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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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Space Daze Beat Craze

Over the past eight months, we’ve all struggled with not only surviving this pandemic but thriving in spite of it. Early on, SassyBlack rose to the challenge by launching a weekly livestream of music, improvisation, and comedy on Twitch—for two hours every week when she’d engage with fans and create work live in front of us. Those efforts over weeks and months led to the release of Space Daze Beat Craze on Bandcamp, 21 tracks of spacey beats, improvised jams, and hologram funk. A wide range of ideas are explored here—some more fleshed out than others—but it’s the rawness of these tracks and the window they provide into the creative process that makes this release so rewarding. (To any rappers reading this: SassyBlack makes beats that you can buy!) SassyBlack also dropped two hella fine EPs this year. The most recent one, Stuck, includes the tune, “Karen Don’t Care,” which pointedly comments on the realities of our wild year.

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Stuck

In their annual year-end critics’ poll, The Seattle Times ranked Stuck as one of the very best Seattle albums of 2020, saying:

The Seattle neo-soul staple drapes her jazzy-as-ever vocals over crisp, futuristic productions leaning on electro-funk and psychedelic synths. Fresh out of funks to give, SassyBlack triumphs over anxiety and buoyantly dismisses cop-calling “Karens” who value dogs above Black lives on her second EP of the year.

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Ancient Mahogany Gold

I’ve found Ancient Mahogany Gold sounds best on a patient, quiet morning when its honest affirmations caress your ears at the start of a new day. KEXP says this is a record about “being true to yourself,” while Alternative Sound describes the lyrics as “empowering, energizing, and comforting.” Bandcamp declared this one of their “Albums of the Day” and The Stranger says “you’ll find yourself absentmindedly offering support to your neglected inner child.” This record of personal ritual fittingly debuted alongside a custom SassyBlack cannabis blend.

Here’s another take:

In their annual year-end critics’ poll, The Seattle Times ranked Ancient Mahogany Gold as one of the very best Seattle albums of 2019, saying:

“I’m from space, I’m not from this earth,” professes Seattle’s cosmic R&B queen on funky, synth-clunking album closer “Black Excellence.” We’re inclined to believe her. The third solo album from THEESatisfaction alum SassyBlack is likely to send body and mind (not necessarily together) into the thermosphere with the wavy synths and nimble bass lines of the aptly titled “Sweet Vibes” and starry glider “Depression.” It’s no wonder her holistic new record, born into the galaxy this fall, inspired a cannabis oil of the same name.

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Wakanda Funk Lounge

Twisted Soul calls this Black Panther-inspired project “a ray of sunshine crammed with intricate details … A wonderful array of electronic R&B and soulful gems interspersed with subtle jazz touches.” Shondaland says this is “emotionally and sonically complex music celebrating black freedom that’s meant to make us think.” While Scratched Vinyl reminds you to head to the dance floor because of these “smooth dance anthems about black pride and the powerful mythology of Wakanda that will get your feet shuffling.”

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New Black Swing

In the three years since the dissolution of THEESatisfaction, SassyBlack has released nine projects: two full-length albums, three beat tapes and four EPs. For anyone devouring this prolific output, you’ll bear witness to an artist finding new footing, traveling through the cocoon to unveil this 2017 butterfly, New Black Swing. Early on the record, the stripped-down “Passion Paradise” seduces you softly with a slow burn, spacious synths, heavy bass, and sweet R&B vocals. That’s the case with many of the songs: starting skeletal, and then through verses and chorus, adding tendon and skin, until emerging fully, foot-tappingly formed around the three-minute mark. These songs demand repeated listening, each journey through revealing new layers and levels. Catchy single “Glitches” has a danceable snap-skip-step beat, while lyrics explore one’s struggles with trust and intimacy at the start of any new relationship. Intimacy is a good way to describe many of the tracks here, be it the hypnotic “I’ll Wait For You,” the phat guitars halfway through “What We Gonna Do,” or the singalong backstep funk of “Worthy.” There’s an Indiegogo-sponsored vinyl-edition rumored for release this summer. These songs are gonna sing sweetly on that vinyl. Regardless, I’m already addicted to this release.

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Girlz With Gunz

Girlz With Gunz is the second album from Shabazz Palaces side-project Chimurenga Renaissance. This is hip-hop unlike much else: Songs built up from dense layers of African instruments and shimmering guitars, then broken down and then built back up again. Sometimes this happens more than once. For a group named after Zimbabwe’s revolutionary struggle, Girlz is an incredibly joyous record—a celebration of the bawdy, brash and cheerful women who fought for independence. Mirroring this theme, male vocals from Tendai Maraire often hand the mic to contributions from a few of Seattle’s finest female voices: Nyoka, JusMoni, Moon and SassyBlack. This release is a slow burn… with every spin it reveals further secrets. My current fav track is “Prepare To Shoot,” but it changes with every listen.

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No More Weak Dates

Listening to the new solo record from SassyBlack today. No More Weak Dates is the best sort of nouveau disco—strange, soulful music with snappy beats that you might initially feel shouldn’t work, but it does, and later you realize you’ve been humming along. Her lyrics pull from a wide range of personal themes: Star Trek, throwing shade, the dating scene, and dairy obsession. (Trust me: You’ll love that song.) One of my favorites is the slow-burn relationship realization described in “Forest of Desire.” As an advocate of the Seattle hip-hop scene, Cat is very inspiring to me: I often see her out at shows supporting other artists, standing in the cheering section. She’s active in the scene, hustles her butt off, and turns her beliefs into action. And she’s one hell of a musician, and innovative beat maker, too.

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Color Wheel

The anxious, cryptic, and subversive sound of Color Wheel, a 2015 release from OCnotes always felt to me like it was from a slightly different time, it sat just a little off-kilter. But then we had the election and today I realized this album was simply from the future, composed by a soothsayer. This record sounds exactly like the present, whatever day that might be. It holds your hand through 10 wide-ranging stages of grief, ending with a twirl: the danceably sensational (first club, then jazz ballet) “St. Johns Black, White, & Red Reprise.” Another gem from Homeskillet Records.

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Personal Sunlight

Last night, SassyBlack played a gorgeously hypnotic show at the laser dome. What a trip! All future hip hop shows should be performed there. She played several songs from her excellent 2015 six-track EP, Personal Sunlight, pictured here. Between weirdo synth stabs and off-kilter beats, this EP rewards patience. A song like “What’s The Sun Without The Rain” takes time to coalesce, but is a joy when you relax and let the music unfurl. This track is a particular favorite of mine, on a record full of favorites, critical of our sloth, an anthem of anti-corporate environmentalism… I find myself repeatedly singing, “They profit off our season depression.” (Also refreshing is music about more than just “makin’ it.”) Not quite hip-hop, not quite neo-jazz, with records like this, Sassy Black continues to invent new musical genres.

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EarthEE

EarthEE from THEESatisfaction is quite possibly our favorite record of all time. Writing about favorites is hard because of how much you want to say and how so much of what connects you to music is hard to define. Political, environmental, and human, this record approaches its themes in ways sublime and profound: It dives down and plumbs the vast depths of the ocean and the mind. There’s so much happening on the bottom end that this music pours out of your speakers like thick molasses, pooling on the floor.

SassyBlack and Stas Thee Boss may have ended their creative partnership, but we’ll always this magical sequence: When the dense vocal layering at the end of “Fetch/Catch” gives way to the punch-in-the-stomach drum kick of “Nature’s Candy,” and then, after a few bars of rapping, the song performs alchemy, reversing motion, escaping time. (Also, gorgeous cover by Rajni Perera and Dusty Summers.)

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Supa Dupa (Love Affair)

Do y’all mess around with 7″ 45s? I normally can’t be bothered with them, mainly because by the time I drop the needle and get comfortable, half the side is already over. But I do have a small stockpile, and many are very weird, or rare, which makes them fun to put on when I can’t decide what to listen to next. Pictured here is one of my favorites: Supa Dupa (Love Affair), a 2015 B-side of a 7″ from THEESatisfaction. In tiny blue type, in the middle of this cover, it says “front” and on the back it says “back.” (This is the back.) The A-side is the booming bass downbeat “I Don’t Like You.” This came as a bonus release with the EarthEE vinyl. “Supa Dupa” is a gem of a track, with a danceable driving disco vibe.

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riZe vadZimu riZe

Years ago I bought a multi-track cassette recorder, and for a while, I became obsessed with recording four different, unrelated songs on top of one another. The results were mostly tortured audio chaos, but occasionally some unexpected beautiful musical serendipity would emerge. Listening to 2014’s riZe vadZimu riZe from Chimurenga Renaissance I’m reminded of those early experiments–this album contains similar auditory chaos. A project from Shabazz Palaces instrumentalist Tendai Maraire, songs are densely layered, with multiple melodies moving in multiple directions all at once. This is the sound of multitasking and the first few listens can be overwhelming. But commit to an active listing experience and this record will reward with much serendipity. Beautiful cover design by Civilization.

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Lese Majesty

If you’ve ever watched a sunrise, there’s this moment when the sun suddenly, miraculously appears, and all the shadows infinitely elongate, and you’re blinded by color and shaken by the experience. That’s a pretty accurate way to describe Lese Majesty a 2014 album from Shabazz Palaces. This album sounds like nothing else. The first few times I heard it, I found it so dense and foreign and perplexing that it sat on my shelf a long time, but lately has navigated a place in the regular rotation. This cover is an odd rubberized paper, deeply tactile. The music: deeply tactile as well.

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awE naturalE

The silhouettes moving through the jungle evoke the strongly primal and sensual emotion you feel when listening to THEESatisfaction’s 2012 Sub Pop debut, awE naturalE. This is music you not so much listen to as you hear deep in your ancestral DNA. Track 3, “Queens,” is a song so sultry, so belly-warming, and twitchy, it makes the repeated line “sweat on your cardigan” sound like pure sex. A later track contains the line, “try to deny the funk.” Settle into a comfy chair and listen to this one loud enough that you can feel the enormous bass. It has a physical presence here. Tendai Maraire and Ishmael Butler of Shabazz Palaces make an appearance on a couple of songs, too.

The Stranger picked awE naturalE as the very best hip-hop album of 2012, saying that:

“QueenS”—one of the three tracks arranged by Erik Blood on awE naturalE (he mixed and recorded the whole album)—is not only the best hip-hop track of the year, but also the most seductive. The genius of “QueenS” is how it draws you into its world. You first hear it from the outside, like a party in some house or apartment you are approaching. Upon reaching the door of this place, it magically opens for you—you enter and become a part of what’s really happening. This is why the video for the track, which is also the 206 video of the year (though it was shot in Brooklyn), captures the essence or the feel of the music so perfectly. Directed by hip-hop journalist and culture critic dream hampton, the video leads us into the warm core of a party in an apartment. The women at the party are all black and dreamy. This is their world. This is their music. This is how they party.

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Loves Anita Baker

Tonight I’m spinning THEESatisfaction‘s Loves Anita Baker, a 2012 eight-minute EP. These are five glamorously positive songs, the ’80s-esque “Pressed” in sequence promptly followed with “Cabin Fever Sweet Love,” a foot-tappingly sensational standout track. (And now I’m off listening to Anika Baker’s “Rapture.”)

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Sandra Bollocks Black Baby

Sandra Bollocks Black Baby is a 2011 five-track live jam mixtape from THEESatisfaction. It’s a fine example of pulling back the curtain on production and composition to reveal the direct interplay between two creative minds. Sure, it’s a little rough around the edges, but that’s part of what makes this EP such fun — hearing the songs slowly take shape while they’re being played. Great cover, too.

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Helladope

This week, I’ve been spinning Helladope, a 2010 self-titled sci-fi concept album from Tay Sean and Jerm D. Helladope’s space ambassadors are a funky, musical Bill & Ted, wending their way through an early ’90s action-movie musical landscape, phat synths, treble-positive snares. Throughout their adventure, our duo encounters amazing auditory aliens THEESatisfaction, Jarv Dee, Isabella Du Graf and others. Gorgeous cover art by War.

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2010,” saying that:

Helladope’s Tay Sean is far too young a cat to be making music with this much soul and expert tribute to the R&B and funk of yesteryear. Still, he accomplished the feat with ease. Along with emcee/vocalist Jerm, Helladope’s debut album offers a fresh take on the P-funk/G-funk rap amalgamation that originated in Southern California in the early ’90s. The sound is updated here with extraterrestrial gimmickry that amuses but isn’t essential to the album’s vibe.

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SeattleCali Fragilistic ExtraHella Dopeness

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2010,” saying that:

The album equivalent of a 2-0-6 hip-hop house party, by design SeattleCali wasn’t exactly an official debut LP for State of the Artist, but a showcase for much of the talent in the city. The three SOTA emcees were consistently outshone by their guests and a lot of times the lyrics didn’t seem to make any sense. As strictly a party album, however, there wasn’t one better.

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Magnetic Blackness

I recently picked up a copy of the rare Magnetic Blackness EP from THEESatisfaction & Champagne Champagne, circa 2010. It’s a 7” two-song single. And while it’s only like three-minutes per side, each song is so wild and alien and trance-inducing, I find myself routinely flipping it over six or eight times, listening to these two tunes on such infinite repeat until they form grooves. Solid listening here, but also a little hard to describe… You put this on and feel the vibrations of the planet and the universe around you.

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Loves Stevie Wonder Why We Celebrate Colonialism

Seattle Times music critic Andrew Matson picked this record as one of the best of 2010, saying:

This EP includes some of Seattle jazz-rap duo THEESatisfaction’s most straightforward songs to date and also their most psychedelic ones. Collage-style beats underpin super-controlled singing and sharp, hallucinatory rapping.

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4 The Love of Music

Imagine a family reunion where everyone is there. I mean everyone. That means you get to see grandpa captivate people with his charm and wit, and you can hear a few of the aunts harmonizing a lovely new song they just made up, but you may encounter some not-so politically correct language from certain relatives. 4 The Love Of Music contains 17 tracks from across the family of rap and hip hop in the Emerald City as it existed when this comp was released in 2010. The expert curation by Tendai Maraire places tracks by superstars like (his own band) Shabazz Palaces, Macklemore, and Sir Mix A Lot, alongside offerings by other artists familiar to fans of Seattle hip hop. Thee Satisfaction contributes “Queen Supreme” and The Physics give us “Booe’d Up.” Fresh Espresso’s “Sunglasses On” stands out for its synthwave aesthetic, while “What Up Pimpin” by Draze is impossible to dislike, it’s simple and catchy. Unfortunately, there are too many more artists to name them all, but I must mention “Can’t Stand The Reign” by Mash Hall. Clocking in at five minutes and thirty-six seconds, this track is mysterious and inventive, calling to mind a hallucinatory Harmony Korine movie soundtrack. 4 The Love Of Music is one of the most complete assemblies of Seattle’s diverse rap community, and this compilation is a must-own. (This review was submitted by reader Novocaine132.)

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Christmas on the Moon

Feeling festive this morning and spinning the 2009 holiday classic, Christmas on the Moon, from Black Power Arrangers, a one-time Seattle hip-hop supergroup of OCnotes, Chocolate Chuck, and Stas Thee Boss. Over the course of this svelte, sub-ten minute, six-track EP, they manage to achieve that elusive Venn diagram sliver between “Christmas” and “Cool.” Sleighbell samples, singalong verses, references to Jupiter… All the usual Christmas tropes are here. Worth adding to your next holiday party playlist.

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They L.A. Soul

Any B-girl worth her salt knows of the mighty DJ blesOne. A true Northwest original, blesOne has been making popular DJ mixtapes since the mid-1990s. He boosted his prolific recording career in 2004 with a six-song EP by his new hip hop group “Mash Hall.” Two years later in 2006, (Cancer Rising band member and local rap journalist) Larry Mizell Jr. wrote about Mash Hall for The Stranger saying, “Their boastful, hilarious don’t-give-a-fuck stylings are in full effect on their first proper debut LP, Mash Hall Love Family Thicker Than Blood.” In 2007 blesOne produced half the tracks on the final Cancer Rising album, and developed a creative relationship with Mizell. When Cancer Rising broke up, Mizell was looking for a new band and before he knew it, he was not just a fan of Mash Hall but an actual member of the group!

All the history leads us to this epic Mash Hall album They LA Soul which came out in 2010. DJ blesOne (as Bruce Illest) and Mizell (as Gatsby) unplug from the traditional rap Matrix and go completely off the grid to a secret magic world. Mash Hall creates a bizarre universe where funky drums are paramount. DJ blesOne assaults the listener with break after break after break. Some tracks change drum signatures multiple times within the span of several minutes. It is confusing and schizophrenic, and lots of fun too. Songs are jarringly derailed by random audio samples, only to restart immediately with a new beat. The lyrics are laugh-out-loud witty, downright peculiar in places, but be prepared for rampant objectification of women’s bodies. The fantasy character of Bruce Illest is an unapologetic nymphomaniac who loves to talk about “titties” and “ass that is fat,” while he frequently brags about how many women he has slept with. Gatsby provides a bit more rough and rugged realism in his lyrics, which are all about establishing the superiority of Mash Hall above all other rap groups. The group is defiantly West Coast, and they have the laid-back horns and funk to prove it. Fellow Seattleites THEESatisfaction came aboard They LA Soul appearing on two of the album’s strongest tracks, “Whitney,” and “Get Yo Ass To Mars.”

Shortly after They LA Soul, blesOne and Mizell decided to end the group. They had already tried to end Mash Hall once in 2008 when they changed the group name to “They Live” and released The Dro-Bots Saga. In fact, They LA Soul was conceived and originally released while Mash Hall was still performing as They Live. However, a different band called “They Live” sued them for usage rights of the name, so blesOne and Mizell had only just returned to the name Mash Hall before shuttering the group. But the party wasn’t over! In 2011, Mizell and blesOne teamed up to form a new band called Don’t Talk To The Cops with third member emecks and released their debut album, Regular Show. “Get Yo Ass To Mars” is the most interesting track on They LA Soul to me, because it shows the eventual direction of the group like a peek into the future. The track would actually be more at home on the Regular Show album than it is on They LA Soul. Mash Hall is a key part of Seattle hip hop history, and this 2010 album is a must-have. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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