A film about Northwest hip-hop from

The Coolout Legacy

NYC filmmaker Georgio Brown moved to the Northwest in the early ’90s. In 1991, along with VJ D, he founded The Coolout Network, a public access show on cable television that would record the evolution of Seattle’s early hip-hop scene. As Georgio says at the beginning of this film, “we went to the community centers, parks, schools, clubs… Every place that hip-hop was happening… We wanted to cover it.” They certainly did. Coolout ran for 16 years on television, from 1991 until 2007. Various forms of the project continue online to this day.

This particular film, The Coolout Legacy was made by Georgio Brown himself. He narrates and reflects on the impact of the show and its importance to our local hip-hop community.

There’s vintage footage here galore: A teenage Funk Daddy shows off a trophy “taller than me” that he won at a DJ contest, before showing us some of the moves that earned him the victory. Laura “Piece” Kelley addresses the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated rap scene. She often faces the insult that “she can rap pretty good for a girl.” But she replies, “I rap good for the world… And I don’t rap good. I rap well.”

Rapper H-Bomb heaps some well-deserved praise on Specswizard: “Nobody’s been doing hip-hop in Seattle longer than Specs.” We then catch up with the ‘Wizard and he shares a book of graffiti sketches from ’93. The late, great J. Moore shares his wisdom for success and acknowledges the importance of that Coolout played in “coalescing a scene.”

There are numerous live performances and freestyles of Seattle legends in their early days, as well as national acts like Mary J. Blige and Leaders of The New School. Brown talks about encouraging young artists who bravely stand on a stage with a mic and bear their truths. It’s hard. But with Coolout filming you, “every little victory helps,” adds Ghetto Chilldren’s B-Self.

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

This That & Th3rdz

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

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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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Cidewayz: Full Circle

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Love or Fate

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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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Street Smartz

Dropping a second album is a difficult hurdle for many musicians, especially if their first one was well received. The challenge is to give fans enough of the same vibe that initially hooked them, but then to also introduce some new components, which allows the artist’s identity to evolve. Laura “Piece” Kelley set a high bar for herself with her complex, self-titled debut Piece in 2003. Piece was an album which drew from both the rap and poetry worlds. Hip hop tracks like “Caution,” and “Once Upon A Dream,” coexisted happily with poetic volleys such as “Gray,” or possibly her best known track “Central District.” Four years later, Piece released her second album Street Smartz in 2007. Luckily for the listeners, the energy is just as high and the quality of the tracks is equally stunning.

Street Smartz has something for everyone, and it shows Piece’s range as a performer. The snappy “We Do This,” for instance, defines inclusivity with its repeated mantra, “this movement is we.” It reminds me of the 1995 Seattle classic “Come With We,” by Source Of Labor. The expert scratching by DJ DV One on title track “Street Smartz” adds to the four-elements affirmation in the lyrics. “Street smarts, master your craft, DJs, MCs, breakdance and graf,” goes her rousing chorus. Two conscious cuts, “Peace Keepers” and “Weapens,” are calls to action and social awareness that can’t be ignored.

I found the technique of “Letters 2 Life” very compelling. In the lyrics, Piece writes letters to “Fear,” “Time,” and “Truth,” and by treating these abstract concepts as if they were people, she opens up an intensely philosophical correspondence. The vulnerability found in “Letters 2 Life” shows that Piece is not afraid to reveal her deepest personal feelings on the microphone. “Rap Star” has an easily understood, anti-materialism message. “I don’t wanna be a rap star talking about my cash flow or my dope car,” she sings defiantly. Because there are very few words on “My Precinct,” and “Keep It Moving,” the music does the heavy lifting on those two tracks, putting them in the same neighborhood as Madonna’s “Justify My Love.”

While the album bursts with creative compositions, I will say that there is not a ton of spontaneity. Similar to a live theater production, Piece’s raps and songs sound well-rehearsed. We never hear any bloopers, coughs, or off-beat rhymes that might serve to humanize the artist a little. Piece is no accidental musician, she clearly inhabits her music one thousand percent. Plus, her love of language is evident in the way that she writes. Street Smartz is impeccable and important, so let’s consider the ‘sophomore slump’ averted. Written by Novocaine132

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Piece

If, “Rap music is the invisible TV station that black America never had,” as Chuck D famously described it, then Laura “Piece” Kelley is an award-winning, prime-time news anchor. Her 2003 debut album titled Piece contains instructions on how to survive in the complicated 21st century United States. The album includes themes of race, class, drugs, and gender. No subject is taboo for Piece, she is fearless like a psychotherapist, and her lyrics prove that although some topics are difficult to broach, healing can only come by confronting society’s demons. A good example of this technique is found in “Gray,” which is one of the three acapella tracks on the album. In “Gray,” Piece combines raw slurs and coded phrases that have been used to drive division and represent racial conflict in America, but then she amazingly patches these awful words together into a quilt of unity and understanding.

Laura “Piece” Kelley is not slowed by her twin goals on this album of rap to a beat and traditional poetry. By surrounding her rap work with orchestral production and singing, she avoids the trap of dull beats. In fact, the whole album is a fight against average rap. By focusing on the creative and the positive, she successfully indicts the persistent clone world of gangsters, players, and pimps without a verdict or even a trial. In the track “Endless Cleansing” she gives the listener simple tools for inner strength, “When life is a test there is hope for a lesson/What would we learn if we chose not to question?” There are little jewels like that hidden in plain sight throughout this remarkable album. “Caution” is another track that delivers this therapeutic quality. The chorus hypnotically repeats “If you believe it/Then you should be it and live it/Or leave it be.” What seems like a simple tongue-twister or play on words is actually a profound mantra about having integrity in everything we do.

Piece is a dense masterwork of hip-hop culture. The half-dozen different producers all bring heat and you won’t find any duds. “Cornerstone” has no production, but there is a beatbox performance that creates a live cipher vibe. I love the honesty of Kelley’s delivery and how she can say so much with so few words. In “Cornerstone” the line “Hip hop is colossal/Commercial is awful” makes me nod every time I hear it. (Someone should scratch that up DJ Premier style and make it the chorus of their own track.) She turns phrases and words like a magician, as she puts it, “Instant Aristotle in a bottle.” This album propelled Piece to great heights, earning her a spot on the Def Poetry Jam tour in 2005 at which she performed perhaps her best-known acapella track “Central District” at venues around the country. This track is indescribable and must be heard to be experienced; a rap with no beat begins with verses about her personal history of survival, moves on to discuss Seattle gentrification, and builds to a climax of words, rhymes, and breath. Piece is one of the best rappers out of Seattle, hands down. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

EMP: Seattle Hip-Hop

This short film about the history of Northwest hip-hop was shot by Darek Mazzone in 2001. It was made to highlight the local scene as part of the “Hip-Hop Nation” exhibit put on by the Experience Music Project in Seattle.

There’s a lot packed into four minutes, including all-too-brief interviews with Sir Mix-A-Lot, DJ Riz, Wordsayer, Mr. Supreme, Kutfather, Piece, and others. They cover off what hip-hop is and whether or not it’s a fad. Supreme explains the four elements, you learn the story of NastyMix and The Emerald Street Boys, and Topspin does some cool scratching.

At one point, DJ Riz shares the most wonderfully Seattle thing ever: “Seattle was there right from the beginning, close to the origins of regular hip-hop.” Go devote the next four minutes to learning some new knowledge about the culture.

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