Live” and released The Dro-Bots Saga. In fact, They LA Soul was conceived and originally released while Mash Hall was still performing as They Live. However, a different band called “They Live” sued them for usage rights of the name, so blesOne and Mizell had only just returned to the name Mash Hall before shuttering the group. But the party wasn’t over! In 2011, Mizell and blesOne teamed up to form a new band called Don’t Talk To The Cops with third member emecks and released their debut album, Regular Show. “Get Yo Ass To Mars” is the most interesting track on They LA Soul to me, because it shows the eventual direction of the group like a peek into the future. The track would actually be more at home on the Regular Show album than it is on They LA Soul. Mash Hall is a key part of Seattle hip hop history, and this 2010 album is a must-have. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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The Dro Bots Saga

A ‘concept’ album is a listening experience in which each song on a record fits together to create a larger story like chapters in a book. Three of my favorite rap concept albums of all time are Prince Paul’s Prince Among Thieves about a young street hustler gone astray, Kool Keith’s sex-crazed medical-school dropout character on Dr. Octogonecologyst, and The Dro-Bots Saga released in 2008 by Seattle’s Mash Hall.

The plot of Dro Bots is extremely meta. At the start of the album, Bruce Illest, played by Mash Hall’s DJ blesOne, is a weed-addled “Dro-Boy” who is transformed by the “Dro Bots Assimilation” process from a man into a “Dro-Bot.” He flies to the outer space planet of Chronicon 5 and learns that “planet Earth’s resources are at a critical low.” After he returns back to Earth, he receives “Unemployment Deployment,” and then drops a two-part rap “Catch The Bus 1 & 2” in which we meet a second Dro-Bot named Gatsby, played by Larry Mizell Jr.

The next track is my favorite on the album, and it brings on a guest Dro-Bot MC named Barfly from local group The Saturday Knights. The song is called “Weed Murder” and it is one of Mash Hall’s most well-built songs. The three rappers take turns murdering the marijuana and dropping impeccable bars. The album builds to a climax with “Star Whores,” in which Bruce Illest raps while riding shotgun in a car being driven by one of his ‘famous bitch’ conquests. Suddenly the car crashes and Bruce Illest is thrown from the vehicle. I can’t reveal whether he lives or dies, but suffice to say the next track is called “Ascension to Funk Heaven.” The last song on the album “My Weed” blows clouds of purple pot smoke into the picture, which makes you wonder did all this drama really happen or was it just a nice dream?

The production style can be described in many ways, words that come to mind include: patchwork, collage, hodgepodge, potpourri. DJ blesOne hits you with pure anarchy in his beats. He collects sounds and drums from millions of disparate sources and combines them into a funky stew. It is like being in the middle of a “Sharknado” but instead of a shark flying by your window, there is a sample from an old western movie slammed against a glockenspiel melody and all set to a massacred drum sample. If you are ready for some experimentation, it all fits together into a new whole.

The Dro Bots Saga was the fifth release from Mash Hall, and by this point, DJ blesOne had completely mastered his unique art of creative production and wall-of-sound audio. As a side note, Mash Hall changed their name to “They Live!” when they dropped this masterpiece. In 2008 and 2009, they performed as “They Live!” and during this period the group worked on material for their 2010 final opus They La Soul. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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Cancer Rising

After experiencing their first two albums, you might have begun to get comfortable in the familiarity of what Cancer Rising was all about. The group’s third, self-titled album is like having the rug pulled out from under you when you least expect it. The group introduced DJ Bles One as a production/lyrical force, and in doing so effectively nullified Cancer Rising’s previous identity, while simultaneously synthesizing an entirely new sound. On track two, “Watch Your Step,” and track three, “Let’s Start Some Shit,” Bles (as Bruce Illest) brought all of the purposefully offensive, bizarre energy that made his sought-after mixtapes so innovative and fun. The original CR sound survived intact on cuts like “Perseverance,” “We Gonna Make It,” and “Truckin,” but those three songs are tucked away at the end of the album, and they sound quaint and proper next to the rest of the album’s bacchanalia. The chemistry of Cancer Rising interacting with Bles One is successful because Bles took the existing meld of influences and put it on hyperdrive. “Evryday Bidness” is perhaps the most perfect distillation of this crazy new mixture, and it combines that CR soul with the drunken-chameleon production style of Bles One. Cancer Rising would be the third and final album from this celebrated Seattle hip hop group, but the friendships created here continued in the saga of They Live, Mash Hall, and later, town legends Don’t Talk To The Cops. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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The Greatest Fuckin' Adventures of Bruce Illest... Streaks and Blurs and Shit

Mash Hall is at it again with a truly massive album. The title immediately requires an acronym: TGFAOBISABAS. And holy Toledo there are 28 tracks listed. This is a lot of music! I have separated it into categories, just so my brain can begin processing it.

One category of track on TGFAOBISABAS is hip-hop ’80s and ’90s classics reimagined into blesOne’s Mash Hall world. “Super High” is inspired by “I’m Your Pusher,” and “Mash Hall Hustler” is based on “New Jack Hustler,” both by Ice T. “Rid Of Her” will give you strong LL Cool J “I Need Love” vibes. “D-J-B-L-E-S-O-N-E” brings an English accent, not unlike that of Slick Rick. “Guns Yo” begins like a sped-up, party version of the classic Schooly D cut “Saturday Night,” with elements of “Love’s Gonna Getcha” by KRS One found later in the track. “Hit Em Up” is named after a very famous Tupac track. DJ blesOne clearly has a love for the luminaries of hip-hop and he is giving his own special form of tribute here on this album. He brings a humorous tilt to every song he approaches, an example being the whispery voice he employs to heightened comedic effect in “Rid Of Her.”

A second category of tracks on this tremendous collection is remixes of tracks from other sources. Five tracks from Mash Hall Love Family Thicker Than Blood are remixed on TGFAOBISABAS. The remix of “Bitch I Look Good” changes the mood from sneaky private investigator to something more ‘Mid-60’s British Invasion’ with organ on reverb. “Butterfly” gets a remix here that changes the melody from dark and dreary to more mysterious and clever. Considering the subject matter of the track, I would argue that the original version of “Butterfly” is more effective and achieves the fourth dimension. “Girls They Love Bruce Illest” appears in a much more relaxed, spacey version compared to the tighter original. “Stomp Em With The Jodeci Boots” is expanded while “Time’s Up” is presented stripped down with live drums. In addition to those five remixes, a very early track from the group’s first e.p. release in 2004 (Mash Hall) titled “Warning” is also remixed on TGFAOBISABAS. There’s even a track here from the third Cancer Rising album which blesOne had helped to produce.

But luckily it’s not all just Weird Al Yankovic-type parodies and remixes of previous Mash Hall tracks. A third category contains original compositions, and plenty of new material abounds here. TGFAOBISABAS gathers dialog samples from across pop culture and places them between the most psychedelic drum tracks. DJ blesOne began his quest in the ’90s to be the ultimate B-Boy. He is a turntablist with an ear for sounds that have never been crammed into a song before. Mash Hall pushes the envelope of hip hop norms, and when you add Gatsby and Ronnie Voice the result is an imagination explosion with no boundaries. DJ blesOne breaks down the letters of his name in “Mona Lisha” and that might be a good place to end: “B – belligerent, L – love sex, E – every day I drink a Guinness, S – for the sneakers that I got like a million fuckin pairs, Number 1 – that’s my spot.” Nuff said. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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Search For The Cure

The Stranger picked Search For The Cure as one of the “6 Best Hip-Hop Albums of 2005” saying:

Cancer Rising’s Search for the Cure represents a clear break from Seattle’s hip-hop continuum. Grayskul can be traced all the way back to the mid-’90s, to the political gloom of Black Anger; Boom Bap Project can be traced back to Source of Labor; Framework can be traced back to Kid Sensation (and also Criminal Nation). No such link exists for the rappers Judas, Gatsby (AKA Larry Mizell Jr.), and DJ Tiles One, who make up Cancer Rising. A big reason for this is the music itself, which was produced by Manat MacLeod and Matt Wong, the Defkidz.

“When we started,” explains MacLeod, “we thought it would be quick and simple, but then it got more creative. I would come up with crazy stuff and [the rappers] would match it. I had the green light to do whatever I wanted. And the reason why the record sounds unusual is that I don’t listen to hip-hop anymore. I love hip-hop. I love the Def Jux stuff and the Roots, but the music is not adventurous. What I’m listening to is the Flaming Lips, stuff like the Secret Machines, and I took that to the music side, where I was coming up with beats.” The rock element in Search for the Cure is strong but not enough to make it a rock record; it’s still solid hip-hop. And hip-hop has always taken large chunks from rock, reggae, classical music—anything that worked with what Q-Tip famously called “that old boom bap.”

“Local producers like Vitamin D and Jake One are my favorites,” MacLeod explains, “but I decided to pay my respects to them by doing something totally different.”

Here’s another take:

Search For The Cure is the second album from Cancer Rising, and it picks up where their debut album, Sippin’ Music left off two years earlier. The group gives you more of that raw NW hip hop, and at the same time unabashedly continues its explorations into rock and roll. “Pocket Check” and “Run” are two high-energy examples of their signature sound, exploding with power moments and pure fun. Judas and Gatsby both reveal very personal self-observations in slower tracks like “Mama’s Ashes,” “Time And Place,” and the album’s title track, with emotional confessions and therapeutic breakthroughs happening right in front of us. “Play It Again” and “Dedicated” each has a carefree, effortless quality with a sprinkle of summertime and rap block-party nostalgia. The album’s finest moments come courtesy of “Stand Up” and the sleeper hit, “Scenery.” “Stand Up” bounces with peppy keys and horns, punctuated by the intelligent wordplay of these two talented emcees. “Scenery” could easily be one of the top hip-hop/rap tracks to ever come from Seattle. It’s the definition of feel-good music, a warm glow that you can feel in your soul. Search For The Cure is fully grown-up and Cancer Rising deserved all the praise they received for this now-classic album. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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Tropic of Cancer

Hmmm... There's not a lot of information about this project in the museum encyclopedia. We'd love your help! TOWN LOVE is maintained by an awesome community of passionate volunteers who keep it all up to date.

Do you know something about the history of this record? Do you have a favorite lyric or a favorite memory? Send us an email on why this is one of the great hip-hop albums from the Northwest. Thanks!

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Sippin' Music

Cancer Rising is two MC’s—Gatsby and Judas—and one DJ, Tiles One. Sippin’ Music is the group’s first album, and it is a strong effort with incredible range. The songs range from rowdy uptempo party jams like “Stop, Drop, Roll” and “Serious as…” to slower, more pensive tracks like “Fly Away” and “Who Woulda Thought.” Album highlights include “Sleight Of Hand,” which tackles the subject of political and military corruption, and the punchline-heavy head-nodder “Get A Hit.” The hidden masterpiece here is “IAM (Impressions And Memories),” with a beat that evokes the genius of J-Dilla, and lyrics which show a deep understanding of hip hop and rap’s fundamental ingredients. Sippin’ Music’s best quality is its ability to show off a new style on each track, no two songs sound the same. Cancer Rising introduced itself to Seattle with this record, and immediately cemented its status as one of the most relevant and creative acts to come from the 206. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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