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Poetic Epidemic

Fresh off his enlistment as a Soldier on the second F.T.S. album, Money Motivated in 2000, Seattle musical artist Byrdie was ready to take a giant leap of his own. Having joined the Street Level family, he had VIP access to beats by D-Sane, and also tons of MCs for guest spots. Byrdie got his ducks in a row and released his first CD, Poetic Epidemic in 2001. Poetic Epidemic was a solid debut that flagged him as an artist on the rise.

The tracks cover a variety of topics, which keeps the listening interesting. An unlikely name check of a Supreme Court Justice shows up in “Dirty Politics,” with the humorous line, “I’m not arrogant, I’m just honest, Street Level Records, all my CDs sell out like Clarence Thomas.” “Lyricide” produced by Syko carries a gothic, vampire vibe, drenched in echo and reverb as though it was recorded in an actual castle. Jonathan “Wordsayer” Moore, the mayor of Seattle hip-hop, appears on “Society,” dropping a forceful verse, “for brothers out on the grind, and sisters with conscious minds.” It’s probably an uncontroversial take, but the strongest cut on Poetic Epidemic, in my opinion, is “Player’s Policy Pt. 2” produced by D-Sane, and featuring vocals from Wanz. The first version of “Player’s Policy” including Byrdie, BD, and Creep Lo appeared on Money Motivated.

Thanks to some direct action and protests, “Player’s Policy Pt. 2” actually got rotation airplay on KUBE 93 FM, Seattle’s notoriously insular pop music station. According to the excellent 2020 history text by Dr. Daudi Abe, titled Emerald Street, “the tension that had been growing between KUBE and the local hip-hop community eventually came to a head in the spring of 1997.” The movement was led by Seattle hip-hop artists including Silver Shadow D who felt like they had no chance of being on the radio in their own city. Thanks to their efforts, over the next few years KUBE made some adjustments, allowing for “Player’s Policy Pt. 2” to get on the air and become a hit in 2001.

Byrdie has the intangibles that can carry a rapper to the top of the pack. His flow is airtight, with literally no space between the syllables. This is basically a modern flip of iambic pentameter, a written style worshipped for centuries. Very few artists ever climb to this level of lyrical altitude, and with his golden voice, the words just roll off his tongue. But Byrdie fans would have to be patient, for there would still be three more years of waiting before Byrdie would drop his true masterpiece, 2004’s N Flight. Written by Novocaine132

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Kash Me Out

Street Level Records arrived with a bang in 1998, putting out the debut F.T.S. album Full Time Soldiers, which is a true Seattle gangsta rap classic. After that success, Street Level extended its streak, releasing a second F.T.S. album in 2000, and solo albums by Byrdie and Syko the following year. Within F.T.S. a side project appeared called I.K. which stood for Independent Kash. The new group consisted of four members: BD, Brazy J, D-Sane, and J Dub, and in 2001 they put out a full album called Kash Me Out. According to D-Sane, “In hindsight, I should’ve just called it another F.T.S. album, but BD, the member who conceived and ran the group, didn’t want to.”

Kash Me Out contains similar material to the two F.T.S. albums, and features many of the same rappers. The album art shows I.K. flanked by looming Jacksons and Benjamins, and BD is holding a stack of bills. The theme of money is fully explored, as evidenced on the chorus of “I’m A Hustler,” which goes, “Cash cash, fetti fetti, gees gees, c-notes c-notes, stacks stacks, paper…” The members of I.K. want to be clear that they need to be paid in full for all their hard work. “It’s time for the industry to cash me out,” goes a heartfelt line from the album’s opener, the title track “Kash Me Out.”

Highlights include “Soggy” guest starring YG Red and Madd Dog which discusses “smoking wet,” referring to a blunt or joint that has been dipped in sherm or other dangerous chemicals. “I’m so wet I can’t focus on my fingertips,” admits one MC because the high is so intense, adding, “that’s why I only get soggy every once in a while.” Also, “I Know Where They B” featuring Creep-Lo shows promise with its low-frequency bassline, and lyrics about the need for retaliation. Josh Flack plays guitar on three tracks, “Mackadoshis,” “I’m A Hustler,” and “Ride Right,” adding texture and flavor to the mix. “R.I.P. To My G’z N Thugz” is a shout out to all those friends and family that lost their lives to the hardships of the game, and includes appearances by 211 and Popsykle from local group Self Tightld.

Shortly after Kash Me Out was released, F.T.S. split up due to internal differences between the nine group members. This meant that I.K. also stopped recording together, and Kash Me Out was the group’s only album. Despite the roster changes, Street Level continued growing its impressive catalog, dropping albums by Sarkastik, Dividenz, and Skuntdunanna in 2003. Written by Novocaine132

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A Hustlaz Livin Hell

Self Tightld put out their first album Hustlin-N-Hell in 1998. On tracks like “Pleasure Pouches,” “Watch That B/N,” and “Growth And Development,” the five MCs showed their talent at the rap game. 1998 was a bittersweet year for the group, according to group member Maine 1’s Soundcloud page, which explains that the group lost member Rob Doe that year when he passed away. In 2000 the remaining four members, Maine 1, Popsykle, 2Elevn, and Sikface released their sophomore album, A Hustlaz Livin Hell. Many of the beats are handled by RC The Trackaholiq, with others by Beezie and Wingo. Star guest appearances include Mac Dre, Yukmouth, and B-Legit.

“Work” is interesting, and stands out for its bouncy, unusual style. “Guaranteed Profits,” produced by Seattle legend Mafia aka Skuntdunanna, has lots of open space for the Self Tightld rappers to do their jobs. Other highlights include celebratory track “Da Hustle Continues,” and the stark warning, “Don’t Enter My Domain.” One of the standout tracks on Hustlin-N-Hell, “Pleasure Pouches” featuring the aforementioned B-Legit, is also featured here on A Hustlaz Livin Hell.

This would be the second and last album for Self Tightld. Maine 1 has been a conscious MC since 2005 with the murder of his big brother, and now tries to educate people about the dangers of gang life. His recent tracks such as “Silent War,” Fake Love,” and “I Can’t Breathe,” are worth checking out. Rappers 2Elevn and Sikface also remain active in the scene. RIP to Popsykle, who passed away in 2018. Written By Novocaine132

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From the very beginning of Hustlin-N-Hell it’s clear that Central District representatives Self Tightld are going to take the listener into a dystopian drug dealing and gang banging lifestyle. The cover art shows a chaotic scene in which a cigar smoking skeleton, itself a symbol of death, appears to be wreaking havoc on Seattle. Self Tightld came together in the mid 1990s founded by Maine 1 who teamed up with four other members, Rob Doe, Popsykle, Sikface, and 2elevn. Whether the album glorifies the gangster lifestyle or warns against it will probably depend on the listener, for the tales are rich with ups and downs, victories and defeats, and of course the notorious legacy which comes with going out in a blaze of bullets.

Track two, “Hustlin In Hell” is emblematic of the album’s themes, namely survival is not guaranteed and you don’t get what you deserve but only what you bargain for. “Hustlin In Hell” drops a bread crumb which leads to another famous street rap from Seattle, “I’m not from Union but I’m hustlin,” referring to “Union Street Hustlers” by Ice Cold Mode. The album continues with bleak rhymes about violence in the neighborhood on “Northwest Gunfest,” “Ill Thoughts,” and “Problems.” “Leave these crimes alone and your life just might pop, or a pistol might pop and give your life an early stop,” goes one of my favorite lines on “Problems.” Lack of opportunity for youth is addressed in tracks like “Self Tightld,” “Live4Today,” and “Negatives.”

The group doesn’t only rap about gunplay and trap life, there are also songs like “MC Fo Short,” and “Rhymes Top Of The Line,” which show off verbal skills and drop challenges to other rappers. To their credit, Self Tightld don’t delve too deep into the “Rap about rap” rabbit hole in which rappers spend all their energy talking about their record label or other rappers.

There are several highlights on Hustlin-N-Hell including “Pleasure Pouches” which features an appearance from California’s B-Legit. “Pleasure Pouches” is predictably a paean to pot smoking, and the group celebrates cannabis with various clever rhymes. “Watch That B/N” is a reminder to be careful who you trust, because there is a hustle lurking around every corner. Another track that shines is “Growth And Development,” a very meta message about how to choose the right path in life. Each of us is “Chillin in a crossroads,” as the song puts it, and we must do the right thing or risk a literal dead end. Due to its popularity, Hustlin-N-Hell was re-released by Point Side four years later in 2002. Rest in peace to group members Rob Doe who passed in 1998, and Popsykle who passed in 2018. Written by Novocaine132

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