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NEWCOMER

This 82-minute feature film is an intimate introduction to Seattle’s vibrant hip-hop underground. It was assembled from hundreds of tiny performance clips—shot for Instagram—into a single, continuous concert mosaic, and stars 93 of the top hip-hop artists from The Town.

Here’s how KEXP describes it in their review: “NEWCOMER stretches the idea of the concert film to an artistic extreme: Sub-minute snippets artfully arranged to resemble a field recording of Seattle’s rap scene, the pieces fractured and pieced back together in a truly engrossing way. The narrative flows through venues like Barboza, Cha Cha Lounge, Vermillion, Lo-Fi, the Showbox, the Crocodile, and dozens more. It’s Khris P pouring Rainier into a Solo cup while he raps; bodies packed into regional landmark ETC Tacoma; SassyBlack improvising a song urging concertgoers to buy her merch; the delightfully awkward dance moves of white people in KEXP’s Gathering Space; Chong the Nomad beatboxing and playing harmonica simultaneously; Bruce Leroy bullying a beat next to the clothing racks at All-Star Vintage; Specswizard rhyming about his first time performing in front of a crowd while standing before The Dark Crystal playing on a projection screen. The film is about the moments we experience—as lovers of live performance—just as much as the performances themselves.”

NEWCOMER was directed by Gary Campbell and was an official selection at the 2020 New York Hip-Hop Film Festival and the 2020 Golden Sneakers International Hip-Hop Film Festival in Hamburg, Germany. Throughout November 2020, the film screened for four weeks on the Northwest Film Forum theatrical screening site in honor of Hip-Hop History Month.

You can watch the full movie below.

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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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Overture To The Unknown

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about sources of energy—those wells from which we draw our creative sparks, and how wherever our top Seattle talents are digging lately is largely unmapped geography. I felt this strangeness with Porter Ray’s Watercolor earlier this year, and this new wavy energy is as good a preamble as any from which to discuss Overture To The Unknown, the brilliant seven-song debut EP from Koga Shabazz. On the first play, this record will strike you as distinctly alien: Distorted voices, beats, and verses that run parallel and not always together—and sometimes in reverse—alongside out-of-place samples that spar with bass notes so low they’re under the floor. And then during the decimating “Ol’ Faith” the drums drop away for a moment, and a clear voice speaks, “This is your conscience calling…” In that moment of waking you realize how much this rich playground has been tapping deep channels in your subconscious, haunting like the cover art. Koga’s wordplay operates like tightly knit Zen koans, unpacked through meditation. This record is a dense trip, and from each subsequent listen you emerge with new truths, and you’re so hungry and so thirsty for them you’ll replay and repeat, and replay again. (Yesterday I listened to this album five times in a row.) “Overture” pushes some of the town’s brightest stars to new heights—Jake Crocker, Gifted Gab, Dave B, Jake One, Max Moodie, Ralph Redmond IV, Vinciboy, and Samsara. You’ve heard little like this from any of them before. Bravo to executive producer Sam Lachow on the assemblage. Find a comfortable chair, fire this up, and be ready to rewire your brain.

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#PrayerHandsEmoji

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SuperSquare

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Punch Drunk

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High & Mighty

The Stranger picked High & Mighty as the very best album of 2013, saying that:

Released on the very last day of October, High & Mighty has three things that make it the top record of the year. First, the production on this album is just solid. From the first track (the darkling “Crime Waves”) to the last (the brilliantly twisted “Sounds Like the Outro”), the music keeps the listener engaged and pleased. High & Mighty does not have a single weak or lazy beat. Second, it has a unified sound that corresponds with reason three: Nacho Picasso’s rap mode. His rhymes pulsate just above the subliminal, often spiral into the surreal and pornographic, are often packed with references to deep and dark parts of popular culture, and imagine a nocturnal 206—a 206 that never sleeps but is also not really awake, existing in the twilight of the two states. High & Mighty is a record Seattle can be proud of.

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP also picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2013,” saying that:

Nacho Picasso branches out sonically on High & Mighty, which makes for his best release since 2011’s For The Glory. Nowhere to be found on H&M are common collaborators Blue Sky Black Death, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the atmosphere is lighter. Here we have out-of-Towners Swish and Swiff D providing gothic, trap-inspired soundscapes, in addition to local heavyweights Vitamin D and Jake One on more densely composed beats.

And of course Nacho, possessor of the most recognizable voice in Seattle right now, is in rare form, laying out his bleak philosophy on life on “Crime Waves”, making (ahem) fowl assertions on the opposite sex on “Duck Tales”, and laying out the skeletons in his closet on the emotionally bare “Alpha Jerk”. In 2012, it was often difficult to see the forest for the trees in Nacho Picasso and BSBD’s collabs: too many clouds shrouding the deeper layers of the rapper’s complex psyche. High & Mighty, though, is a step through the looking glass, lyrically and beat-wise, and it results in a much more intricate picture.

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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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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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Old Fashioned

In 2012 Billy The Fridge dropped his second full album titled Old Fashioned and Seattle was never the same.

At first glance the album is just a sad mockery of an art form that was once based on life-or-death issues in New York City, but this project is infinitely more layered than one might immediately realize. Billy has been trying to meme his way into the public consciousness for a long time. One of his early viral songs was called “Cake Day” based on the Reddit tradition. Billy’s first album in 2009 (Million Dollar Fantasy Freak Show) captured his berserk Biz Markie ‘comedian-of-rap’ quality, but Old Fashioned saw exponential growth in his artistic process.

Fridge created a character who matches the weirdness of Slim Shady, appearing to be in on the joke even despite all the sleaze. It’s a complex performance by a man who mastered kayfabe in semi-pro wrestling for years before turning to rapping. His poetic voice is somewhere between George Carlin and Blowfly.

To be clear, Fridge is no novelty rapper, he is a legit talented rapper who tackles novelty subjects, a distinction that is very important. And his actual voice is no less remarkable, as he manages to frantically spit speedy complex lyrics with the clearest diction this side of the Atlantic.

The listener enters a world narrated by a ghoulish character with a wicked sense of humor. Think Al Yankovich trying to do MC Ren or Geto Boys. Fridge is hardcore, Old Fashioned is not a kid-friendly album, but it sure is immature. Tracks like “Brown Bag,” “8 Ton Gorilla,” and the ridiculous crowd-pleaser sing-along “Dumb” present an artist who creates an ‘insta-vibe’ and makes a song out of it. Many of the tracks are memes of pop-culture properties, for instance, “Workaholic” is not-so-loosely based on the sitcom. “Just A Bill” reimagines Schoolhouse Rock while Fridge lands nuclear punchlines on you like elbow drops. It sounds stupidly simple because it is. Fridge is an internet sensation, and he has a classic rap album. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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The Message E.P.

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Lifemuzik

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2012,” saying that:

Sportn’ Life Records co-founder and OG in the Central District rap game Fleeta Partee (real name, no gimmicks) enlisted the two best area producers for the majority of Lifemuzik, an 8-song EP full of hard-worn street knowledge. Vitamin D lends board work for over half the tracks, his keyboards and drums on “Inception” and “Part of the Game” sounding bigger and deffer than everyone else’s, except for maybe Jake One’s whose “Apathy (No Love)” captures a blues feeling in boom-bap form. As far as the well-traveled Fleeta Partee goes, his free-wheeling, old-school flow rejuvenates rap purists’ earholes the way a pair of fresh laces lends new life to sneakers. Are you feeling bogged down by all the vapid swag excursions through chattering high-hats and cheap synth? Lifemuzik is the remedy.

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Careless

The Stranger selected Careless as one of the “Top 5 Albums of 2012,” saying that:

If you want to see exactly why Vitamin D is this city’s all-time best producer, visit the second track on Pinder’s excellent album Careless. “Pilgrimage” is a perfect piece of 21st-century hip-hop. This is how I hear it: After an oneiric opening, Pinder smoothly slips into the melancholy mood provided by the deep end of the piano and echoed finger snaps. As for the beat, which never rises above the piano, it has the kick of a drum machine but doesn’t feel mechanical. Indeed, one of Vitamin D’s gifts is an ability to make hip­-hop that sounds musical without sacrificing the sample-based feel of hip-hop.

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Tomorrow People

Today is one of those beautiful Seattle days with infinite blue skies and cool breezes, where all you want to do is lay on the grass or drive to the coast with the top down. The perfect accompaniment is The Physics 2012 album Tomorrow People. Contrasting many laptop-produced hip-hop records, here you have a group of musicians riffing and jamming and rapping together. Laid-back, organic, and gorgeous.

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2012,” saying that:

Tomorrow People reaches for a broader context than The Physics’ previous album (last year’s outstanding Love is a Business) without sacrificing any of what makes the group so appealing. Soulful, funky, and beautifully nuanced, TP is 13 tracks of grown-man/woman hip-hop. MCs Thig Nat and Monk Wordsmith are thoughtful, conscious, and raunchy always right when they need to be. And producer Justo and don’t-call-them-back-up singers Malice and Mario Sweet put the finishing touches on each track so they shine at just the right angles. This is a crew with a rare nonchalance that never translates to dull, a sure sign of artists who truly know who they are. There is something for everyone on Tomorrow People. You could play this album for your grandma and she would probably love it, and I mean that in the best way possible.

Similarly, The Stranger selected Tomorrow People as one of the “Top 5 Albums of 2012,” saying that:

“So Funky,” the first track on The Physics’ latest album, Tomorrow People, is, for me, hip-hop in a pure state. It’s spare and it has a big and chunky beat, a raw and rubbery bass, bits of scratching, and no singing or chorus—this is a rapper’s paradise.

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Code Red

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2010,” saying that:

This star-studded EP by Seattle ex-pat J. Pinder had a professional sheen equal to most major label releases. And it was free, to boot. Unsurprisingly, the folks who built the foundation of Code Red are either consummate hip-hop professionals or quickly on their way: Vitamin D, Jake One, and Kuddie Fresh, among others. Pinder’s easy flow and accessible subject matter made this album easy to ride for.

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The Stimulus Package

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2010,” saying that:

At first consideration it seemed strange to include this release featuring an emcee so deeply associated with the city of Philadelphia. Fifty percent of the album artist credit is from Seattle though so how could it be excluded? The obvious truth is Jake One had as much (if not more) to do with the quality of The Stimulus Package as Freeway. Jake has a knack for creating fresh ideas while staying inside the bounds of traditional boom-bap. Stimulus is his best and most cohesive collection of beats, ever.

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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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Ali'Yah

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2009,” saying that:

Ali’Yah represented a shift in tone and lifestyle for Sportn’ Life lead dog, D. Black. A man whose rap career began with aggressive, street-oriented rhyming seems to have made a 180-degree turn. He’s still aggressive and street-oriented but now moving in a different direction, urging his fellow soldiers to step away from the drugs and guns and toward the redeeming light of personal and social responsibility. There was a lot of uplifting hip-hop in Seattle this year and D. Black’s Ali’Yah proudly led the way.

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The Truth

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White Van Music

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Joe Metro

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The Cause & Effect

Today, I’m sharing the history of the 2007 G-Funk debut of D.Black, The Cause & Effect. It dropped descended from a line of hip-hop royalty: The son of James Croone (aka Captain Crunch J Croone) of Emerald Street Boys and Mia Black from Emerald Street Girls. As a youth, D.Black was mentored by Vitamin D, then co-managed by Sir Mix-A-Lot’s manager Ricardo Fraiser and Source of Labor’s J.Moore (RIP).

At age 16, he was a co-founder of legendary Sportn’ Life Records alongside Devon Manier, and a driving force behind one of our town’s most important hip-hop artifacts, the 2003 Sportin’ Life compilation featuring Oldominion, Narcotik, Silent Lambs Project, Frame, and others. The label also launched the careers of Fatal Lucciauno and Spac3eman.

So in the middle of this tornado, 19-year-old D.Black released The Cause & Effect, a debate-ending anvil from a talented prodigy. It features production from hip-hop heavyweights: Bean One, Jake One, Supreme La Rock (as part of The Conmen), Fearce, and Ryan Croone (famous for the funky gangsta sound of Squeek Butty Bug’s excellent Really Cheatin’ from 1997). A bunch of cuts were produced by D.Black himself. Every track oozes confidence and certainty. There are so many gems here.

Like most mid-00 CDs, 19 tracks fill the full 72-minute capacity, and there are features galore from Fatal, Choklate, J. Pinder, Dyme Def, and The Parker Brothaz. This a true Seattle classic available on Spotify and Bandcamp. Go listen today.

Here’s a curious twist to the story: Shortly after releasing this record, D.Black abandoned his gangsta roots and cut ties with this project. Years later, he finally returned to the mic under a new name, Nissim, and a new identity as a black Orthodox Jewish hip-hop artist based in Israel.

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Seattle Producers on Crossfader

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Reprogram

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

Karim, Destro, and DJ Scene are Boom Bap Project, and like Grayskul they’re signed to the Minneapolis-based Rhymesayers label. Reprogram is Boom Bap Project’s first full-length CD, and it was designed not to disappoint. Reprogram is packed with contributions from the best in the local and national scene. It has production work from Seattle’s big three: Jake One, Vitamin D, and Bean One. Mr. Hill and Jumbo the Garbage Man (of Lifesavas) also supplied beats, and Gift of Gab (Blackalicious) and Rakaa Iriscience (Dilated Peoples) supplied raps. This record serves as a model for the kind of hip-hop professionalism and ambition that can open the wide world to our mid-sized city.

Boom Bap Project released a fantastic track on Reprogram that exactly compressed a city’s dominant economic mode into a pure code of soul. The track is called “Reprogram,” it was produced by the king of local beat designers, Vitamin D, and brings near-perfect expression to an age, a city that’s dominated by software programmers. (L.A.’s Styles of Beyond have done something similar with their city, by making hip-hop that sounds like big-budget movies.) The music on “Reprogram” is slightly melancholy, melodic, with sound effects that imagine the experience of being inside the World Wide Web, and raps that demand, by reprogramming, the transformation of software consumers into revolutionary subjects. “Reprogram” is the crowning achievement of this album.

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Tale Of The Tape

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No Good

Seattle hip-hop renaissance man Vitamin D put out this lone 12″ on Rhymesayers back in 2003. Handling beats, rhymes, and scratches, Vita brought an updated sound to his murky, stoned production work that was Tribal’s signature. Cleaned up and jazzy, with thinly sliced guitar samples, vintage dialogue, and spare percussion, this release takes a few steps towards Madlib’s sonic territory. The title track is all Vita, while the B-Side, “Touch Da Sky” has a guest appearance by Sinsemilla’s H-Bomb. The bonus joint, “Enstramental”, is produced by Jake One. This 12″ was to be the leadoff in Vita’s illustrious career on Rhymesayers, but unfortunately, nothing more came of it. Their loss. I believe other tracks from these sessions eventually surfaced on his free Bornday EP from 2010. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Circumstance Dictates

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The Trade

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Sedated Thoughts

From 2000, this is the sophomore 12″ by Seattle emcee Nomad da Nomadic. This is one of my personal favorites in the 206 section. Nomad is a Northwest cat through and through–his flow is heavy-footed and grimey, and the top-notch beats on these three tracks (by Jake One, Bean One, and Proh Mic) are mid-tempo, dusty, and rough.

There are no tricks here. No ironic raps in double-time, no clever pop-culture samples, no guests emcees to dilute what he has to say. Nomad delivers his message straight to your head in plain language. This release sums up what I love about the old-school Northwest scene: In an era of hip-hop known for its unchecked expansion and wild experimentation, this record remains understated, direct, and wholly refreshing because of it. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Table Manners 2

Last weekend I was thrilled to pick up a copy of Vitamin D’s Table Manners 2 on wax at The Big Dig event at Vermillion. Here’s a truly unique gem in the long canon of Seattle hip-hop: It’s from 1999 and it plays like one long, uninterrupted 45-minute jam, Vita on the decks sampling and scratching his way through the crates, while a revolving door of late-90s emcees takes turns freestylin’ over top. (Are there any other Seattle hip-hop record so devoted to the art of Turntablism?) Many of the Tribal gang are featured on this record: Samson S, Silas Black, B-Self, H Bomb, Wordsayer J. Moore, and there’s even a short segment of rival scratching, called “Jake’s Breaks,” starting Tuxedo’s Jake One. Table Manners 2 is such a fun record from start to finish. It’s easygoing and raw and loose. You feel like you’re in the studio, hanging out with our Town’s top talent at the turn of the millennium. Local music rag The Rocket said this album “breathes new life into classic breaks like the Headhunters and Kool & The Gang, and still manages to mix it up with lesser-known gems for the record nerds… featuring guest MCs busting over the breaks.” In their review, The Stranger described Vita as “a compulsive scratcher who is inclined to funk and soul beats… Table Manners 2 is like being taken for a wondrous tour through a museum of sounds.” This record is a uniquely rare treasure in the lineage, and everyone should own a copy. It’s a joy from start to finish.

Here’s another take:

Table Manners 2 is a NW classic: One of the few examples of exemplary turntablism to come from Seattle. It’s a Robin Williams-style “come into my mind” for local hip-hop legend Vitamin D. Vitamin invites the listeners to get on a roller coaster full of old soul, jazz, and funk breaks. Table Manners 2 is a history lesson with dozens of classic musical arrangements from every decade flawlessly woven together by a hip-hop-scratching real-live human DJ. Mixed throughout the melodies are several freestyles from local Seattle rappers such as Samson S, B-Self, and the true legend: Wordsayer from Source of Labor. Vitamin has an encyclopedic knowledge of breaks and the history of hip-hop sampling, which makes this record such a fun listen. He knows just which parts of the track to use in order to let the famous sample sneak up on you. If you want to get a picture of what it looks like inside Vitamin D’s head, all you have to do is pick up a copy of Table Manners 2 and you can find out. It’s a pretty cool place. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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No Introduction

A classic among classics… Here’s Jake One (featuring Kutfather)’s iconic 12″ No Introduction from Conception Records back in 1998. The A-side features Jake’s signature production: a driving, airy, infectious loop over a minimal, but effective beat. The side B is no less head-nodding with a smooth, subdued remix. The final track, “One Man Band”, shows off Jake’s formidable beat-making and chopping skills. Even back in ’98, he had the gift. Conception released some of the illest Northwest hip-hop, both past and present, and this 12″ ranks at the top. Just as notably, this slab of wax shows what an accomplished beatsmith Jake was even before he became an industry name. Crucial sides from Conception. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Neva Scared

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Walkman Rotation

Conception Records was founded in Seattle in 1993 by Sureshot and Mr. Supreme, two enterprising DJs who also performed locally in their band Sharpshooters. Over the next three years, Sharpshooters dropped a couple of projects on Conception, each of which is now certified holy grail status. Then in 97/98, the label flooded Seattle with a ton of banging new hip-hop singles. Walkman Rotation is basically a Conception records compilation that contains the best tracks from that era. Hearing them all together is such a valuable resource and this comp gives the listener instant access to that time period. Jake One and Supreme made most of the beats, and the sound is slow, blunted, and totally addicting. Highlights include “Any Last Words” by Supreme, “Essay On Pseudoism” by Jake One feat. Arcee, and “My Position” by Eclipse. There are two Conmen (Supreme & Jake One) instrumental beats here as a bonus so all you aspiring MCs can practice at home. Walkman Rotation has aged into the 21st century like a fine wine. This is a 206 classic! (Written by Novocaine132.)

Here’s another take:

Ranked right up there, this fantastic ’98 compilation from Seattle’s Conception Records got dubbed to TDK on the first listen, and then that tape LIVED in my tape deck for months. It’s a dope collection of all-Conception artists, many of them from the Northwest, but also featuring cats from places as diverse as Cali, Ohio, and Canada. Producers Jake One and Mr. Supreme pretty much set the screw-faced theme and run the show here, concocting their signature blunted urban atmospherics. As beatmakers go, I always thought these two worked incredibly well together – their beats quite often were placed on opposite sides of the vinyl from one another, creating two distinct, yet complementary moods. It’s one of the reasons Conception wax was always such a pleasure to hear; they were more than just singles–they were cohesive and complete documents, thanks to the ebb and flow Jake and Supreme set down. Another reason for Conception’s greatness, obviously, was the amazing lyrical talent. I swear, there wasn’t a weak verse in their entire catalog. This comp features many of the dopest tracks from Conception’s short-lived output. Fourfifths, Kutfather, Arcee, Eclipse, Third Degree, and Samson represent vocally with tracks off of their various 12″s, with outside production by Samson & Swift on their track and MoSS one of Eclipse’s tracks. In addition, there is exclusive output on this comp from J-Rocc, Diamond Mercenaries, Jake One, 3D, and Arcee. It’s more than just an overview of the label, it’s crucial listening. Period. The CD version was given the Beat Junky treatment, with J-Rocc providing the tracks in mixed form, keeping shit funky. The vinyl comes unmixed, so you can hear each track in its complete form. Listening to it as I write, it’s still as mind-blowing and groovy as it was when I first heard it. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Block Drama

In 1997, when Block Drama hit the streets, all signs pointed to rap group Diamond Mercenaries being the next big thing from Seattle. The hip-hop duo of Black Star and 3D took their name from a 1976 heist film starring Peter Fonda and OJ Simpson. “Introducing brand new casting on your block,” is how the track begins, with a banging beat courtesy of hot new producer Jake One (appearing for the first time on vinyl) and based off a sample from Seattle royalty Quincy Jones. The thought-provoking verses that follow cover quick money made, making deals, street survival strategies… “Crime’s my only topic.” The vinyl-only “Block Drama” single was the seventh release from hip indie label Conception, founded only a few years earlier by superstar DJ Supreme La Rock, Shane Hunt, and The Flavor’s Strath Shepard. And yet… Despite much promise, heaps of praise from critics and DJs, and a rumored full-length album recorded and ready, Diamond Mercenaries only ever released this single and a couple of other standalone songs, none of which are available online today. Conception folded not long after and that album never materialized. Diamond Mercenaries blazed bright like a match for only a moment in time. In an interview in The Rocket, Black Star says, “If we get on TV, that’s cool and all, but I ain’t doing it to get on a video. I ain’t doing it to flash gold and diamond rings and all that. I’m doing this to make y’all rock. That’s what I love to do.”

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Earth Wind & Fire

From ’97, here is the lone single by Cuneiform and Sub-Zero (AKA Trust and Nickle Slick, at least according to the interwebs), collectively known as Fourfifths. I’m not sure where these cats are from, but this release was on Mr. Supreme’s Conception Records, so the chances are they were Seattle emcees.

Side A contains the Remix of “Earth, Wind & Fire,” with an early production effort by Jake One. Side B has the original version of “Earth” as well as “The Science,” both by Supreme. I’m struck by how different the two versions of “Earth Wind & Fire” are from one another. Jake One’s beat gives the track a slinky, nocturnal, and dangerous vibe, while Mr. Supreme’s trademark penchant for melancholia turns the song into a world-weary grind. Oddly enough, Supreme’s beat totally wins out. (In fact, I think it’s one of the best cuts he’s ever done.) It’s an infectious and beautiful track with a melody that sticks with you.

Apart from this 12″, Fourfifths can also be heard on two of the best tracks from the Sharpshooters’ Choked Up (“Analyze” and “Trust No One”). It’s a shame that they didn’t go further, because as their slender output attests, they were heat. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Better Days

This three-song EP from Third Degree was recorded at both Audio Genesis and Mr. Supreme’s Wax Museum in Seattle, WA. I wish I had more insight into MC Third Degree, but this guy has flown under my radar since I first heard this back in ’98. He name-checks Seattle, South Carolina, LA, and a few other spots along the way. I don’t think he ever released anything else, but then again, maybe he did. Yep. I know nothing. In usual Conception fashion, Mr. Supreme provides the beat for the excellent “Better Days”, while Jake One handles production duties for the flipside (“Uprising”). Third Degree definitely broadcasts his influences in his delivery (think Smif N Wessun), and Jake and Supreme cater their beats to fit. Actually, listening to Supreme’s music you can tell he’s a big fan of Boot Camp as well. In any case, the record is dope: This is timboot-stomping and infectious music. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Choked Up

Here is an entirely terrific album of grooved beats, laidback flows, judiciously selected samples (lots of funky jazz), and first-rate production. The fact that it’s by two locals–Mr. Supreme and Sureshot–means a modern hip-hop collection that it’s the first album to offer the full scope of a Seattle hip-hop band over the course of an entire LP. instead of a narrow glimpse, like those offered on recent Seattle hip-hop comps 14 Fathoms Deep and Do the Math.

Choked Up starts with an absolute wallop as “Lifted,” an organ vamp with a beat, intros the LP. The first real song, “Heavyweight,” features a fat, acid jazz horn chart squatting on top of strong percussion. There’s a taste of entirely palatable turntable work as the first impression hits like a bolt from the blue: Could this be jazz and hip-hop? Could this be really, really good jazzy hip-hop?

The third track establishes the legitimacy of Sharpshooters. They begin with “Analyze,” a drifting, underwater beat just long enough to set the stage for the boss rhymes of Trust (The Soul Trooper). At this point, the album is about perfect. Three fat tracks, not a dud. When Trust drops a thoroughly chilled line about our favorite hoops team, it seems just like hip hop heaven.

The LP rolls, moving easily forward instrumentals dovetailed perfectly wh the raps. The beats are brisk, the horns well-tempered, the flows right on production huge, and the guest appearances (Kylea, Wordsayer, and Mad Fanatic) add to the album while not subtracting from the band.

Presently, there is a load of overhyped hip-hop from which to choose. Much of it, especially from the big-name, big-image rappers, doesn’t measure up. This record delivers. The fact that they’re local and sending shoutouts all over town is just gravy. (This review originally appeared in The Rocket and was written by S. Duda.)

Here’s another take:

Choked Up was originally released on Conception Records and later reissued on New York-based Shadow Records. In the time they were around, Shadow managed to introduce some of the most memorable and enduring acid jazz records to the American audience. DJ Krush had his American debut with his album Krush, as did DJ Cam’s Mad Blunted Jazz. Funki Porcini, 9 Lazy 9, Dj Food, and Up, Bustle, and Out were just a few other notable names on Shadow’s roster. Shadow was distinctive and catered to a specific audience who was into trendy, late-90’s trip-hop and acid jazz. Although the Sharpshooters were a Northwest group, I probably wouldn’t have known about them if they hadn’t been part of the Shadow Records family… Even if I did live in the same city as them.

The Sharpshooters were a duo consisting of Seattle producers Mr. Supreme and DJ Sureshot. Supreme distributed their work on his own indie hip-hop label, Conception Records. And, although they were local, Conception at that time was just starting and had some steam to build still. So, it was through a distribution deal with a label that specialized in waking up American audiences to foreign artists that I heard about a group and label that lived a couple of miles from me. Their sophomore release, Choked Up, is a cool, blunted slab of jazzy hip-hop. Flutes, saxes, and vibes dominate the mix as much as the drum loops do, creating a smoky blend of coffee-house jazz hop. Vocal guests including Four Fifths, Mad Fanatic, and Kylea from Beyond Reality add flavor to a few select tracks.

I have an idea. Do yourself a favor; save this record for the summer. Put this on a playlist along with other like-minded albums of the time (Krush’s self-titled record, Digable Planets’ Blowout Comb, and Guru’s Jazzmatazz vol.2 are good recommendations). Find something pretty to look at. Then sit back in the evening, let the records play, and see where you go. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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