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Reigncraft, Volume 4: The Labor

After three successful compilations, Reigncraft series founder KNDNM could have just thrown in the towel and decided that the innovative Seattle rap series had run its course. Thankfully for rap fans across the Northwest, that’s not what happened. This Reigncraft Volume 4: The Labor compact disc dropped at the end of 2004, and it is yet another action-packed assembly of varied hip-hop talent from the 206.

“Questions” by Unexpected Arrival presents a number of deep thoughts to chew on, set to a compelling, stark beat. “Dammit all to hell, my life feeling like a jail. We won’t win the war if we’re still fighting amongst ourselves,” goes a heartfelt line. “Questions” was also featured on Unexpected Arrival’s third album, My Life For Sale in 2005. Bad Luk is a Reigncraft veteran who had a track featured on each of the first three CDs. His cut here, “Expectations” is excellent, and it shows that his hard grind really paid off. Bad Luk’s voice carries a devastating urgency, and the lyrics are very personal. “I wish you had to wear my shoes, so you felt my scars, so you could deal with real life when you was dealt my cards,” he raps.

The strange, zippy Kuddie Mack beat on “Dents In The Trunk” is intriguing. Stretch uses a conversational tone in his lyrics, which makes his voice approachable and familiar sounding, removing the distance between listener and performer. Because of the subject matter, “Dents In The Trunk” reminds me of the 1988 classic “Cars With The Boom” by L’Trimm.

“Pick Me Up” by Cyphalliance and “Stomp” by A-OK both bring the backpack, freestyle-circle vibe. These two songs explore the “metaphorical oratorical” to use a line from “Stomp.” The whole point of Reigncraft is to place tracks from the wordplay world against other more gangsta-oriented type of joints. Now, twenty years later, the genre of hip-hop continues to expand into a splinterverse of styles and experimentation. Reigncraft Volume 4: The Labor reminds us that it all comes back to hip-hop, and we are all part of the same family. Written by Novocaine132

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Reigncraft, Volume 2: The Source

Reigncraft Volume 1: The Resources, the first in executive producer KNDNM’s Seattle rap compilation series, came with a mission statement. The liner notes described a pre-Facebook media landscape, “Every artist on a Reigncraft compilation is familiar to their neighborhood, a different neighborhood for each artist means the other artists on the compilation will then become familiarized to each new location.” The idea was an ambitious one, and it succeeded at showing off diverse Seattle rap talent. Highlights included tracks by Willie Will, Ricky Pharoe, AC, and Illy Wonka.

Reigncraft Compilation Volume 2 hit the streets several months after Volume 1, and it contains a whole new list of bangers. “That Boy” by Livio features a Funk Daddy beat, and bragging lyrics full of gun talk. “I pack a Desert Eagle black, I get raw with that, pearl hand four five I’m talkin all of that,” is a typical line. Another lyric could be seen as a shot at Mix-A-Lot, “Why give you a fair chance when you do a dumb job? Go and square dance, Square Pants Sponge Bob.”

Mo-X brings an edge in his voice which adds grit and realism to his gangsta track, “Losin’ Control.” “We Live This” by Mista Ock captures a tense, high-energy tone in the music and lyrics. He accuses other MCs of “playing” with hip-hop while he actually lives it day to day. “Hip Hop Sent Me” shows off the steady flow of Kaotic over a simple, yet very effective Greedy B.D. beat.

Things go a little rap-rock near the end of Volume 2, starting with the hype scratching on “Thinking Back” by Rewind. Then Black Swan’s excellent “Days Gone By” sneaks in the door. The melody and chorus feel rock-inspired, but the verses are solid rap bars. Last on the compilation is “Fly Away,” a hot-air balloon trip to the ether by Cancer Rising. KNDNM was right, Reigncraft Compilation Volume 2 really does hit from every angle, and it offers something for everybody. Written by Novocaine132

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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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Save Me

Seattle’s Point Side Records entered the hip-hop game in 1998 with the release of Self Tightld’s Hustlin-N-Hell album on cassette and CD. A promising West Seattle raised MC named Gangsta Nutt guested on two Hustlin-N-Hell songs, “Problems,” and “Negatives.” Nutt had the fire in his gut, and he recorded his own solo album Save Me on Point Side the following year in 1999. Save Me is all about gangster life and hustling. According to Nutt’s ReverbNation page, “Even though Gangsta Nutt’s “ghetto experience” has seen its share of adversity, he says he doesn’t regret any of its negative elements, because it has made him the Man, the Father, as well as the MC that he has become.”

Some of the cuts on Save Me don’t quite come together. For instance, opener “The Twist” is muddled by the persistent beeping sound of a truck backing up. “Letter To The Pen” features a distracting off-key melody in the chorus that pulled me out of the vibe. Despite small missteps, the album on the whole is a strong debut. Gangsta Nutt is a practiced rapper who knows how to tell a story and get his point across. “Love Clutch” and “Don’t Stop” tackle the subject of women and relationships. “Last Word” and title track “Save Me” both illustrate the bleak choices that many young people face growing up in America. I have to admit that I like the multiple meanings of the album title. Does he mean save his soul for Jesus? Save him from a life of crime? Save this album to my iTunes list?

Highlights include track five, “Criminal Life,” with a slinky beat produced by RC The Trackaholiq. “Criminal Life” features singing by Francci and raps by legendary Los Angeles veteran King T. Another strong cut is the sentimental “My Micasa,” which is a look back at how Nutt fell into a life of hustling. After a long and successful rap career, Gangsta Nutt passed away in June of 2021, rest in peace to an OG. Written by Novocaine132

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