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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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1986

What an intro it is! Silas Blak from (Black Stax, Silent Lambs Project, and Blind Council) spits the most brain-stimulating abstract metaphors you can imagine, in delivery so dark and jarring it causes hiccups. He leaves you hanging on to every grimy word he speaks, while your head-nod slows to nothing, and your feet forget to dance. He’s the rarest kind of poet; one that is able to speak the most eloquent stanzas you wish you could think up, but in plain rap, straight to your brain.

There’s nothing frou-frou here, no self-absorbed coffee-house spoken word crap or tired-out boasting. There’s no wasted space. Every word is what he means. On beats, Silas is joined by Specs One, King Otto, Dropcast Music, and Vitamin D (who also lends a verse on one track). From 2006, released on CD-R. A darker and heavier hip-hop record has yet to be heard. For now, listen to this and yearn. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Time Called Think

One of the sickest 12″s I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing, this is Silas Blak and King Otto’s “Time Called Think” b/w “How Obnoxious” and “I Know Why” from 2000.

As a lyricist and stylist, Blak is unique; a true artist unlike any other. His dark, abstract imagery is only made more vivid by his deep and off-beat delivery. Otto comes with a set of beats that are equally impressive. “Time Called Think” is haphazardly carried along by a chopped, stumbling bass loop with little else to fill the empty space; while in contrast, “How Obnoxious” utilizes a big band. Always a fan of the b-side, my personal favorite is the epic and atonal dirge “I Know Why”. If ever a track was too short, it’s this one.

These tracks were meant as a sampling from the forthcoming album Slowburn that apparently never made it to the store shelves. If this 12″ was any indication of the quality present, it’s truly a shame it never materialized. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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H.O.R.

The 1991 film Silence Of The Lambs left an indelible mark on an entire generation of filmgoers, thanks to the triple-tension between FBI agent Clarice Starling, Buffalo Bill, and the iconic Hannibal Lecter. In Seattle, a duo of MCs (Jace and Blak) decided to name their group Silent Lambs Project, and their first release was a five-song EP called Comrade in 1998. Strath Shepard and Jack Devo both wrote terrific reviews of Comrade which can be read here at Town Love. Two years later, Silent Lambs Project returned with their second record “H.O.R.,” which stands for House Of Respect.

A-side “H.O.R.” has a phenomenal accompanying video which captures Jace and Blak riding a Metro bus, and ends with them on a giant dark stage rapping into hanging microphones. It is a very conceptual and mind-bending achievement directed by Erika Conner and John Lamar. Lyrics like, “The daily operation, to find a location, to rock the mic roundabout, like down and out,” illustrate how the group raps not for entertainment or fun, but because hip-hop is their most deep primal addiction. “Fiend for the mic,” is repeated over and over, and the listener can feel that the MCs need to rap more than they need to breathe. “H.O.R.” is produced by Bean One, and the beat sounds tailor-made for the group, with extra mystery sauce.

Side B cut “The Bagg” features both MCs continuing to exhibit their phrase-after-phrase rap style, and each verse is a never ending run-on sentence of words which may or may not relate to each other or even rhyme. “Motivate to untranslate,” “suffocate over beat breaks,” multiple meanings kaleidoscope in your mind as these words ricochet around. The beat is produced by King Otto, who produced many tracks for Silent Lambs Project.

Silent Lambs Project put out their full album Soul Liquor that same year, including “Comrade,” “H.O.R.,” “The Bagg,” and eleven other tracks. I have never quite been able to comprehend their style, the firehose of William Burroughs-level non-sequiturs leave me feeling confused and a bit off-balance. Maybe that is exactly what they want to achieve in their music? Written by Novocaine132

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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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S.E.L.F.

“S.E.L.F.” was released in 1998 by one of Tacoma’s greatest hip-hop groups, Bedroom Produksionz, the duo of DJ Sayeed and Kindu Shabazz. (The two would become Black Anger on tracks in collaboration with MC E-Real.) Personally, I love this group, their music, and their overarching philosophy. Let me explain why: Each Bedroom song was released with an instrumental version. Listen to the instrumental first: You’ll hear a kaleidoscopic soundscape, groovy, unexpected, shimmering. This base is an obstacle course, constantly testing Kindu’s lyrical parkour on the vocal track, but he nonetheless conquers it victoriously. The interplay between beats and vocals is mesmerizing, a little reminiscent of Kung Foo Grip. The songs themselves celebrate Black liberation, self-empowerment, and supporting and nurturing local communities. “S.E.L.F.,” is an acronym for “Supreme Ever Lasting Foundation,” an effort to decontaminate decades of colonial programming: The system wants to keep Black communities poor so they can be a useful prop for spotty government aid. But by knowing and taking care of yourself, seeing the world with open eyes, this is the “knowledge that is key to free the black nation.” They started their own record label, Du4Self—as part of their own self-empowerment—which inspired Blue Scholars to do the same, as referenced in their hit, “Fou Lee.” When interviewed by The Rocket, Kindu questioned what success we were all striving for: “…The Northwest is so overlooked that our form of hip-hop is not yet corrupted by big business, but that’s bad because we don’t get exposure. We still have a little bit of integrity in our art. Sometimes I wish that the 206 can remain invisible, because the industry has got hip-hop miserable.” Sayeed and Kindu moved to Virginia in 2000 bringing a close to their important impact on our local scene.

Here’s another take:

More greatness from the Northwest, this time coming from Bedroom Produksionz. Consisting of two-thirds of Black Anger, BP drop consciousness and Afrocentricity like their hometown counterparts Source of Labor, but with a distinctly harder edge. Sayeed’s beats are tight, driving, and prominent in the mix, while Kendo’s delivery is equally intense and raw. “I Know Ways” features a signature verse from Silent Lamb Silas Blak. Once again, here’s an act that probably would have been a whole lot more successful if they had come from a different city. (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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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. The compilation’s record release party was held on March 15, 1997 at Ground Zero in Bellevue, Washington.)

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Blak Plastic

When Blind Council first arrived on the Seattle hip-hop scene, Blak was its sole M.C. Three-odd years later after a couple of additions and subtractions of personnel, Blak again stands as the sole M.C. on Blak Plastic, B.C.’s first release intended for public consumption. And now, just as he did years ago, Blak’s lyrical content and flow are making a lot of M.C.s revamp their own thoughts and styles just so they can weather the storm.

Blak Plastic starts off with “Art Of Jack” and “Only When I’m High,” concepts consisting of: 1) the details and reasoning of a sin committer, and 2) the thoughts that run through a nigga’s (Blak) mind when he’s high, respectively. Side Two in particular rips shit all the way through, beginning with “No Hoopla” into “I’m M.C.ein,” all of these songs being the type of cuts that unnerve insecure and paranoid M.C.s.

Production on the E.P. is handled by the more than capable hands of D.J.s Topsin and King Otto, who both bring out the menacing tone of Blak’s vocals, enhancing the dark mood of the E.P. immeasurable. Blak’s lyrical style is cryptic; it takes a few listens to fully grasp everything he says, but the concepts are easy to grasp. (The titles tell you what you need to know, but true listeners will get more meat out of the songs.) His flow is some ‘ole ill shit, with a highly complex and rhythmic non-cadence style. Bottom line, hands down this is the best local tape to come out in quite a while. Lyrically and beat-wise it fucks with anything out there, major label or independent. If you see it, buy it. (This review originally appeared in The Flavor and was written by Truth.)

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Do The Math

Here’s one of many local archeological gems: Tribal Music’s Do The Math, from 1996, is an appropriate start, with collegiate cover, that is an essential part of any Seattle musical education. Damn is this record great.

This compilation was primarily compiled and produced by Vitamin D. It also features several cuts from his underappreciated supergroup, Ghetto Chilldren. Tribal Music was an important ’90s label that we should thank for cataloging our city’s golden boom-bap era, all those jazz samples and scratching, at a time when Seattle was awash in grunge hangover. Do The Math arrow-points to the origins of our uniquely laid-back upper-left sound, summarizing the underground roots of today’s scene. You can find this record for free on Bandcamp. If you have any interest or involvement in local hip-hop, you owe it to the many Duwamish ghosts to go listen to this today. The cover photo was taken by Diana Adams of Vermillion fame.

Here’s another take:

The giant that all Northwest acts have had to measure up to: The Do The Math compilation. Sounding only marginally more professional than their earlier tapes, the Tribal artists deliver with track after track of murky, jazzidelic perfection. Vitamin D and DJ Topspin are the obvious stars of the show, setting the gray, rainy tone for an expanded array of talent to rhyme over. Phat Mob, Ghetto Children, Sinsemilla, Union of Opposites, and the rest of the Tribal family are joined by such artists as the Silent Lamb’s Silas Blak, Source of Labor’s Wordsayer, and the Elevators’ Specs, rounding out the sound more than on Untranslated Prescriptions. I kid you not; this is a heavy release. To put it into perspective, this is to Seattle what the Project Blowed comp is to LA. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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