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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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Gotham Fortress

Gotham Fortress, from AJ Suede, is a bold statement, an abrasive face-punch of certainty, punk-rap, chant-rap, looping, hypnotic, otherworldly. Throughout the upbeat pop-chorus of “Rain on The Parade,” he raps, “Fuck the competition, leave their bodies in the rain.” The restrained, resigned piano line found on “Gas Light” is inhabited by those waterlogged and distant vengeful ghosts who come ever closer. Remember that feeling of possession a few tracks later when you’re jumping on your furniture, shouting at the top of your lungs through the hardcore numbers, “Crypto Currency” and “Iconoclast.” This mixtape plucks you from your comfortable room and shoves you straight through the mirror to an underworld place stark, dream-like, nightmarish. Wunderkind producer Wolftone supplies the empty sports stadiums and the distant phantom cheering, rendering them as physical and tangible. AJ Suede’s versatility as a vocalist is on display throughout, reminding us: “I. Don’t. Waste. Any. Rhymes.” Participants in the haunting are some of the city’s buzziest collaborators: DoNormaal, Brakebill, Raven Hollywood, Crimewave, and youngster jiji. This record mines deep ore, revealing vital hip-hop hardly ready for the casket. These are zombies waiting at the gate.

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Goldtooth Squarepants

Goldtooth Squarepants, the latest album from producer Mario Casalini, made its debut on KEXP. The radio station describes it as “an ensemble patchwork… A whos-who of the all-star Seattle rap scene.” Casalini, who wrote and produced the entire EP, takes the mic sparingly, handing it instead to a talented set of features from Wishbaby, AJ Suede, Joey Kash, DoNormaal, Raven Hollywood, and Fatal Lucciauno. UK-based Fame Magazine says the record is “a sparkling collection of Northwestern rap gems.”

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Third Daughter

Few albums have as much to say about our present, turbulent times—our year of protests and rebellion, of identity, race, and responsibility—as does Third Daughter from DoNormaal. Emerging from the dragon’s maw of “gold rooster” she declares of multicultural heritage, “They still make Americans just like they used to.” During a recent DoNormaal show, one specific moment brought this record clearly into focus for me: On the chorus of the addictively catchy “ego slave,” she repeats, “March on, march on, everybody needs to step front, I’m going be the only one to take a step back right now.” It’s a line spoken by an iconoclast outsider, that when performed live, you witness as the careful orchestration of adoring masses, asking us to close in, while she, the matador on stage, the only one to step back, waves the daring red flag because the time for sitting on the sidelines in silence is over. On “dodo call” she bluntly questions, “But will you show up when the people call?” These anthems are contrasted with moments of too-close intimacy, (“revenge”) and virginal sweetness (“my teacher” featuring partner Raven Hollywood). DoNormaal complements her stellar songwriting with a cadre of the city’s most talented beatmakers: Luna God, Brakebill, Mario Casalini, Fish Narc, Joe Valley, and others. There’s so much to love here, from the vocal experimentation on “heat lullaby” to Wolftone’s guest verse on “don’t make me wait.” This remarkable record, blistering with confidence and clarity, demonstrates why DoNormaal is the titan of the local scene.

The Stranger picked Third Daughter as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2017,” saying that:

Concise is nice, but when it comes to ambitious artistic declarations of purpose, I like them long, complex, and unwieldy. The 19 tracks on Third Daughter cover a lot of sonic, rhythmic, musical, and verbal territory, but they’re united by the voice at the center, reclaiming the rapper’s traditional role as MC, presiding over a retinue of producers (one for each song) and guests. That voice is compelling, commanding, even. The lyrics are firmly grounded in a quest to locate and express a self to can live—”young bitch in a pit of lions,” she says on “My Teacher.” “I don’t wanna give it up, standing still in the spotlight vulnerable as fuck.” Without the unified subject, it might just feel like a long, good playlist or promising mixtape. But this is an LP (a double LP, in fact, so fingers crossed for a vinyl pressing). It wants to be heard. And you definitely want to hear it.

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GREY NEON

A few years ago I visited Alaska and was quite struck by native stories of the Raven, a mighty trickster bird who can imitate a wide variety of human voices. I have all these recordings I made on my iPhone while walking through the woods because the bird calls were so incomprehensible. You walk through the forest and you hear these sounds that you struggle to describe. This brings me to Seattle’s own musical trickster, Raven Hollywood. His 2016 record, Disco Christ, was one of my favorites of the year, commandingly straddling multiple genres, defiantly refusing to be classified, and similarly incomprehensible in all the best ways. I love music that manages to be both playful and this daring. In August of this year, he dropped GREY NEON. I’m at a loss for how to describe it, short of saying you should immediately go to SoundCloud and listen for yourself. Some future generations of sad kids will sing this version of “happy birthday” at their sad parties. You’ll want to hold hands with a loved one while you both sweetly sing along to “snakes in the moonlight.” The track “headed down” manages to sample one of my favorite Elliott Smith songs while sounding completely fresh. “sad sack” is a loop? As far as the musical composition of the chorus of “wounded teenager,” we currently lack the tools to notate on sheet music how this would be played by other humans. Both Wolftone and AJ Suede add their musical gifts.

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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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Disco Christ

Disco Christ, from Raven Matthews, is quite possibly my favorite album of the year. Channeling some of the spirits of Beck’s anti-folk Loser era, this creative and wide-ranging record is an endlessly inventive musical playground. Rambunctiously mixing hip-hop with grunge and pop and EDM, Matthews sings and raps sweetly. You rarely anticipate where the next track is going to take you, but it’s always someplace amazing. Take, for example, the gurgling, carbonated bubble pop of “Soda,” the relentless forward drive of “Don’t Stop Baby,” or the musical round of “Bikini Bottom,” featuring DoNormaal. With each track, I think “This is my new favorite song.” I saw him at The Crocodile a few weeks ago and he was a radical, committed live performer. Go see him if he’s playing near you.

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#TEN

Shout out to DJ Zeta and his ongoing series of All City Chop mixtapes. Pictured here is his latest, #TEN, a sampler of the best the local hip hop scene has to offer, featuring tracks from DoNormaal, Raz Simone, Dex Amora, Nacho Picasso, WIZDUMB and many more. He’s an awesome champion of Seattle hip-hop, has his fingers on the pulse, and has introduced me to more than a few amazing local musicians who were not yet on my radar. Get this sampler free on Bandcamp. Alternately, go see Zeta perform live at Vermillion every third Friday as part of his ongoing “Wild Style” residency.

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Distinction Management Essentials 001

This opens with DoNormaal’s “50 Jasper Horses,” (feat. the newly renamed “Rave Holly”), and the placement of that song, first, forces you to hear it anew. The flow into “Dead Rose” by Nightspace is seamless, demonstrating the genre fluidity inherent in Seattle music. (The Deadmics track, with Hekl, The Mad Scientist is a revelation.)

Distinction Management throw these ultra-hip underground parties, at places with made-up names, where everyone attending is a celebrity and you have to know them, or know of them, to know who and where and when. Last Thursday’s had pop-up clothing shops, Taylar Elizza Beth and Aaron Cohen.

Distinction puts out these coveted mixed CDs–this is the first one… The second one was just released. It’s their collection of who’s hot right now, and they know: nerdy hard rock-tronica from Youngster Jiji, gender-fluid Michete (who’s “Red Rover” kicks some serious team-switching ass), musical chameleon Wolftone and of course Sleep Steady. Anna, Jasmine, Sasha and crew, hats off to you. Of course this CD is great.

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Jump or Die

Jump or Die from DoNormaal has been making waves since its December 2015 self-release. She has a timeless sound that’s hard to place–a bit lackadaisical ’90s trip-hop, a bit ’40s Billie Holiday, and very, very contemporary 2016. When asking local musicians, friends, and readers who I should cover next in this series, this buzzy underground up-and-comer is an artist almost everyone brought up. The album is free on Soundcloud, so you should go grab it now.

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Mr. Fantastik

I was up in Everett when I came across this Seattle hip-hop gem, Mr. Fantastik by Faded Theory, from 2009. I’ve put all three members of this rap group on vinyl: Mario Casalini, Raven Hollywood on DoNormaal’s double LP, and Max Watters on Gifted Gab’s Cause & Effect. Ten years earlier, they were a threesome of emo experimental Hello Nasty-era Beastie Boys, dropping this seven-song EP with cool Seattle O.G. Neema. It begins with a groovy as hell bass line, as the opening track asks the question, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” Casalini kills the verse here, it’s a boxing match with the beat, sidesteps, and uppercuts. Watters’ guitar on the title track is smooth like taught fabric, and I always laugh when Raven name-drops Sir Mix-A-Lot. Rumor has it that this record–and their other project, HellaWeirdo–was inspiring to a young DoNormaal and was part of what brought her to Seattle. Search for Faded Theory on SoundCloud. Definitely worth a spin to hear the beginnings of three local legends.

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