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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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Bobby Ro$$

Bobby Ro$$ is a vibe-heavy hustle through the landscape of art, blackness, and self-love. On it, Porter inhabits a trap music avatar of the much-loved PBS painter and uses snippets of interviews with cultural luminaries such as Kara Walker, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Maya Angelou as a narrative lattice to paint himself into the canon of black art. NPR calls him “A skilled rapper and a multimedia threat,” while Respect My Region says that “Perry Porter paints a masterpiece with his latest album.”

Here’s another take:

In their annual year-end critics’ poll, The Seattle Times ranked Bobby Ro$$ as one of the very best Seattle albums of 2019, saying:

Since the breakup of his rowdy mosh-rap group Sleep Steady, Perry Porter has established himself as one of Seattle-Tacoma’s unique talents through infectiously fun hybrid rap/live art shows. The charismatic rapper/painter (or is it painter/rapper?) looks and sounds increasingly comfortable grooving in his own watercolored lane on Bobby Ro$$, which arrived this summer with a track-by-track color wheel guide to match the variegated album’s many moods. The man can still annihilate a trap beat with the best of ’em (see: breathless five-alarm banger “Sink or Swim”) while alternately cooling down with beatific cuts like the closing “Watercolor,” which samples artist Kerry James Marshall discussing the dearth of “self-satisfied” Black people depicted through art. Porter, who often paints vibrant, bright-colored portraits of Black women, is refocusing the narrative while doing equally beautiful things with 808s and acrylics.

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The Town Love Hip-Hop Awards

At the start of January 2019, Crane City Music invited Seattle’s hip-hop community to pick their favorite WA state hip-hop records from the past year in a public vote. A total of 267 records were in contention for the top prize. A total of 5,498 votes were cast. Parisalexa’s Bloom took home the top prize, narrowly beating out Kung Foo Grip’s 2KFG and Travis Thompson’s YOUGOOD?

The top 20 winners were revealed via an elaborate laser show countdown event held in February at the Pacific Science Center Laser Dome in Seattle. The laser show itself was choreographed by Joseph Reid and Gary Campbell. The event opened with a playlist of ’90s Seattle hip-hop and a short tribute to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s legacy and the 30th anniversary of his debut, SWASS.

A 14-minute film was made by Taylor Hart that captures highlights from the night.

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Safe Travels

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Solar Power: New Sounds in Seattle Hip-Hop

From UK music mag The Wire: “Fab comp on fab orange vinyl collating 14 leap-off points from a loose collation of Seattle based hip-hop artists and producers. The musical diversity here is ear-popping, ranging from the glitchy dubhop femme-gospel of DoNormaal and Stas Thee Boss and the electro ferocity of Remember Face to the rain-soaked doleful grooves of Jarv Dee. Crucially, the racial and gender mix ensures that the story told never gets dull; the album chops and changes to give an intriguing portrait of 14 artists you’ve never heard before finding their own ways to chart Seattle life and Seattle strength through hip-hop. Fascinating.”

From Michigan alt-weekly Northern Express: “This compilation, complete with its appropriately solar flare-focused cover art, brings together more than a dozen performers from Seattle’s hip-hop scene on a transparent, vinyl-only collection that gives these impressive artists the flair they deserve. Included here are tracks by Jarv Dee, who throws down an unforgettable remix of “I Just Wanna”; Gifted Gab, who mixes up R&B and late ’80s rap-pop on “Show You Right”; and Sendai Era, whose tropicália-influenced closer is an album standout.”

From Dusty Groove Records in Chicago: “A nice primer on the underground hip-hop scene in Seattle, circa the post-millennium teens! Solar Power doesn’t really set out to round up a succinct snapshot of a particular Seattle style and sound, so much showcase how diverse and distinctive the voices and producers in the city are. This compilation has the potential to survive as a pretty vital time capsule of this era in Seattle hip-hop history. It’s a lot more gender inclusive than many compilations, too, showing that it isn’t just a boy’s club – and tracks includes “Know Better” by New Track City, “Stop Calling My Phone” by Taylar Elizza Beth, “Front Steps” by Raven Hollywood, and more on colored vinyl.”

From Portugal’s Rimas E Batidas hip-hop magazine: “A new hip-hop edition with 14 tracks of emerging talent. Solar energy is the motto given to this compilation: The idea that Seattle stays true to its past while using its own strength as fuel for the change and renovation of its artistic panorama. This sonic self-sufficiency, a unique sonic imprint for the city, recalls the old glory of grunge, but it’s now in rap that this engine lies, emerging from a more underground, carefully manufactured sector, in the cellars and abandoned factories that will thrive there for not much longer. DoNormaal, Astro King Phoenix, Stas Thee Boss, ZELLi or JusMoni give voice to the manifesto of a constantly changing movement across the city.”

From Jet Set Records, in Kyoto, Japan: “Out of the city where Shabazz Palaces, Blue Scholars, Macklemore and Sir Mix-A-Lot made their base and their mark, a 14-song limited-edition compilation on orange vinyl. From emerging label Crane City Music, this one introduces you to the current Seattle hip-hop scene. The musicians explore various experimental styles, ranging from R&B to G-Funk. Seven of the tracks are from women artists. The jacket artwork by Seattle artist Ari Glass is also brilliant along with the content.”

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&

HOME

Bruce Leroy makes ALL CAPS rap. He says as much in one line on HOME, a 2016 release from this Tacoma rapper, a collaboration with producer 1stBorn. Drums on this record are prominent, and often naked, punctuating tracks like exclamation marks. But it’s their smooth, percussive interplay with the verses, especially when Leroy hits the accelerator pedal, kicking his raps into sixth gear… it will leave you completely breathless. Or two minutes into “PREMIUM UNLEADED” when everything flips around and moves backwards. Gorgeous guest verses from Porter Ray, Jarv Dee, Khris P, Phinisey and others. Full confession: More than one smart person DM’d me to say I should write about this album, and let me tell you all those people were damn right. The more I listen to this record, the more there is to love.

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Gab The Most High

This artist needs no intro. I’m assuming y’all already big fans of the self-proclaimed “queen of Seattle,” Gifted Gab. Throughout the year I’ve had love affairs with other records, but it’s Gab The Most High, released in May, that I’ve consistently returned to again and again. Few records have felt so confident, demonstrating such complete command of instruments, writing, rapping, vocal sampling, and on. Gab is a magpie, collecting threads from multiple genres: funk, R&B, and reggae; and then layering in new textures, including showing off a soulful singing voice. The album release party featured a full Motown-style backing band.

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Gab The Most High Swishahouse Remix

I’ll confess that I wasn’t super hip to the whole Screwed and Chopped scene before Gifted Gab started hyping this record and the unique remixing style of DJ Michael “5000” Watts. Starting with Gab’s startlingly great release Gab The Most High, Watts slows down every track by 1/3, and then introduces skips and repeats and scratches. Anyone who knows me already knows how much I love the source material, and here, slowing the music down illuminates the tiny musical details, and the repeats put the focus on the nuances of Gab’s lyrics and wordplay. Listening to these remixes makes me love the original album even more. (And this isn’t just a few tracks—Watts remixed the whole damn album.) This Swishahouse remix confirms Gab’s right to serve as Queen of Seattle. Please give her the Royal Warrant pronto.

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The Alhambra Collabs

The Alhambra Collabs is a 2016 compilation mixtape from Jarv Dee and DJ Rocryte, exclusively streaming on SoundCloud. It collects together a bunch of Jarv’s appearances on other people’s tracks, demonstrating both his dominance on the scene and acting as a who’s who of Seattle hip hop (Featuring Kung Foo Grip, Nacho Picasso, The Physics, Gifted Gab, Katie Kate and many more) Here, Jarv flies in with the superhero verse and is often accompanied by his loyal sidekick, Mary Jane. Rocryte uses his terrific turntablist chops to scratch these tracks into one continuous 45-minute mix. Head over to SoundCloud to hear the magic for yourself.

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The Red Eye Jedi

Today, on the day after the election, we woke up to the crummy and terrifying news of Trump’s victory, and so this morning I’m finding solace in the vibe of Jarv Dee’s latest The Red Eye Jedi, especially the opening songs, “M.I.A.” and “Lay Low” that espouse the virtues of turning off your phone to wait for better news. Thank you Jarv for shining relevant intelligence and humor on this otherwise stupid, dark day. Fav track “Joog Phone” liberally apes a certain Drake Hotline, transmogrifying the source material into an anthem for secret nocturnal hookups. And oh, the many singalong hooks on this record! Singing aloud is supposedly a proven method to feel more positive, so I’m trying it: “Same ol’ bullshit… Something’s gotta give… My day can’t get worse than this.” Stay strong people. There’s lots still to do.

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Friends, Funk & Liquor

There’s an easy, happy vibe that you find in most of the records of Sam Lachow that I just love. Sam’s latest one, Friends, Funk & Liquor, further demonstrates the evolution of his career from young wine to fine port: here are seven slick and stylish songs that slide by in the most satisfying way. Sam is a presence that vibes throughout this record, but he often steps back to give lead mic to one of his many talented contributors, including Ariana DeBoo, Gifted Gab, B. Skeez, and others. Dave B is featured on three tracks here. The third track, “Absolutely” will have you jumping around your living room. This is party music, the sound of hanging out with your friends, and Sam’s many friends and collaborators are featured on the cover. What a party.

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Satellites, Swishers and Spaceships

One of my favorite records from 2015: Go buy yourself a copy of Jarv Dee‘s deeply funny and intensely relevant album Satellites, Swishers and Spaceships. It playfully transfixes right from the operatic overtones of “Amen” to the soulful stylings of “Mary I’m in Love,” with Jarv covering this spectrum with his confident rat-tat-tat flow. I had the honor of hanging with this cat in Alaska–he deserves all your many “text-mail” accolades.

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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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Nation

This looks like a book, but Nation is a 2014 hip-hop CD from the one and only Katie Kate: Right out the gate–starting with short intro track “The Visions”–this album takes you on a synth-heavy electronic cross-country roller-coaster road trip. There’s an otherworldly quality to this music: After a long day at the wheel, you’ve found yourself somewhere in the southwest desert, your car has broken down but you don’t care. It’s night, and there are just so, so many stars overhead. (I have this image in my head whenever I hear “Zombie”) Your guide supplements her supple melodies with a pulse-pounding rap flow, repetitive chanting, and sweet, ethereal singing. (Along the way, listen for guest hitchhikers Nacho Picasso, Jarv Dee and Rik Rude.) This special edition came as a luxe limited-edition 60-page book, with lyrics, writings, and artwork. The whole package was designed by Radjaw and a handful of copies are still for sale on Bandcamp.

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Huckleberry

Huge props to Sam Lachow for his ongoing commitment to promote fellow rappers from the town. His 2013 one-off single, “Young Seattle, Part 2”–featuring a host of local MCs–was my first real introduction to the scene, and I voraciously sought out music by each and every contributor. Huckleberry follows suit, pulling in artists and collaborators on every track. It was funded through Kickstarter, allowing fans to be collaborators of sorts, too. The record itself is a fun collage of introspective, self-referential party rap, with killer pop hooks and top-notch beats. (A special call out to the wild guitar and vocal textures contributed by Maggie Brown.)

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Growing Up In The Future

These dudes need to be heard to be believed, but it’s like being sent back to the great, grim days of Black Moon, Channel Live, and Mobb Deep. Add to that just the right amount of fresh, new school elements. They’re sick, and their recent mention in XXL magazine as “Ones to Watch” is way more than warranted.

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

Kung Foo Grip has graduated from a pair of highly excitable battle rappers to a duo with insight and well-constructed bars. That growth does not preclude Eff is H and Greg Cypher from making some of the most exciting, combustible hip hop in Seattle, however. Growing Up In The Future is the pair coming of age while simultaneously staking claim to being the dopest in their Eastside (Kirkland) environs. “Out Of My Element” is urban/suburban ennui as viewed through the lens of the marginalized youth, and “Tuskegee” is high-strung brag rap featuring Moor Gang’s cleanup hitter Jarv Dee and Brooklyn’s up-and-coming Kris Kasanova.

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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 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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Queen La'Chiefah

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Dopamine

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Kingdom Crumbs

The debut album by Cloud Nice’s Kingdom Crumbs is the long-awaited culmination of the Cloud’s experimental and forward-thinking sound, image, and attitude. Not so much a collection of songs as a loosely-knitted tapestry of impressions, Kingdom Crumb’s debut LP plays like a song-cycle from the Mad Hatter; it is whimsical and random but with elements a little edgy, and sometimes dangerous. Inspired insanity! With songs that rarely stay fixed in place for long, the album constantly morphs from style to style; from sleek, Chic-influenced soul, to ambient, dreamy washes of colorful tonality, to tribal chanting – often within a single song.

Production visionary Tay Sean’s trademark airy synths dominate the mix, accompanied by clean, stuttering beats and lots of reverb. Electronic rhythms and patterns fade in and out, sometimes ending abruptly, sometimes derailing, going where the wind takes them. Emcees Tay Sean, Mikey Nice, Jarv Dee, and Jerm masterfully fit every vibe. With so many talented lyricists it would be hard to keep ego out of the mix, but they do just that, combining their talents in the right way for the betterment of each song and the album as a whole.

With the ever-changing and experimental quality of the record, it comes as no surprise that the three most cohesive (and for lack of a better word, standard) songs are the ones already released as singles: “Pick Both Sides of My Brain” and “The Mezzanine” are two addictive head-nodding, groove-based gems, while “For The Birds” serves as a distilled vision of the album as a whole – sedated and dreamy, with unexpected changes and breakdowns in the music. However, when placed within the maelstrom of sounds that is the Crumbs’ album, these three tracks fit perfectly, bubbling up at just the right moment to link one passage with the next, or to gently wake the listener from a music-induced trance.

As a genre, this record is obviously difficult to classify. Certainly, hip-hop plays a big role – lyricism and stylistic techniques are present, as are the cultural references and the swagger – but other influences are nearly as dominant. Disco and soul play huge parts, and so do late-sixties-era electric jazz of Davis and Hancock. The ambient electronic music of Kraftwerk and Brian Eno can also be heard. Just as evident as the influences is the certainty that this is something entirely new and unheard of, something that might even not have a name yet. So I’ll call it as I see it: this is evolution. Check it and be amazed. This has been my most anticipated record release yet this year. Based on the three singles the Crumbs have released so far, I knew this was some future shit. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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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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Young Seattle

Between 2012 and 2016, musician Sam Lachow created three collaborative short films, each bearing the name “Young Seattle.”

Slightly confusingly, the videos are labeled “Parts 1, 2, and 4.” Part 3 was released as an audio-only track with no video.

Here’s his explanation of the concept: “I make these Young Seattle videos each year simply because I’m a huge fan of all these artists. As a fan, I just thought it’d be badass to put them all on one track. My favorite thing about the Seattle hip-hop scene is that we don’t have any specific sound. There are so many different types of styles in this little city and yet we all fuck with each other. We’re all part of the same culture. It’s fucking cool.”

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Ziplock Hip-Hop

From the ghost of Christmas past–or I guess, 2011–here’s Bad Ass Yellow Boyz‘s debut full length, Ziplock Hip-Hop. This album launched the careers of three local hip-hop legends: Jarv Dee, Nacho Picasso and Steezie NASA. And it’s toe-tappingly good, every song a banger and the verses profane in just the right way: They give off the tough guy stance, but you’re well-aware they’re having a blast making these songs. The hit single “Fast Lane” is the one track you should not miss. Also, great trompe l’oeil cover by Tay Sean.

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Helladope

This week, I’ve been spinning Helladope, a 2010 self-titled sci-fi concept album from Tay Sean and Jerm D. Helladope’s space ambassadors are a funky, musical Bill & Ted, wending their way through an early ’90s action-movie musical landscape, phat synths, treble-positive snares. Throughout their adventure, our duo encounters amazing auditory aliens THEESatisfaction, Jarv Dee, Isabella Du Graf and others. Gorgeous cover art by War.

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

Helladope’s Tay Sean is far too young a cat to be making music with this much soul and expert tribute to the R&B and funk of yesteryear. Still, he accomplished the feat with ease. Along with emcee/vocalist Jerm, Helladope’s debut album offers a fresh take on the P-funk/G-funk rap amalgamation that originated in Southern California in the early ’90s. The sound is updated here with extraterrestrial gimmickry that amuses but isn’t essential to the album’s vibe.

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SeattleCali Fragilistic ExtraHella Dopeness

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

The album equivalent of a 2-0-6 hip-hop house party, by design SeattleCali wasn’t exactly an official debut LP for State of the Artist, but a showcase for much of the talent in the city. The three SOTA emcees were consistently outshone by their guests and a lot of times the lyrics didn’t seem to make any sense. As strictly a party album, however, there wasn’t one better.

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4 The Love of Music

Imagine a family reunion where everyone is there. I mean everyone. That means you get to see grandpa captivate people with his charm and wit, and you can hear a few of the aunts harmonizing a lovely new song they just made up, but you may encounter some not-so politically correct language from certain relatives. 4 The Love Of Music contains 17 tracks from across the family of rap and hip hop in the Emerald City as it existed when this comp was released in 2010. The expert curation by Tendai Maraire places tracks by superstars like (his own band) Shabazz Palaces, Macklemore, and Sir Mix A Lot, alongside offerings by other artists familiar to fans of Seattle hip hop. Thee Satisfaction contributes “Queen Supreme” and The Physics give us “Booe’d Up.” Fresh Espresso’s “Sunglasses On” stands out for its synthwave aesthetic, while “What Up Pimpin” by Draze is impossible to dislike, it’s simple and catchy. Unfortunately, there are too many more artists to name them all, but I must mention “Can’t Stand The Reign” by Mash Hall. Clocking in at five minutes and thirty-six seconds, this track is mysterious and inventive, calling to mind a hallucinatory Harmony Korine movie soundtrack. 4 The Love Of Music is one of the most complete assemblies of Seattle’s diverse rap community, and this compilation is a must-own. (This review was submitted by reader Novocaine132.)

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