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The Emerald City Beginning

The Emerald City Beginning was released in 2020 as the first episode in a planned, upcoming series about the origins of hip-hop in the Northwest. The show was created by E-Dawg and Rubik: two Town OGs who certainly have all the right credentials to deliver an authentic portrait of ’80s Seattle.

They sit down with Sir Mix-A-Lot, Nasty Nes, and J-Skee. The centerpiece interview is with James “Captain Crunch” Croone, legendary emcee of The Emerald Street Boys. “Nobody could out-bop him,” says J-Skee about Croone’s skills on the mic. “They were sophisticated. They had no weaknesses,” adds Mix.

Captain Crunch tells the story of how The Emerald Street Boys met: Sweet J stole a rhyme from Sugar Bear, or that was the rumor, and they went off to fight him. In 1982, Seattle-King County Visitors’ Bureau had a contest to find a new nickname for Seattle, and “The Emerald City” was chosen. The Emerald Street Boys were originally named so as to take advantage of the newfound tourism buzz.

You’ll learn about some other of the artists from the mythical start of Seattle rap: Silver Chain Gang, Frostmaster Chill, Big Boss Cross, Chelly Chell, and Supreme La Rock. And you’ll learn how clueless the East Coasters were (and continue to be) about the Northwest. When Nasty Nes first brought Mix-A-Lot to NYC, the record execs said rap from Seattle was impossible, in a place “where there are only horse-drawn buggies and green grass.”

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Hatas All Pause

Crooked Path came together in the early 1990s when DJ Funk Daddy teamed up with J-Skee and Dee-Lyrious. The group’s first album After Dark in 1994 was a success, and they returned with a follow-up CD called Which Way Is Up in 1998. Their label Dogday Records put out a 12″ vinyl promo maxi-single to accompany the CD. This wax contains four songs from Which Way Is Up, and it displays the many styles of this important Seattle rap group.

“Hatas All Pause” is the A-side. The lyrics are about how nobody can mess with Crooked Path because they are “making big moves.” When they walk into the room, everybody freezes. Side B includes the instrumental and the acapella versions of “Hatas All Pause” so that DJs can mix it up in the club, always a smart idea for a twelve-inch release.

Side B starts with “Bad Mutha 4 Ya,” which brings that party vibe. It’s a sweet slice of funk, with a deep, fuzzy bassline that could be mistaken for an earthquake. J-Skee describes his player pedigree in verse after verse. Next on the B-side is “Feel Like A Nut,” which explores the group’s sexual tendencies with lines like, “I’m a motherf***er, I put a bitch to a test, I goes and gets another trick and see who f***s best.” The last song on the maxi-single is “Don’t Give A Phuck,” which is the most gangsta of the four offerings. The track features Lil Frank, and it tells how Crooked Path is gonna “put you in a body bag.” Now in 2023, twenty-five years after this release, DJ Funk Daddy can still be found entertaining music fans in the Northwest. Written by Novocaine132

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Which Way Is Up

Seattle’s Crooked Path may not have come together were it not for Sir Mix-A-Lot’s matchmaking. After his mega-success with “big butts,” Mix produced Seattle’s first hip-hop compilation, Seattle… The Dark Side. On that compilation, rapper Jay-Skee appears on two tracks, both produced by Greg B, aka Funk Daddy. It was a two-song partnership that birthed the first Crooked Path mixtape, After Dark, in 1994.

Four years passed before the duo dropped Which Way Is Up on Oakland’s Dogday Records. By this point, Funk Daddy was a certified hitmaker, having contributed his signature squelch to E-40’s platinum release, In A Major Way and other mainstream hits.

On Which Way Is Up it’s clear that he and J-Skee, with the addition of Dee-Lyrious, are messing around, having fun, creating classic gangsta cuts, all posturing, reputation, drug-dealing, sexual conquests, finger on the trigger shit.

Favorite tune “Young Playa” lifts the melody from Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like An Eagle,” and tells the story of a young man trying to keep just a hair on the right side of the law while walking around Yesler Terrace. (There’s also a sweet reference to “Where the Ghetto Chilldren play…”) This whole record is on Spotify and you should go spin it today for them classic Seattle vibes.

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In 1994, Seattle group Crooked Path dropped a rap classic called After Dark. The trio consisted of Funk Daddy, J-Skee, and Dee-Lyrious. Funk Daddy also included Crooked Path material on his 1995 release Funk You Right On Up. By 1996, Dee-Lyrious was ready to drop his own solo debut, and his self-titled album Delirious hit the streets of the S-E-A with a bang.

“Letter From The Pen” is serious and well-paced, addressing the subject of incarceration. The vibe of “Wise Up” is a reflective meditation about life choices and the passage of time. It’s got a heavy message, “I’m tripping, paranoid, scared to leave my block. In ’84 I was locked up, in ’94 shell-shocked.” When taken with “Letter From The Pen,” the two tracks complement each other well.

On the party side of things, the high-energy song “Planet Path” has a b-boy vibe, and the Bambaataa beat bounces while the MCs display some fun wordplay. “Tales From The Strip” cleverly combines the “Paul Revere” story framework with some liquid piano notes from a classic Grover Washington Jr. joint. “Planet Path” and “Tales From The Strip” both reach across generations, and Dee-Lyrious captures the early days of rap in the two songs.

“Northwest G’s,” featuring F-Lee, Funk Daddy, and J-Skee, has a slow, measured beat. At the beginning of the song, Dee-Lyrious tongue-in-cheek refers to himself as a “studio gangster.” This implies that real gangsters get locked up or killed, and the ones that survive certainly don’t rap about their crimes. To follow the paradox, only fake gangsta rhymes would make sense for music industry consumption. True gangsta raps constitute legal evidence and unwitting confession.

Perhaps my favorite detail of the album is a skit where the crew calls a fake psychic hotline. At one point during the hilarious conversation, our caller makes a rambling observation about rap stereotypes: “Gangsta rap is a mutha f***ing business. Just like Steven Seagal made the flicks and s***. He’ll go out there and shoot some people up, and they say that’s mutha f***ing art and s***. This is art. We’re just talking about what we be seeing every day.” He’s right of course. Gangsta rap in many cases is simply the art of being a witness on wax. Written by Novocaine132

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After Dark

DJ Greg B aka DJ Ready was involved in several Seattle rap groups in the 1980s. In 1992 he dropped a full-length solo cassette called Listen To The Greg B with DJ Skill. Around this same time, he teamed up with fellow hip-hoppers Dee-Lyrious and Jay-Skee to form a new group called Crooked Path. According to Greg, “All three of us went to the University Of Washington where we all met. Jay-Skee playing football, Dee-Lyrious playing basketball, and me DJing all the college parties. Jay-Skee brought everyone together and we all meshed naturally.” Their debut album After Dark combined the more humorous, wordplay elements of early ’90s rap with a more violent, shoot-em-up gangsta vibe. It would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention that Greg B changed his name a couple of years later to one that is more familiar to fans of Seattle hip-hop, that name of course is Funk Daddy.

After Dark was re-released by Belgian label Southwest Enterprise in 2021 and is now available on vinyl and CD. The 2021 version contains Funk Daddy “fun facts” on the jacket which give contextual info about some of the tracks. For example, two songs from After Dark also appeared on Rhyme Cartel’s Seattle…The Dark Side compilation, “Menace Crook,” and “12 Gauge.” The best thing about “Menace Crook” is the track’s pulse-quickening momentum created by the clamorous scratching and catchy bassline. “12 Gauge” has a slower, suspenseful sound, and the lyrics talk about how the group is strapped up for any situation. “I got your back *****, I got the gat *****, I got the shit to make a sucker fall flat *****,” goes a typical line from “12 Gauge.” Tacoma artist Wojack from Criminal Nation makes an appearance with his laid-back track, “Something 4 Your Trunk,” in which he expresses his feelings toward his record label. One could conjecture that he was referring to either Cold Rock, Nastymix, or Ichiban, three labels he had worked with in ’92 and ’93.

Other After Dark highlights include “Where De’ At,” a super funky cut in which all three group members bust rhymes over the famous One Way “Don’t Fight The Feeling” sample flipped so successfully by Too Short. Jay-Skee’s “I-5 South” features some lovely, stirring backup singing by Gina Douglass, and her voice is perfect for the chorus. After Dark was not the last project for this crew. Dee-Lyrious completed a solo CD two years later in 1996. Funk Daddy continued putting out music throughout the ’90s. Crooked Path returned in 1998 with their second album Which Way Is Up on Dogday Records. 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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Listen To The Greg B

In the late 1980’s a DJ named Greg Buren began to emerge as one of the more prominent hip-hop artists in Seattle. He started in a group called The Latin Lovers, and then created a duo with Kid Sensation called 2 Fresh 4 U. After that, he teamed up with a rapper named Willin (Owen McCants) and they they called themselves Ready And Willin. By the early ’90s he was operating at a very high volume, and he dropped two remarkable albums back to back. Buren released a solo tape called Listen To The Greg B in 1992. Two years later, in 1994, his crew Crooked Path featuring himself, Jay-Skee, and Dee-Lyrious released their debut tape titled After Dark.

Listen To The Greg B is a long album, which shows how extremely productive Greg B was during 1991 and 1992. Buren enlists Jay-Skee and DJ Skill for assistance on Listen To The Greg B. Highlight tracks include “Neighborhood Coroner” which narrates a sordid tale about drug addiction and domestic violence seen from the cold medical viewpoint of hospital and morgue staff. The irresistibly slinky “Out To Be Raw” uses a simple, funky bassline that lets the lyrics shine, and “Damn Ney Ruthless” is peppered with a harder street edge than the typical B-Boy aesthetic that Greg B cultivates. “Eat Up A Fat 1” and “1-2 Um Buckle My Shoe” are two highly technical DJ turntablist slideshows that are both lots of fun. They show off Greg B’s love of record scratching and cutting, a technique in which he has tremendous talent. He almost certainly inspired other Seattle DJs to do their own turntable-based projects such as Table Manners 2 by Vitamin D which came out seven years later in 1999.

Not every track is a hit, “Peace C’ya Later” is formulaic and a little predictable as Greg B tells stories of dating women and how he brushes off the ones he doesn’t want to see anymore. “Lil Snitch” borrows a little too heavily from “Five Minutes Of Funk” by Whodini which limits the originality of the track. A similar problem exists in “I’m A Pimp,” which prominently samples Color Me Badd’s “I Wanna Sex You Up” in a manner that is distracting and minimizes the track’s freshness. The album’s strength is the diversity of tempos and variation in beat production from song to song. Each of the tracks feels unique and therefore your ears never get dulled by repetition. Greg B has a wide imagination for sounds and beats thanks to his extensive experience as a party DJ. Shortly after Listen To The Greg B, Buren settled on his new moniker Funk Daddy and has gone on to become one of the most celebrated DJs in Seattle history. Written by Novocaine132

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