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Top 10 Songs

Throughout the ’90s, writer Novocaine132 extensively covered the Seattle hip-hop scene. You’ll find his byline on feature stories and record reviews in both The Rocket and The Stranger, and he contributed to the marketing of several Tribal and Loosegroove releases, too.

Over the past few years, he’s been posting a series on YouTube called Top 10 Songs where he digs deep into the work of a particular Seattle rap legend, surfacing the not-to-be-missed songs from their catalogs. Whether or not you agree with the specific choices, each video provides a great overview of each artist’s career and there are lots of audio samples so you can hear what each song sounds like.

He adds, “The project began in 2017 when I heard that Wordsayer had passed away. At the time I was retired from music and print journalism, and I was concentrating my efforts on documentary filmmaking. When Jon died it hit me very hard, and I had to evaluate my life and my work. He and I were good friends in the 1990s, and he inspired much of my work in the area of hip-hop writing. I made a Top 10 Songs video of Source Of Labor at the end of 2017 to help deal with the pain of losing Wordsayer. Then in 2018, I made one for Ghetto Chilldren, and it started to become a series. I named my enterprise “Overstanding Seattle” to give tribute and honor to Jonathan Moore, one of the most truly amazing musicians I have ever known.”

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Black Rose

Black Rose was released by MC Class while he was living in Los Angeles, nearly a decade after his time with Seattle rap group Brothers Of The Same Mind. This album feels very comfortable mixing spoken word poetry vibes into a slow, jazzy hip-hop format. The style is a departure from his work in the early 90s in which he rhymed much faster and louder. Black Rose sees the evolution of MC Class from a rowdy stage and cipher blaster to a laid-back armchair mastermind like Mycroft Holmes brilliantly calling the shots from his library with a glass of whiskey in his hand. Gone is the quick tempo and the urgency, and instead the album contains a very introspective rapper who takes his time with every word. A good example of this is the track “Free Your Mind.” Class seems like he has all the time in the world as he slowly drops lyrics explaining that the secret to a happy life is to let go of attachment. “Free Your Mind” captures the irresistible mass appeal that Bobby McFerrin used in 1988’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy” by speaking directly to listeners about their own lives.

“Those Were The Days” is a track about the early days of Hip Hop in New York. Class reminisces wistfully about the good old days of rap. He drops a lot of breadcrumbs for people to follow regarding some of the early names in 1980s hip-hop. Some might find it a little too on the nose, but I love it. Getting into spoken word territory, “Tennis Shoe Pimp” is all about relationships and how difficult they can be. Class wonders why nice guys finish last, rapping, “You didn’t want a nice guy to begin with because that’s boring and no fun, you want a man that’s on the run.” Another excellent track “Psychic Vampires” continues the theme of empowerment from “Free Your Mind,” and Class uses this track to warn us about people who are time and energy suckers, bringing us down. In “Psychic Vampires” Class uses his voice like an instrument dipping and rising, the way a musician would use a horn or a piano.

The album doesn’t always work, “Sticky Rice” might be trying to compliment the beauty of Asian culture, but it feels more like it sexually exoticizes Asian women instead of showing genuine appreciation. But most of the tracks land solidly and there is a great variety of beats to be found. The loose remix of his early ’90s track “Fishin” at the beginning of the album connects this new album to his earlier work, and his delivery is chilled like a bottle of sparkling water. Overall, Black Rose is a tremendous effort and it shows the growth of MC Class as an artist and a writer compared to his short solo tape in 1993 titled Brother From The Projects. When Black Rose is at its best it combines poetry and rap, and the jazz musical environment is the perfect setting for the smooth rap delicacies served up by MC Class. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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Brother From The Projects

This is a rare one. Seattle rapper MC Class released this classic NW tape back in ’93. Recorded at Shoreline Community College just north of Seattle (and where I went to school for audio engineering), these six songs evoke hip-hop’s golden age. Guest emcee Legacy shows up on one track and Supreme supports with beats on at least a few of these tracks. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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See Level 1991-1993 EP

In 1992 when Seattle rap supergroup Brothers Of The Same Mind broke up, the five members each went their separate ways. The following year, MC Class dropped a solo six-song cassette called Brother From The Projects and a vinyl 12-inch of “Hope You’re Listening” with “Fishin.” A label called Chopped Herring put out an MC Class EP called See Level in 2014, which revisits some of his best work.

First on the A-Side of the Chopped Herring release is “See Level.” This track sinks into a very visual ocean theme, the listener is fully submerged in the language. “Hope You’re Listening” from the 1993 12-inch is next. Born Supreme produced it and the drums are straight-up off the hook. The lyrics contain name checks of Boogie Down Productions and Public Enemy. After that is “Fishin,” which was also released in 1993. MC Class is one of the smoothest all-around rappers ever in Seattle. His voice is chilled like a bottle of sparkling water, yet still undercover gruff like a Kodiak bear. “Fishin” has that groovy “Jazzmatazz” magic, and the lyrics are full of metaphors about life lessons and trying to live with less daily stress. It is a good companion piece to “See Level”, because they are both about the ocean as a theater for our lives. “See Level Acapella” is the last track on Side A.

The B-Side starts with “Trippin,” found on Brother From The Projects. Just a hint of the Edie Brickell folk staple “What I Am” emerges softly through the beat. Class is once again getting philosophical about life, finding answers to the big questions. The piano-based melody is soft and light. Next, we have “Brother From The Projects,” an autobiographical song containing real events that Class went through, which makes it highly relatable. Then the B-side gives us two bonus tracks from pre-breakup Brothers Of The Same Mind. “Soul 2 The Rhythm” is one of the most energetic tracks from BOTSM, and the song was featured on the group’s self-titled 1991 cassette. The production is heavy like a construction site: Hard hats are required. The last track on Side B is “Step Up To The Mic” which is the previously unreleased BOTSM track here. “Step Up To The Mic” is a posse cut on which Tracy Armour and Dwayne Tasker join Brothers Of The Same Mind on the microphone. Lots of bars here, very dense concepts and lyrics to chew on.

Postscript: The Brothers got back together in 2021, and re-released their expanded album from 1991 titled Gotta Have Style on Dust and Dope Recordings. The group has plans for an upcoming release of new material recorded in 2021 and 2022. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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Brothers of The Same Mind

Early ’90s Seattle hip-hop group Brothers Of The Same Mind reached such heights that NYC-based The Source magazine featured them in their October 1990 issue, as the “Unsigned Hype” group for that month, declaring them to be the next big thing in rap.

The Source shouted out the group’s “excellent street-wise production, unlike anything we’ve heard from the Emerald City,” while adding that “the Brothers can hang with many popular NYC rappers at their best.”

In 1991, on the strength of local and national praise, the group released their acclaimed debut, a seven-song, self-titled cassette. This album is a Northwest classic, full of hometown pride: The cover photo was shot in the Central District at East Portal Viewpoint, and the music video for their hit single, “Cool Drink,” was filmed at Seattle’s Gas Works Park. The video found regular rotation on BET, and the Brothers appeared in The Source a second time later that year.

Here’s a record that is insistent and relentless, comforting the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. It was delivered straight to the streets of Seattle, by five local legends—MC Class, DJ Swift, B-Max (aka Nerdy B!), Mellow Touch, and Sin-Q. This is that real, real Seattle rap.

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