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The Town Love Hip-Hop Awards

At the start of January 2019, Crane City Music invited Seattle’s hip-hop community to pick their favorite WA state hip-hop records from the past year in a public vote. A total of 267 records were in contention for the top prize. A total of 5,498 votes were cast. Parisalexa’s Bloom took home the top prize, narrowly beating out Kung Foo Grip’s 2KFG and Travis Thompson’s YOUGOOD?

The top 20 winners were revealed via an elaborate laser show countdown event held in February at the Pacific Science Center Laser Dome in Seattle. The laser show itself was choreographed by Joseph Reid and Gary Campbell. The event opened with a playlist of ’90s Seattle hip-hop and a short tribute to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s legacy and the 30th anniversary of his debut, SWASS.

A 14-minute film was made by Taylor Hart that captures highlights from the night.

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Drive Theory

“The idea of Drive Theory is that everyone and everything is born with intrinsic needs,” says Raz Simone. The Music Essentials site describes this project as “a dynamic showcase of Simone’s musical and lyrical prowess.” The Hype Magazine says it’s “a deep dive into Raz’s inner monologue, revealing intensely personal experiences over hard-hitting beats,” while Hot New Hip-Hop says it “serves reflective bars about the street life over beautiful production.” Perhaps Respect My Region says it best: “This record is a master class in gangster rap.”

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WTF Happened

A menacing synth chord opens WTF Happened, this 15-track comeback thunderclap from Fatal Lucciauno, who returns to top chair after a five-year hiatus from the scene. The chord hovers, and swells, as Fatal begins rapping, slowly at first, building the intensity, growing in agitation and delirium. The videos from this record, “Sacrifice,” “Speaking in Tongues,” and “WTF Happened” all feature him staring directly at the camera, dispensing with adornment… In the case of the latter one, he’s shirtless, marching down an alleyway, half-naked and powerful, just a man spitting with that strong, unmistakable rapid-fire wordplay. Fav track “Power Play” is lyrical and hypnotic. There’s an elegant way that these songs unfold, downtrodden, but hopeful, deliberating choices or lack of choices, with songs like “I’d Rather Die,” contemplating time and mortality. This record is supported by the weight of the Black Umbrella collective, with guest verses from Raz Simone, Sam Lachow and Malitia Malimob, along with epic string-heavy production that’s become something of a signature for that label. It’s good to have you back and bold, Fatal Lucciauno. WTF Happened, indeed.

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Omni EP

Regardless of what I write here, you won’t be ready for the otherworldly, dimension-bending, gothic, and Gregorian opening of “War Ready,” the first track off of the newly-released Omni EP, from Macntaj and Levitate. This project fuses rap with industrial EDM, producing four songs of pure adrenaline. Imagine the noise of hip-hop hard drive failure, of succumbing to the latest hacker virus, blended in a smoothie with the twisted metal and shattered glass of car crashes. I was riveted in my chair, taking in one of the most spectacular sonic spectacles of the year. The metal-plate vocals on “Lightwaves remix” emerge from the machines, reaching sci-fi sentience before Raz Simone and Gunplay bring down a digital thunderstorm. Holy cow. My brain is broken. I love discovering music that sounds this fresh.

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AntiHero Vol. 2

“iGo,” the opening track on Nacho Picasso’s 2017 release, AntiHero Vol. 2, was playing in my headphones. The vocals bounce around, across several voices. I went to look up who all the featured rappers were on this track, and to my surprise, it’s all Nacho, playing different characters, different intonations, inhabiting different bodies. A few songs later, I thought, “Into The Night” should be suffixed, “feat. Nacho Picasso,” even though it’s his record because here the opening vocals from Mistah F.A.B. and Kobe set up the pins for Nacho to walk in with the assassin’s verse and strike ‘em all down. This guy is a town talent, with impressive range and unorthodox idiosyncrasy. As evidenced by this cover, he’s also a big fan of anime, a genre filled with adolescent fantasies and multi-tentacled monsters terrorizing the orifices of every teenage schoolgirl. The songs on this record are fantasies of excess, too: sex and death and violence. (And a few of those monstrous tentacles.) “I’m on some murder shit,” he raps on “Cereal Killer,” before cracking a joke. Indeed, a lot of these songs are laugh-out-loud funny. On “Somehow (Feat. Raz Simone)” he suggests, “I got a dark past, so bring a flashlight.” The single “Queen of the Dammed” orbits around a deceptively simple loop, and will be permanently stuck in your head. This is but one in a recent series of collaborations with Harry Fraud. You’re encouraged to seek them all out, including 2018’s The Role Model EP, on all them streaming services.

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Friends, Funk & Liquor

There’s an easy, happy vibe that you find in most of the records of Sam Lachow that I just love. Sam’s latest one, Friends, Funk & Liquor, further demonstrates the evolution of his career from young wine to fine port: here are seven slick and stylish songs that slide by in the most satisfying way. Sam is a presence that vibes throughout this record, but he often steps back to give lead mic to one of his many talented contributors, including Ariana DeBoo, Gifted Gab, B. Skeez, and others. Dave B is featured on three tracks here. The third track, “Absolutely” will have you jumping around your living room. This is party music, the sound of hanging out with your friends, and Sam’s many friends and collaborators are featured on the cover. What a party.

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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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Cognitive Dissonance: Part II

First off, a major shout out to Jake Crocker, preternatural producer and secret weapon of Black Umbrella Music. His stark symphonic backdrops on 2014’s Cognitive Dissonance, Part II are enchanting and luxe; the perfect accompaniment to Raz Simone’s elegant storytelling and robust vocabulary. Raz punctuates the narratives with worthwhile meditations on the questionable value of pursuing money at the expense of time and natural resources. This is a record of cinematic characters, of listening to a theatrical play, evocative of a mood and a place, and a plot, the listener lounging in plush seats as the house lights dim. I’d love to see Strawberry Theatre Workshop mount this album at 12 Ave Arts as a play.

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Cognitive Dissonance

Master of the acapella verse, it’s no surprise that the cover of Raz Simone‘s Cognitive Dissonance depicts him as a lone figure against Rembrandt chiaroscuro. The first cut, “They’ll Speak,” is epic. This is serious, activist rap; laid-back with soft beats you want to bob your head to.

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2014,” saying that:

Raz Simone pushes weight both emotional and narcotic on this ten-track LP, the first release behind the rapper’s headline-making deal with Lyor Cohen’s 300 Entertainment. Raz’s point-of-view is clouded by contradictions, hence the album’s title, but his singular focus on stardom and stacking chips makes it impossible to not watch his every move.

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Huckleberry

Huge props to Sam Lachow for his ongoing commitment to promote fellow rappers from the town. His 2013 one-off single, “Young Seattle, Part 2”–featuring a host of local MCs–was my first real introduction to the scene, and I voraciously sought out music by each and every contributor. Huckleberry follows suit, pulling in artists and collaborators on every track. It was funded through Kickstarter, allowing fans to be collaborators of sorts, too. The record itself is a fun collage of introspective, self-referential party rap, with killer pop hooks and top-notch beats. (A special call out to the wild guitar and vocal textures contributed by Maggie Brown.)

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Solomon Samuel Simone

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2013,” saying that:

Raz’s debut EP, Solomon Samuel Simone, is only five tracks in length, but it contains more raw emotion and harrowed despair than most records three times its length. That’s all due to the MC who claims he was once told his raspy voice would be his undoing as a hip-hop artist. That voice has become Raz’s official calling card, and he uses it to deliver lyrical body blows about a street life as tenuous as a knife balanced on edge-point.

On “Sometimes I Don’t”, Raz recites a laundry list of bad behavior that he sometimes engages in, and other times he intentionally walks away from. This rapper contains multitudes and, like Pac before him, his most provocative trait is often the massive contradictions contained in his rhymes. Occasionally those artists come along whom you can tell would benefit, emotionally, from escaping the confines of their own minds. Raz reminds me of that type. The hard lesson in hip hop is that it would be a much less interesting place if artists like him truly found that liberation.

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Young Seattle

Between 2012 and 2016, musician Sam Lachow created three collaborative short films, each bearing the name “Young Seattle.”

Slightly confusingly, the videos are labeled “Parts 1, 2, and 4.” Part 3 was released as an audio-only track with no video.

Here’s his explanation of the concept: “I make these Young Seattle videos each year simply because I’m a huge fan of all these artists. As a fan, I just thought it’d be badass to put them all on one track. My favorite thing about the Seattle hip-hop scene is that we don’t have any specific sound. There are so many different types of styles in this little city and yet we all fuck with each other. We’re all part of the same culture. It’s fucking cool.”

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