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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 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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Sweet To Me

The Seattle Times describes Sweet To Me, the third release from JusMoni, as “cerebral headphone escape, easier than hopping in a sensory deprivation tank… an aural candlelight massage after a joint and a glass of red.” ETC Tacoma, who hosted this album’s release event, say that seeing JusMoni perform is like “sprinkling blessings over listeners with every note.” KEXP adds to the praise, expressing that “her music constantly explores the boundaries of R&B and soul music, touching upon motherhood, spiritual transformation, the blood’s memory, and family tradition.”

Here’s another take:

In their annual year-end critics’ poll, The Seattle Times ranked Sweet To Me as one of the very best Seattle albums of 2018, saying:

Electro-soul singer Moni Tep steps out with this dreamy 10-song set that plays like an enveloping love meditation. Hypnotic, slow-rolling beats provide the perfect canvas for the Black Constellation affiliate’s swirling melodies that seemingly hang in midair. As soothing as a candlelight massage, Tep enchantingly layers her reverbed vocals on “Linked In” — an album highlight about the forces of attraction — before stacking them even higher on the sultry “Watching Planes.”

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Watercolor

Someone said the slow-burn groove of Porter Ray’s 2017 Sub Pop release, Watercolor was “decidedly wavy.” It’s a good descriptor of the push-pull forces at work here: just as songs begin to take off, they slow down again. It’s this ongoing tension that makes the record so fascinating and so perplexing.

This is headphone music, demanding your attention, full of hushed lyrics, buried voices under the verses, mumbles deep in the mix, and smooth ass bass lines. (Shout out to BRoc on the production.)

I’m a huge fan of Porter’s back catalog of mixtapes, but even then, it took me a dozen listens to make sense of this 18-track double vinyl. We live in a time of five-second sound bites and snap judgments, and this record defiantly rejects both. It builds slowly. It demands investment and patience.

Watercolor starts to kick into gear around track 4, “Past Life” (feat. Ca$htro), before easing down again into an instrumental interlude.

Watercolor slowly primes you to achieve that moment where you’re ready to receive bold truths. This record is musical yoga, held in stasis, where the smallest movements are rendered epic, practice through repetition, recurring themes, and verses throughout multiple songs and MCs. Just breathe. Those bangers come later: “Lightro,” “Beautiful,” “Sacred Geometry”—all on the latter half of the record—deliver in spades. The longer you spend in this dream space, the deeper the dream goes. Lay in corpse pose. It’ll come to you.

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S'WOMEN

Stas Thee Boss subtitles this record, “An aquatic explanation of failed female companionships.” Pitchfork described it as “a collection of innuendos that deliver bravado and honesty with ease.” Regardless what you call ’em, there are 11 terrific tracks here, the sum too short at 23 minutes total running time.

Most songs are dense 120-second pops. French chefs have a name for their tiny, tasty morsels: “amuse-bouche” or “entertaining to the mouth.” Let’s call these songs “amuse-oreille” because they greatly entertain the ears, like little explosions of audio delights.

Back in September, I was talking with Stas outside a party and she said this record is made from “hella samples” and that for her, samples contain life and soul.

In each track, the individual elements breathe at their own pace. Songs slowly coalesce as though you were half-listening to multiple stories all at once… When magically their grooves transfixingly lockstep. I wonder if this is a reflection of Stas’s prolific DJ life, always queuing up a new joint while the current one shakes the speakers.

On December 21, Erykah Badu quoted this memorable verse from “Tried It” to her 2.6 million Instagram followers: “How you got the sage and the incense, but still got the rage in your intent?” These are songs you can listen to 10 or 20 times through and still hear something new. That’s the beauty of breath, and of samples that have souls.

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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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Girlz With Gunz

Girlz With Gunz is the second album from Shabazz Palaces side-project Chimurenga Renaissance. This is hip-hop unlike much else: Songs built up from dense layers of African instruments and shimmering guitars, then broken down and then built back up again. Sometimes this happens more than once. For a group named after Zimbabwe’s revolutionary struggle, Girlz is an incredibly joyous record—a celebration of the bawdy, brash and cheerful women who fought for independence. Mirroring this theme, male vocals from Tendai Maraire often hand the mic to contributions from a few of Seattle’s finest female voices: Nyoka, JusMoni, Moon and SassyBlack. This release is a slow burn… with every spin it reveals further secrets. My current fav track is “Prepare To Shoot,” but it changes with every listen.

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As Saffroniaa

Otherworldly and sensual, JusMoni’s solo release As Saffroniaa is dreamy, sultry intergalactic make-out music, washed in infinite hip-hop reverb. JusMoni’s sweet and tender voice calls to mind classic jazz divas while also sounding uniquely not at all like any of them. (“Saffroniaa” is a character from a Nina Simone song who is trapped between two worlds.) I love the extensive vocal sampling and the bubbling, gurgling beats throughout, including some fine work from producer 10.4 ROG, who also contributed sensational production to Jarv Dee’s The Red Eye Jedi this year. Close readers will note that JusMoni herself has been a key contributor to a few of my other top records this year, including those from Porter Ray and Tay Sean.

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Electric Rain

Electric Rain, a summer release from Porter Ray opens with dialogue from a movie. It’s the type of sample you find on many of his records, but here it’s a murder scene and followed by some completely unexpected synth-heavy production courtesy of Tele Fresco. It’s hard not to see this transition as symbolic, as with this cover, with its imminently devouring sharp teeth… This album is one of reincarnation. Old Porter is giving way to something new. This is Porter Ray making addictive, sexy-as-hell Seattle-style dance music. “Cognac Aphrodisiac” is a must-listen, where an idyllic birds-chirping scene gives way to a full-fledged anime laser battle. JusMoni appears on five of these ten tracks, most notably on the entrancing “Bed Lion.” I’ve had this record on repeat for most of the year. You get to the luxurious floating piano on the closing song and then right back and start the journey all over again.

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Leavings

Tay Sean has such a way with beats, and the variety of ways he moves a song forward, rarely what you’d expect, yet ideal in hindsight. While listening to his masterwork Leavings, I found myself semi-unconsciously cataloging all the percussive sounds, their variety and range, and all the off notes and the ones that are right on. (And losing count…) Find the groove and you’re bobbing your head throughout. When I first heard “Supramundane,” I kept picking up the needle, putting it back a track, and listening again and again. The interplay of rap and singing and vocal samples deepens further, particularly when the voices themselves are providing the momentum. Gorgeously dense, there are many more layers yet to peel from this alien onion.

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Nightfall

Nightfall is a lovely six-song EP from Porter Ray. The rapping here feels effortless, against a backdrop of dreamy, hazy jazz, like the smoke trails floating on the cover. Movie dialogue samples and verses from Cashtro and JusMoni further elevate the noir mood. Released in 2015, I splashed out and picked up this beautiful limited edition red vinyl–still available through Bandcamp–which includes an all-instrumental version on the B side. Nightfall flows as a complete work from beginning to end. Most days, like today, I find myself flipping the record over, listening to side B, and then back to A and then B again. And again.

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FNDMNTLS

FNDMNTLS is a 2014 mixtape from vowel-adverse Porter Ray. This record is filled with studies–of stasis, and of the crystallization of memory. Take for example “Ruthie Dean” a 5 1/2 minute song of rambling recollection, while in the background the same piano loops over and over again. Porter’s stream of consciousness storytelling repeats reoccurring motifs across multiple songs: dice, his absent brother, shorty, the District, after parties, countless blunts smoked and bottles raised in honor of some lost time before, as Cam The Mac intones throughout “Blackcherry,” sex, drugs and money dominated his days. Or, as Porter himself says wistfully on “Meditate,” “I wonder where this rap shit is taking me.” This record was released around the time he signed with Sub Pop. Two years on, his first official SP release, Watercolor is finally, imminently due, and we’re about to find out where.

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Life Before

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2014,” saying that:

A rich mix of sounds ranging from the heady, airy slap of “In The Wind” to the thick-as-gravy boom-bap “Distant Love.” Sinseer covers his life as he knows it: a quarter-life coming-of-age on wax, informed by love lost and found, and loyalties and promises made to friends that run as deep as familial blood ties.

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Queen Feel

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MCMXCII

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Dopamine

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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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Hidmo Next

Between 2006 and 2010, a Central District Eritrean restaurant called Hidmo served as an important hub for Seattle’s hip-hop scene. Its location at 20th and Jackson was “a community center masquerading as a restaurant,” according to Gabriel Teodros. It was run by two sisters–Rahwa and Asmeret Habtes–community organizers, activists, chefs, and entrepreneurs who offered up a safe space for artists, musicians, youth groups, nonprofits, and activists.

This 21-minute documentary from Scott Macklin captures the final closing night party for Hidmo. It’s “the place that fostered my art,” says JusMoni, before launching into a stunning acapella. Felicia Loud, Suntonio Bandanaz, THEESatisfaction, and OCnotes also share acapella songs and raps. The latter three crowd around a single microphone, for some “do-wop shit,” adds OCnotes.

There’s a real feeling of family throughout this film. Toddlers dance in the background during freestyle raps. You really get a sense of how special Hidmo was to the community. At one point, the camera veers away from the action and visits the kitchen staff and other people working behind the scenes. The director, Scott Macklin, makes a brief appearance in front of the camera to remind us that “Hidmo is about the we,” while addressing apprehension about what comes next.

This wonderful portrait is a beautiful testament to what culture can be fostered when “people just got together and did it.” Watching Hidmo Next in 2021 hits a little different: We lost Rahwa in August 2020 during our pandemic year. In a memorial tribute in The Seattle Times, Hollis Wong-Wear tried to sum up her impact: “Rahwa was the engine, the nucleus, the crucible of that space — I saw her as a titan.”

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Ready For Life

Hmmm... There's not a lot of information about this project in the museum encyclopedia. We'd love your help! TOWN LOVE is maintained by an awesome community of passionate volunteers who keep it all up to date.

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