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The Residency Presents: The Town

In the early weeks of the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic, when the music scene was knocked sideways by the cancellation of live concerts and “stay-at-home” orders came into effect, Macklemore’s The Residency and Crane City Music organized an hourlong cross-generational Zoom conversation between some of the biggest-ever hip-hop artists from Seattle’s past and present. The event was hosted by Town legend Jace.

Each of the participants was invited to offer up their individual perspectives about the past, present, and future of Northwest hip-hop, as well as talk about how the pandemic was personally affecting them and their music. At one point, Sir Mix-A-Lot says he hopes Seattle’s up-and-comers will “get on my shoulders and jump!”

The event was streamed live on April 18, 2020.

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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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All Your Friend's Friends

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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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50 Next: Seattle Hip-Hop Worldwide

50 Next: Seattle Hip-Hop Worldwide drops you into a literal roundtable conversation between Town legends old and young. James Croone of The Emerald Street Boys tells the story of discovering how “poetry on top of music” could carry a message. Spyc-E shares how she first learned to write rap verses, at age 11, and is kindly teased by the group into performing her first-ever childhood rhymes. Later, Khingz thanks Vitamin D for mentoring him early in his career, and for how it helped him achieve his own success. This half-hour documentary captures several charming, rambling discussions about the long history of Northwest rap. The whole thing is a delight.

Eazeman from ’90s group L.S.R. reflects on how major-label rejection shaped the scene early, saying “If you don’t want to show us for who we really are, then we don’t need you. We’re going to make our own party.” Rapper Candidit adds, “Don’t come if you’re not prepared.”

The group passionately rails against the evils of what they describe as “capitalist hip-hop,” which divides communities and makes local artists into commodities to be bought and sold. There’s a need today for more love and mutual respect and not so much focus on money and fame and numbers. Instead, they explain how everyone making art in the Northwest has a responsibility to fight back against the mainstream, “intended to pacify society” adds CPS da Scientist. Rapper DICE encourages artists to follow their imagination, saying “who cares what is new and cool now. Figure out what it’s going to be cool next, and then be the first to do it.”

50 Next was released as part of a larger online interactive experience by Aaron Walker-Loud and Avi Loud, “a multi-media time capsule of what was, what is, and what’s next…” The whole project is still online and is viewable here.

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High Rhymes Smoking Jackets

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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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Town Biz Mixtape

No list of essential Seattle hip-hop compilations would be complete without the inclusion of Jake One’s 27-track opus, the Town Biz Mixtape. He dug deep into the crates, surfacing lost hits, deep cuts, and the finest local hip-hop spanning more than 20 years. (From 1989 to 2010, when this CD was released.)

The mixtape is an essential playlist that surfaces forgotten gems and unexpected bangers. My favorite track here is Vitamin D’s “Who That??” feat. The Note (from Narcotik), but there are so, so many solid tracks. Everyone’s on this, from Blind Council to Mash Hall, The Physics, Tay Sean, J. Pinder, and Shabazz Palaces. Listening to Town Biz will leave you realizing how blessed we are to have so much musical talent in our own backyard. But we knew that already, didn’t we? Thanks to Jake One for compiling this so we can spin it on a sunny summer afternoon and feel hella proud.

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Red Scribe Pages

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Evolution of Hip-Hop

In 2004, Seattle’s hip-hop scene was in transition. Enter Tendai Maraire of the group C.A.V.E’. which had recorded their album Holy Haters a few years prior in 2000. Tendai, a virtuoso musician who would later join with Ishmael Butler to create Shabazz Palaces, looked around Seattle, pulled fifteen tracks from fifteen different DJs and MCs, and combined them into this amazing compilation.

Evolution Of Hip Hop is an unfiltered look at Seattle’s diverse hip-hop community in the mid-2000s, and the music is top-notch. Ghetto Chilldren’s track “Young Tender” shows how good Vitamin and B-Self are at breaking words down to their syllables and rearranging them into a roller coaster of inflection. “Peaches and Cream” by Merm and Mal snaps the funk so hard that it was also included on the Town Biz mixtape six years later. In a nod to hip hop DJ culture, there are DJ-only tracks by Funk Daddy, Topspin, and DV One, three of Seattle’s veteran party and club entertainers.

Evolution Of Hip Hop has so many great artists that it’s hard to believe. With names like Candidt, E-Dawg, Jace and Blak, Boom Bap Project, Skuntdunanna, and many others, there is something for every possible listener. “Yeah Yeah Baby” by C.A.V.E. is one of the most blazing tracks on the whole project, careening like a car chase loaded with drama.

When compilations are at their best, they can capture a moment in time like a Polaroid. Evolution Of Hip Hop allows you to see through the camera from the point of view of a young Tendai Maraire. Push the button! (Written by Novocaine132.)

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H.O.R.

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Soul Liquor

I always thought that if this album dropped in any other city it would have been a huge, huge hit. Likewise, if it had dropped a couple of years after its release. But in 2000, Seattle was still off the hip-hop radar, and The Silent Lambs Project (Jace and Blak) was unfortunately just too far ahead of their time.

You can hear their voices on the early Seattle compilations, over the grey, murky, rainy musical backdrop, but when they joined forces as The Silent Lambs, they took that bleak, damp atmosphere to a whole new level.

Soul Liquor is a dark album. Dark and ominous. Jace’s rhymes are sedated and deadpan like he hasn’t seen the sun in months, while Blak’s deep-bass voice growls and stutters on the offbeat like some sick troll under a bridge.

Producer King Otto (along with Mr. Hill and Bean One) provides the perfect sonic backdrop. Listen to the string section straining for a resolution that never comes on “H.O.R.”, or the disjointed piano loop from “Original Conviction.” Or the empty, cave-like quality of the live cuts. This is a dark record.

Whereas Seattle compatriots Oldominion tend to glorify and romanticize the dark side of existence, The Silent Lambs give it to you straight. There’s no glorification here. Every metaphor is spoken in a monotone, like a grocery list, making the blasted aural landscape even bleaker. So I guess this album wouldn’t have been a hit in another city, as it is so definitely a Northwest record. And if it had come out later, it might have just been dismissed as another act cashing in on the “Northwest Sound” credited to Oldominion. It’s too bad because The Silent Lambs Project deserves to be recognized as one of the great inspirational acts in the underground hip-hop constellation. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Comrade

Most people ’round these parts don’t know it, but Washington ranked right behind New York and California on the list of most-prolific states for underground hip-hop releases in 1998. True, most rap fans probably couldn’t name three or four Northwest groups to save their lives (Mix-A-Lot doesn’t count, dude), but we’re coming up, slowly but surely, building a track record with consistently good releases and the label infrastructure to support.

One such label is Olympia’s own K Records, which, along with Impact Entertainment, has dropped critically acclaimed releases from Black Anger, Bedroom Produksionz, and a whole slew of Northwest talent on the 1998 compilation, Classic Elements.

The Silent Lambs Project represents a collaboration between MCs Blak (of Blind Council) and Jace. The duo’s abstract lyrical style is fueled by production from DJ Sayeed, Mr. Supreme, King Otto, and Specs. Though the songs all stand out as individuals, “No J.R.,” “Stand Over Him” and “S.L. Shit” particularly beg to be blended into a soundtrack for your walk through the streets as gray clouds loom ominously overhead.

“Comrade” is the EP’s single, featuring guest vocals from Kendo of Black Anger and a mellow, CTI Jazz-sounding flute loop courtesy of DJ Sayeed. But the stand-out cut of the record is “Paid Poet,” produced by the Northwest’s most underrated beat miner, King Otto. Given a little more bounce and bassline, Otto’s work here could easily transform into mundane jigginess for some type-shallow MC to spit over. Lucky for us, he keeps it more mysterious, presenting a nice complement to Blak’s sedately frenetic flows.

All in all, Comrade is a very Northwest-sounding record. Who knows if the rest of the world can identify with those rain clouds overhead? As long as you have your soundtrack, it really doesn’t matter. Pop the Silent Lambs’ joint in your Walkman and leave your umbrella at home. (This review originally appeared in The Rocket and was written by Strath Shepard.)

Here’s another take:

Few acts come out the gate as strong as The Silent Lambs Project did here. This debut EP from 1998, with the signature abstract, cerebral, and head-scratching poetry from Jace and Blak, devastates from beginning to end. But nothing less should be expected from this duo.

In 1998, both lyricists were veterans of the scene: Jace as a part of Fourth Party, and Silas holding it down in Blind Council. But listening to this release, you’d think they’d been in the same group forever. Both are foils to the other: Blak’s delivery is edgy and filled with tension, while Jace’s floats smoothly and effortlessly over the beat. The two deliver perfection like yin and yang.

Joining them on the various tracks are some of Seattle’s top producers: DJ Sayeed from Black Anger/Bedroom Produksionz provides the title track and “SL Shit”, King Otto’s on deck for “Paid Poet”, Mr. Supreme from the Conmen shows up for “No J R”, and SpecsOne produced “Stand Over Him”. Kendo from Black Anger also shows up on the title track, “Comrade.” (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Classic Elements

Classic Elements was released by Olympia’s K Records in 1998. It contains tracks by sixteen Northwest hip hop artists, including some certified legends. The lyrics are consistently excellent throughout the compilation. These are songs for the mind, and many are vignettes in the true sense of the word, a good example being the captivating saga contained in “A.N.I.T.A.” by Nobody. The production on Classic Elements glows softly like a vintage Edison light bulb. DJ Sayeed (Black Anger) and Brian Weber (Dub Narcotic) both play a large role in shaping the sound of this compilation. Mr. Supreme drops a sublime Twin-Peaks-esque beat for Jace on “What’s Ya Definition,” and Topspin captures a tempest in a teapot with his beat for “Sleep” by Sinsemilla. Every track on this compilation is a genuine artistic expression, and that carries some risk because the performers put their feelings out on display which renders them vulnerable to misunderstanding, or worse, indifference. One of the highlights is “Hip Hop Was” by Ghetto Chilldren, which shines with professional polish among some of the dustier tracks. When you include a track by Source of Labor with Beyond Reality, “Aunt Anna,” and a couple of underground heat rocks from Silas Blak, “Only When I’m High,” and “Blak And Blind,” there’s every reason to make sure this compilation is part of your music collection. (Written by Novocaine132.)

Here’s another take:

Like the four leaves on a lucky clover, four ’90s era Seattle compilations showcase the diverse hip-hop collectives in Washington State and with them your windfall of sounds and explorations: Do The Math, 14 Fathoms Deep, Walkman Rotation, and here, Classic Elements (co-released by Impact Entertainment and K Records). Back then getting the handful of cassettes and comps was a great thrill, and the Seattle area offered up the best. Classic Elements was released at a time when the main place to hear local hip-hop was on the street at Westlake Center or on KCMU’s Rap Attack. Like the title, the classics here are Ghetto Chilldren, Source Of Labor, Black Anger, and Tilson, all offering hits that transcend national radio rap and bring a better class of words and thoughts. Some groups won’t be found outside of this collection – Nobody, Jaleel, 5E, Ski, and Arson have songs that play smooth and timeless. Classic Elements is as relevant today as it was twenty-some years ago. Released on cassette, CD, and on an abbreviated LP – Find it, get it. Good! (This review was submitted by reader Brett Sandstrom.)

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14 Fathoms Deep

Exponential growth, part one: Woman gives herself a home permanent. Her hair looks so good that she tells two friends, and they tell two friends, and so on…

Exponential growth, part two: Andre “Dr. Dre” Young gets on with NWA, and goes on to make some of the best beats ever produced. On Dre’s Deep Cover track he employed the velvet-tongued Snoop, who hasn’t looked back since beginning his pursuit of Death Row domination. Once Snoop hit platinum status, he was quick to put Daz and Kurupt on a disc, and from there forward those two certainly haven’t done too shabbily. The point is this: Every artist has friends they want to help out once they themselves have safely achieved success.

Keeping this in mind, it is with eager anticipation that I await the exponential growth of Seattle’s rap/hip-hop scene following the long-coming release of the new Loosegroove compilation, 14 Fathoms Deep. This record is so heavy it could hang with Tad. Let’s face it: Its weight is just plain ridiculous. This is the kind of music that could inspire 14 empires, build 14 record labels, or, at the very least, boost 14 of Seattle’s hip-hop groups a little bit closer to well-deserved fame and fortune.

Allow me to break it down track by ahead-of-its-time track. Sinsemilla contributes the perfect opener for the compilation, a scherzando club track titled “Drastic Measures.” Verbal twists like, “Down with a criminal Jill we Jack together” can and will get you open extra wide. Next, 22nd Precinct barges in with the unruly honesty of “Great Outdoors”: “It’s a pity the way the city treats the poor” had me thinking of the forgotten and misplaced, huddling over downtown Seattle’s iron steam grates.

“Official Members” by Mad Fanatic (featuring Raychyld) will definitely catch you rewinding. It’s slow and hypnotic, and lyrics like “My rhyme’s deep in the dirt/ Worms can’t find it” beg to be heard twice. DMS furthers the slow groove on “Keep Da Change,” but spiky attitude is the key here: “The six is in the mix so domino motherfucker” rides a keyboard-funk beat.

A powerhouse Source of Labor dazzles with their track, “Cornbread.” It’s all about musical subtlety when lines like “How can you claim to be an MC/When an MC’s what you just can’t be/ You can’t be an MC and not freestyling” make the point undeniable. Ghetto Chilldren get their OJ on with “Court’s in Session,” and Pulp Fiction’s most enduring catchphrase becomes Forrest Gump’s threat to “get medieval on your buttocks.” The sparest of basslines and flute notes flutter prettily behind harsh words like “You stand accused of being wack in the first degree/ Premeditating slang terms for your hardcore soliloquies.” “All Up in the Mix” by Narcotik opens with the most breathtaking sample on 14 Fathoms Deep (“The 206 is in my mix”). The rhyme proceeds to kick some street philosophy with plenty of drinking and smoking thrown in for good measure.

Beginning vinyl side three is Jace (featuring Dionna), with “Ghetto Star.” Its catchy chorus and storyline lyrics ensure this track will be engraved front-and-center in your brain for weeks to come. Beyond Reality–who are listed on the album as Kylin–brings on the spirit of the Jasiri Media Group with their track “Can.” “Let me take your mind on a little mental journey,” invites lead MC Kylea. For the most metaphors per line, look for “Higher Places” by Prose & Concepts, a group that falls into the “survival of the fattest” category.

“Insomniack Museick” by NS of the O.N.E Corporation is probably the moodiest track on the compilation. Dark clouds of drifting keyboards become still more ominous layered behind introspective lyrics such as “Sometimes I’d even trade a nightmare/ Just for 50 winks.” The beat on “Interrogation” by Blind Council bubbles like the scuba gear on the compilation’s cover, and the rhyme is strictly for the connoisseurs out there. Union of Opposites (featuring Shonuph) put down a forward-moving track titled “Continuations”-its relay-style chorus is as fresh as the verses, and the melodic tone moves the disc into another direction entirely. “Wipe off the dust from your mind and recline in my oration.” It’s at once relaxing and educating.

The last cut, also by far the longest, is the most difficult to categorize. The group is the Crew Clockwise and their song, titled “A New Day,” is a heady mix of the many styles showcased on 14 Fathoms Deep. Now I know what Specs meant on Do the Math when he said, “Soon to hit wax I can’t wait.”

So now you know the deal. When these groups start putting their friends on future projects, it may mean more than some heads can handle. 14 Fathoms Deep is not just another hip-hop compilation. In actuality, it’s a promise of even lovelier things to come. Instead of talking about how materialistic and useless today’s rap is, these 14 groups are doing something positive and proactive. Rap music is not dead. Seattle has the Phoenix in the mix. (This review originally appeared in The Stranger in 1997 and was written by Novocaine132.)

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