A film about Northwest hip-hop from

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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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Hatas All Pause

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

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 1993.

Five 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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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

After Dark

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

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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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

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. The following year in ’93 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 which lets the lyrics shine, and “Damn Ney Ruthless” is peppered with a harder street edge than the typical B-Boy aesthetic which 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 very 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. In fact 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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