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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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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

The Emerald City Beginning

The Emerald City Beginning was released in 2020 as the first episode in a planned, upcoming series about the origins of hip-hop in the Northwest. The show was created by E-Dawg and Rubik: two Town OGs who certainly have all the right credentials to deliver an authentic portrait of ’80s Seattle.

They sit down with Sir Mix-A-Lot, Nasty Nes, and J-Skee. The centerpiece interview is with James “Captain Crunch” Croone, legendary emcee of The Emerald Street Boys. “Nobody could out-bop him,” says J-Skee about Croone’s skills on the mic. “They were sophisticated. They had no weaknesses,” adds Mix.

Captain Crunch tells the story of how The Emerald Street Boys met: Sweet J stole a rhyme from Sugar Bear, or that was the rumor, and they went off to fight him. In 1982, Seattle-King County Visitors’ Bureau had a contest to find a new nickname for Seattle, and “The Emerald City” was chosen. The Emerald Street Boys were originally named so as to take advantage of the newfound tourism buzz.

You’ll learn about some other of the artists from the mythical start of Seattle rap: Silver Chain Gang, Frostmaster Chill, Big Boss Cross, Chelly Chell, and Supreme La Rock. And you’ll learn how clueless the East Coasters were (and continue to be) about the Northwest. When Nasty Nes first brought Mix-A-Lot to NYC, the record execs said rap from Seattle was impossible, in a place “where there are only horse-drawn buggies and green grass.”

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The Residency Presents: The Town

In the early weeks of the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic, when the music scene was knocked sideways by the cancellation of live concerts and “stay-at-home” orders came into effect, Macklemore’s The Residency and Crane City Music organized an hourlong cross-generational Zoom conversation between some of the biggest-ever hip-hop artists from Seattle’s past and present. The event was hosted by Town legend Jace.

Each of the participants was invited to offer up their individual perspectives about the past, present, and future of Northwest hip-hop, as well as talk about how the pandemic was personally affecting them and their music. At one point, Sir Mix-A-Lot says he hopes Seattle’s up-and-comers will “get on my shoulders and jump!”

The event was streamed live on April 18, 2020.

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Reckless Endangerment

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

With his major-label follow-up to last year’s confessional YOUGOOD? the unofficial mayor of Burien steps up the swagger on his first album with Epic Records. There are still plenty of easy-swinging reflective moments, like the strings-laced title track and the Ben Zaidi-assisted “Malice.” But where the darker YOUGOOD? delved into the head trip he experienced facing pressure to keep his momentum going, here Thompson channels those emotions into more upbeat heaters, ready to blow car stereos from Ambaum Boulevard to Aurora. Thompson’s syllable-stuffing bars and effortless melodies are strong enough to bridge hip-hop’s generational divide, solidifying his place in the Seattle rap canon. While tacitly welcoming Thompson to the club, guest verses from mentor Macklemore, Sir Mix-a-Lot, and Geo of Blue Scholars on the mic-passing “Glass Ceiling” contribute to the hardest-hitting Seattle anthem since “Posse on Broadway.”

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Sir Mix-a-Lot on "Baby Got Back"

During this seven-minute interview with Vlad TV, Sir Mix-A-Lot goes into great detail about the song that has defined his career.

One Sunday afternoon, Mix was watching football. A Bud Light beer commercial came on featuring cartoon “party dog” Spuds MacKenzie and a posse of waif-thin models. He and his girlfriend at the time began discussing the lack of Black women on television, with bodies they recognized and women they themselves saw as beautiful. This led him to write something to confront the “norm” in media… The way fashion magazines like Cosmopolitan “defined any woman bigger than a heroin addict as fat.” He thought the song could make a statement in support of body positivity. But it had to be funny, or no one would pay attention.

Mix wasn’t even sure about the song when he finally recorded “Baby Got Back.” He felt it was perhaps filler material and considered cutting it from his upcoming album. Rick Rubin gave it as listen and suggested dropping the beat on Mix’s punchlines, and this change gives the song its incredible momentum. Mix also credits the influence of German techno pioneers Kraftwerk on his own beat-making.

There’s also some invaluable advice about the importance of musicians owning their own publishing rights. All-in-all, there’s lots of good game in this interview.

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The Blank Canvas

Filmmaker and hip-Hop musician Rafael Flores spent six years making The Blank Canvas: Hip-Hop’s Struggle for Representation in Seattle. The film attempts to document the unique identity of hip-hop culture in Seattle, through interviews with over 100 rappers, producers, DJs, graffiti artists, break-dancers, fashion designers, and promoters from The Town.

It takes us on a journey that investigates the origins of Hip-Hop in the Northwest, the legacy of Sir-Mix-a-Lot, the notorious 1985 Teen Dance Ordinance, Clear-Channel’s dominance over commercial Hip-Hop radio, the increasing popularity of white rappers in Seattle, and hip-hop’s struggle for representation in a seemingly liberal city.

The full 96-minute film is available for rent on Vimeo for $5. Watch the trailer below.

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The Otherside

The Otherside is an hour-long documentary predominantly covering Seattle’s Capitol Hill-centric “third wave” hip-hop scene, circa 2010. This was a time when MP3s and streaming were fairly new and completely reshaping the music industry. Artists like Blue Scholars were experimenting with Kickstarter and direct fan support. Everyone was trying something new.

There’s a wealth of great interviews, concerts, and backstage footage from artists across the Town. There are hella people in this movie. It’s clear the filmmaker tried to talk with anyone and everyone who was willing. There are some great long chats with Jake One, Prometheus Brown, and Sir Mix-A-Lot. There’s also lots of footage of pre-stardom Macklemore & Ryan Lewis as they prepare to drop The Heist.

Larry Mizell Jr. offers up a four-point guide to being successful in the Northwest: “Be truthful to yourself. Be respectful and knowledgeable of what’s going on and what came before you. Be good: Work on your craft. Further the culture at all times.”

The Otherside premiered at the Seattle International Film Festival and was an audience favorite, selling out two consecutive screenings. It was also chosen as “Best of SIFF” by festival programmers.

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How Long?

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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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Wheedle's Groove

During the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and decades before Nirvana, Microsoft and Starbucks put Seattle on the map, Seattle’s African American neighborhood known as the Central District was buzzing. The soul sounds of groups like Black On White Affair, Cookin’ Bag, and Cold Bold & Together filled local airwaves and packed clubs seven nights a week. As many of the bands began breaking out nationally via major record deals, television appearances, and gigs with the likes of Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder, the public demanded disco and the scene slipped into obscurity.

Flash forward thirty years later, local cratedigger DJ Mr. Supreme unearthed Seattle’s soulful past by finding a dusty 45 single by Black On White Affair in a .99 cent bin at a Seattle record show. By 2003, he had carved out an impression of a once-thriving scene with a pile of Seattle soul 45s, some of which were fetching upwards of $5,000 on the collector circuit. Supreme approached local label Light In The Attic with the idea of releasing an album compilation of his discoveries, and the result was entitled Wheedle’s Groove: Seattle’s Finest In Funk & Soul 1965-75. At the release party, a line of nostalgic 60-year-old fans and funk-hungry 20-somethings wrapped around the block as the musicians inside (currently working as graphic designers, janitors, and truck drivers), reflected on music dreams derailed and prepared to perform together for the first time in 30 years – their performance sizzles.

Narrated by Seattle’s own Sir Mix-A-Lot and featuring interviews with local soul musicians of the era, as well as commentary from Seattle native and legendary producer Quincy Jones, jazz-pop star Kenny G (himself a veteran of the 1970’s regional scene), and fresh perspectives from members of Soundgarden, Death Cab For Cutie, and Mudhoney, Wheedle’s Groove proves that The Emerald City’s got soul.

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Daddy's Home

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EMP: Seattle Hip-Hop

This short film about the history of Northwest hip-hop was shot by Darek Mazzone in 2001. It was made to highlight the local scene as part of the “Hip-Hop Nation” exhibit put on by the Experience Music Project in Seattle.

There’s a lot packed into four minutes, including all-too-brief interviews with Sir Mix-A-Lot, DJ Riz, Wordsayer, Mr. Supreme, Kutfather, Piece, and others. They cover off what hip-hop is and whether or not it’s a fad. Supreme explains the four elements, you learn the story of NastyMix and The Emerald Street Boys, and Topspin does some cool scratching.

At one point, DJ Riz shares the most wonderfully Seattle thing ever: “Seattle was there right from the beginning, close to the origins of regular hip-hop.” Go devote the next four minutes to learning some new knowledge about the culture.

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In Tha Name Of Game

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Platinum

Platinum, a 1999 G-Funk album from Seattle rapper E-Dawg opens with a skit on an airplane. E-Dawg and Big Loon-E-Toon are on tour and debate the viability of smoking tree on the plane.

The debate continues into “No More Tears,” featuring Money-B, on whether it’s better to settle down to home and marriage and family, or to move on, to a new job, a new relationship, to aim for another appearance on Arsenio. This is a funky record, but also full of thoughtful contemplation.

Case in point, on “Eye for An Eye,” a close buddy of our gangster protagonist is shot and killed. He raps that his first priorities are to take care of his friend’s family, ensure the widow and his kids are clothed and fed, and help them pay for the funeral. Only once this task is complete will he walk the streets in search of the murderer.

This record, Platinum, was anticipated as early as 1993 when “E-Dawg” contributed the catchy summer hit “Drop Top” to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Seattle, The Dark Side compilation. Mix-A-Lot himself is featured on the floor-shaking “Shackles.”

For us, the standout track here is “Coolin’.” It’s a chill 206 summer anthem that opens with an allusion to “Drop Top” and features gorgeous vocals from Francci. The relaxed verses are about enjoying the sun: “I’m just cooling… and enjoying the summertime… Remy Martin sippin’, Lap pool dippin’.”

After a few delays, Platinum finally landed in 1999, “put out by some Denver cat who also did the cover” says E-Dawg. This perhaps explains why it’s nearly impossible to find today. But no mind, E-Dawg has a brand new limited-edition CD out this year. You gotta DM him for a copy of the 45. Nobody’s Safe… Mixtape. It’s a ballsy $45, but respect the hustle and grab your copy today.

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Sir Mix-A-Lot on Northwest Hip-Hop

In 1999, the Museum of Pop Culture interviewed Sir Mix-A-Lot about growing up in Seattle and the Northwest. “When I was 12-13 years old, we had nothing to listen to, nothing we could identify with.” In his view, hip-hop started out at house parties, and in the beats of Devo, Kraftwerk, and Gary Numan, and then the pants, the hairdos, and the slang that followed. This is a worthwhile two minutes to learn some cool details about the beginnings of the hip-hop genre from someone who was there.

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Return of The Bumpasaurus

Sir Mix-A-Lot is an absolute genius. How else could he have come up with such a perfect metaphor to use for his newest LP, Return of the Bumpasaurus? The record is dinosaur-like in every way: small-brained, slow-moving, and, not least of all, extinct.

Return of the Bumpasaurus, as much as any of Mix’s recent offerings, reeks of Velveeta pop platinum. The only way I could categorize these tracks as hip-hop would be in the area of bad parody.

The song “Mob Style” should carry a “contents under pressure’ warning sticker for all the clichés and stereotypes that have been mercilessly crammed together. Mix uses the Sugarhill Gang’s “Jump on It” to simultaneously kiss asses in at least two dozen states across the U.S. (Yes, he did use this same idea in “Square Dance Rap” almost ten years ago-it’s not just your imagination.) Don’t worry, the lifted Kraftwerk-/Miami-bass-style beat is here just like on every other Mix record. Disses, put-downs, and egomania run amok throughout the entire album.

This wouldn’t be so bad if Mix were 18 or 19 years old and not pushing 35. It would take a city as recycling crazy as Seattle to produce an album that is so blatantly reused. The only points I can give Mix are for letting my man Funk Daddy rumble things up on the track “Top Ten List,” reminding me of skills like the track “Yo Flow” on Funk’s album Is Tha Source. It’s easy to see why so many artists are clamoring for Funk Daddy’s keyboard and production talents. As for Mix-A-Lot, extinction looms baby. (This review originally appeared in The Rocket and was written by Novocaine132.)

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Chief Boot Knocka

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Seattle... The Dark Side

BOOM! Here it is. The best rap and R&B coming out of this dirty-white, rock ‘n’ roll lovin’ Emerald City. So says Mix-A-Lot, the biggest rap act out of this area for hundreds of miles. (And sadly, that’s straight up the truth.) He damn near promised us a sure-fire, kick in the ass, hit-to-hit collection by putting this LP out on his own label. (And that’s more proof for my earlier statement.)

BAM. I’ll be dipped in jeri curl juice! There’s some fresh and creative “dark” music being hidden away in this town somewhere. Mix, his new label Rhyme Cartel, and American Records (Rick Rubin dropped the “Def” part) have put out a rough and stylin’ nine-song selection. Not all of this compilation would be banned by the late KFOX playlist, though. There are some mainstream artists on this CD; a good third of it is mediocre at best. But that just makes the best stuff really shine.

My favorite cut is newcomer Jazz Lee Alston’s “Love…Never That.” It sent shivers down my spine. This is probably the best example of how dark it can get in a young adult’s mind. It’s an abstract tale of a female struggling to deal with an abusive boyfriend and the father of her child. It’s delivered in a slow, deliberate spoken-word fashion to a shuffling jazz tempo and haunting keyboard samples — a style few female rappers have dared to try.

I’m a sucker for ’70s soul samples. Two songs, in particular, bent my ear for a funfilled tour to back when. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Sunshine” and Con Funk Shun’s “By Your Side” make for instant grooving on Jay Skee’s “Menace Crook” and Kid Sensation’s “Flava You Can Taste,” respectively.

Not all of the cuts rely on trips to yesteryear. E-Dawg’s “Little Locs” brings this LP back to the ’90s in a big way, using production skills that have had city streets cracking all over the US.

Two of the artists didn’t get their start in Seattle. Jay-Skee is from the LA area and Jazz Lee Alston is from New York City. So is Seattle really putting out new good rap acts? Or are they coming to this area to make it big?

I’m serious! This area has more major label scouts sniffing around than espresso carts on its corners. It is probably easier to count the numbers who are actually from Seattle. This album could be a swan song for most of these acts, or it could be just the beginning of some good, dark music for the future. (This review originally appeared in The Rocket and was written by Scott Griggs.)

Here’s another take:

Times change. This comp dropped in 1993, which to me was the year of the Great Upheaval in Northwest hip-hop. At that time, gangsta had outlived its welcome and new acts like Heiro and the Pharcyde were grabbing the attention. Local artists like Mix-A-Lot and Kid Sensation had lost their cool and had become the stuff of middle school dances, so by the time I heard about this album, my ears were closed.

I was in high school, the future underground was in full swing, and local acts like the Elevators and Tribal had quite effectively turned the early-’90s gangsta and R&B industry into a joke.

Though I did not appreciate this record at the time, listening to it in retrospect, I can hear the value in it. Here is some top-quality hip-hop attempting to assert itself in the face of change, And more poignantly, this is a declaration from Seattle’s Afro-American community and a group of artists who were very much left out of the anglicized Northwest music explosion of the early ’90s (AKA GRUNGE).

Dark Side is a short record. But its 35 minutes effectively showcases an important time in the 206’s long history of hip-hop. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Baby Got Back

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Mack Daddy

An undeniable classic. All Seattle rap today, in many ways, is indebted to, influenced by, a reaction to, or a refutation of Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Mack Daddy and its mega-mega-mega-hit “Baby Got Back.”

This rocket ship blasted off from the Emerald City space pad in 1992–during the pinnacle of grunge–marking a time when Seattle was momentarily the ultimate hub of mainstream cool for both ’90s rap AND rock music. Go give this a spin. It still sounds fresh today.

Here’s some fun facts: Mix recorded this whole record at home, in Auburn, WA, in a digital home studio off the side of his dining room. Mack Daddy was self-released by Mix on his own new record label, Rhyme Cartel, having finally completed his divorce from NastyMix by early 1992. The album’s working title was Possessed. The record was distributed by Rick Rubin and Def American, who reportedly invested one million dollars into the promotion and marketing. Mix-A-Lot once estimated he’d made more than $100,000,000.00 from royalties from the song “Baby Got Back.”

A couple of years back I was lucky to catch Sir Mix’s semi-secret show in front of Dick’s Drive-in on Broadway. And man, the guy is still on fire almost 30 years later.

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One Time's Got No Case

When “One Time’s Got No Case” dropped at the very end of 1991, Sir Mix-A-Lot was wrapping a two-year court battle with his former label NastyMix. So it’s a curious coincidence that his first new song—the first from his own new label Rhyme Cartel—is also legally themed.

(The court case in short: Mix left NastyMix in 1990 to start a brand new Northwest hip-hop label with backing from Rick Rubin and Def American. But it was a messy divorce. NastyMix threatened breach of contract, Mix countersued for unpaid royalties, and the protracted legal battle took two years and cost a reported $1.2 million to untangle, nearly bankrupting both parties. Mix ultimately won his exit and his masters.)

Mix’s new label, Rhyme Cartel, would be devoted exclusively to Northwest rap. “My goal is to solidify the Seattle base,” said Mix to music mag The Rocket, “I kind of feel like the dope man—feed Rick Rubin a little and when he gets hooked he’s gonna want more.”

Backstory aside, “One Time’s” is a song that brings attention to racial profiling by King County police, about cops harassing a Black guy because he’s driving a def car. Mix is dragged to jail for some bullshit and his verses explain how he prevails. It’s an autobiographical caper in the style of Mix’s many other hits. The beat is built around a catchy looping guitar riff, one that feels like a rubber band bouncing his troubles away.

This vinyl includes the extended “Bass Mix” with additional lyrics, an instrumental version, and two new songs—“Lockjaw” and “Sprung On The Cat” from his then-forthcoming 1992 atom bomb album Mack Daddy. What this record made clear—when it promptly sold more than 50,000 copies—was that Mix was finally back on the scene, and victorious.

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Prisoner Of Ignorance

For almost a century, vinyl records had been the dominant medium for music playback, but in the ‘90s, the format’s long reign was quickly eroded by two newer options: cassettes and CDs. Both were smaller, cheaper, less fragile, and portable. You could play cassettes and CDs in your car, throw them in a boombox, or go stroll with headphones and a fancy new Walkman.

“Prisoner of Ignorance” marks the first time NastyMix put their marketing and promotion efforts behind a cassette edition rather than the vinyl. (A plain-sleeve vinyl was made for DJs, but it was the cassette of “Prisoner” that got the cool cover art.)

NastyMix also splashed out on an MTV music video. In it, Kid Sensation is tied to an electric chair. He’s about to be executed. A white, racist cop narrates, saying “another Black youth is being appropriately punished.”

When asked if he has any last words, Kid raps that he’s a product of the system: “My only crime from birth is dark skin.” He recounts how he was expelled from school, how he turned to the streets and gangs. He started running with the wrong crew. In desperation, he tried to rob a liquor store. It went bad. He took a hostage, he killed two cops, the hostage was killed, too, I think? The story gets a little convoluted, but the message is clear: The system has failed him over and over again.

For his fall, he blames bigots, the school system, the media for promoting white supremacist falsehoods as truth. Americans are being brainwashed. Where is his piece of the so-called American dream?

At the end of the music video, Mix-A-Lot stands over Kid Sensation’s grave and makes the song’s anti-gang message clear: “Minorities make up 93% of all gang membership in the United States of America today. Whether you choose to call this genocide or just straight-up homicide, you brothers need to remember it’s all suicide.”

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Rollin' with Number One

The debut full-length from “teenage lady killer” Kid Sensation dropped in 1990, while Kid was, indeed, still a teenager. He and Sir Mix-A-Lot originally met back when pre-success, mid-80s Mix was a popular recurring DJ at Boys and Girls Club parties and events. Kid was a teen who’d linger after the set and help Mix put away his gear.

The backside of Rollin’ with Number One has all the best songs, like “Two Minutes,” where he shows us how it’s done by spitting verses for two minutes straight with barely a breath. The drums on standout “Legal” pierce your synapses at unexpectedly pleasant times. This one tune was co-produced by Mix-A-Lot—whose shadow looms large over the whole record—but it’s very much Kid Sensation who’s the star here, making all the beats and dominating 10 tracks with a smooth, speedy bullet train cadence.

Side B opener “Flowin’” is a great example of Kid Sensation’s dual threats of production and rapping. “I’m impossible,” he says at one point, adding, “Sucker emcees can’t comprehend because they’re too slow.” Kid then lays down a ground cover of drums, samples, and vocal wordplay, demonstrating his impressive skills, letting you know he’s “cutting you down like grass in a mower.”

The song is yet another NastyMix tune that incorporates elements of “Posse on Broadway.” (That’s 4, for anyone keeping count…) I’d love to know if there’s a larger story here.

Deft samples include movie lasers, a heart-rate monitor, and the infamous “funky drummer.”

The jacket will have you plotting your next beach fire at Golden Gardens. Listen closely to the lyrics and you’ll hear references to Rainier and Seward and other Town locales. This one is on Spotify so you can go bump it right now.

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I Got Game

The song “I Got Game” starts as yet another riff on “Posse on Broadway.” Sir Mix-A-Lot is again driving along 23rd in Seattle’s Central District neighborhood, except this time he’s a the wheel of a fancy new Corvette, and unfortunately, he’s only got two seats.

You commonly hear Mix criticized for not reppin’ Seattle enough. But in his lyrics, he’s regularly shouting out Seattle landmarks, his fellow Northwest rappers, and on this vinyl jacket, he’s sporting a Seahawks bomber, a Mariners cap, and has custom “MIXALOT” Washington plates.

B-Side track “Flow Show” is five minutes of amazing, unstoppable madness. Mix unloads bars upon bars upon bars of quick dodges and vocal acrobatics, landing lyrical blow upon blow and demonstrating how truly formidable a talent he is as a rapper. The verses are set against a restrained rolling and crackling thunderstorm bucket-drummer beat and a super-low bassline.

I Got Game was Sir Mix-A-Lot’s final record with NastyMix.

Throughout 1990, he’d been critical of how the label had promoted his album Seminar and resented how NastyMix was spending the money he was earning on funding a smorgasbord of newly-signed rock and pop acts, few of which were rappers.

In a September 1990 interview with The Rocket, he made clear his plans to start a brand new label, one where he’d have full creative control and that would be dedicated exclusively to Northwest hip-hop.

When I Got Game was released, NastyMix canceled the planned music video. Mix was quoted as saying “and that’s when I said ‘Uh-huh’” and he made plans to leave. Mix started negotiations with Def Jam, but NastyMix label owner Ed Locke threatened breach of contract, Mix countersued for unpaid royalties, and the two were then caught up in a protracted legal battle that took two years and cost a reported $1.2 million to untangle.

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My Hooptie

“My Hooptie” recounts another comic book caper from Mix-A-Lot, Attitude Adjuster, and the rest of the posse. It’s a bit of a revisit of “Posse on Broadway”: The crew are driving around the CD neighborhood, being fly, picking up girls, this time visiting McDonald’s. They run into Mix’s ex who tries to shoot out their headlights, but he runs over her toes instead. A bunch of silly stuff happens. The bass line is spectacular.

Mix namedrops “Hilltop” as a way to establish his street cred—and works in samples from N.W.A. and Public Enemy in case you didn’t think he was gangster enough. The posse roll into Tacoma to pick up the new Criminal Nation cassette and then visit a military club to size up the competition: Both obvious nods to the strength of Tacoma’s burgeoning NW rap scene. But Mix is hip to it, too.

This brings us to the key question: What is a “Hooptie” exactly? Mix explains that how his Benz is in the shop. So, for now, he’s gotta drive this loaner junk car, and it’s making him look bad.

It’s not hard to see “My Hooptie” as a clear metaphor for Mix’s increasingly strained relationship with his own label, NastyMix. CEO and money man Ed Locke was investing all those dollars Mix was generating into rock, speed metal, euro-disco, and synth-pop acts, diluting NastyMix’s identity as a Northwest rap label. Like his “Hooptie,” he’s gotta make excuses for this reliable clunker that he’s currently stuck with.

Throughout 1990, Mix stated his desire to start another rap label—this time his own, “so I can get a little more creative control over what goes out… I know rap… I don’t think NastyMix [does],” he said to The Rocket that year.

This 12” single features the stripped-down “Still Runnin’” remix and bonus song, “Society’s Creation,” about the government’s role in the nation’s crack epidemic.

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Back 2 Boom

The b-side cut on Kid Sensation’s solo debut is a song called, “I S.P.I.T.” Kid is rapping about his lyrical abilities and shouting out the whole Mix crew. “The Pacific timezone is on the attack.” The song includes uncredited feature verses from the whole posse: Attitude Adjuster, Maharaji, and Mix-A-Lot himself. There’s also a new voice, Greg B, aka Funk Daddy. The beats here are all about the drop. At one point, Kid raps “I merge with Mix to make a masterpiece,” and that’s a pretty great description of this whole EP.

Someone recently described the Mix-A-Lot and Kid Sensation relationship like Batman and Robin: It’s apt: Mix was 26 and Kid was only 18 when this single dropped.

Mix’s mentoring hand (and production) is evident throughout the title track, “Back 2 Boom,” which makes the song all the more curious. It starts by liberally sampling and referencing “Posse on Broadway,” Kid is driving down Rainier… The tune play like many of Mix’s early rapid-fire, Electro hits, hyping up the crowd even higher. It’s so referential to Mix’s other work and apes his style, you start to wonder, is this a parody track?

Two minutes in, everything shifts. Kid drops the beat to half speed like it’s some early chopped-n-screwed experiment, and the song lingers here for the duration. This is the “boom” … Kid changes up the verses, he and the posse are trashing stop signs, tearing shit apart, blowing up Broadway.

And then the verses are spoken backward. And then you remember how Kid Sensation is a talented beatboxer, and you realize the beats have been his voice all along. Everything eventually drifts away like a car crash in slow motion.

So arrives the debut of Mix-A-Lot protégé Kid Sensation. BOOM!

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Beepers

Three years before he dropped “Big Butts,” Mix-A-Lot was already a certified hitmaker. “Square Dance Rap,” “Posse on Broadway,” and “Iron Man” had all climbed national and international charts, and his 1988 debut LP, SWASS, had sold a million copies, achieving platinum status.

The single “Beepers,” which landed at the end of 1989, further demolished the charts, spending 19 weeks near the top of Billboard’s rap rankings, peaking at #2.

The song begins with some iconic kick drums and adds a Prince guitar riff. Here, Mix samples one of 1989’s biggest songs, “Batdance” by Prince, which had appeared in the soundtrack of Tim Burton & Michael Keaton’s mega-popular Batman movie that summer. This no doubt contributed to the song’s chart success.

“Beepers” is an undeniable classic, recounting yet another of his adventures of the posse. This time we learn Attitude Adjuster is a player, and we learn about a woman who thinks she’s hot shit because she’s got a beeper… But she ain’t so fly: Mix has one, too.

Like a lot of early Mix, there’s an enthusiasm for new technology combined with posturing and oneupmanship. In 1989–before cell phones—having a beeper was a mark of luxury and status. The tune also provides plenty of opportunities to turn old and new telephone sounds into beats and melodies.

On the flip side, “Players” covers similar terrain: hanging out and driving around with the posse, doing a roll call, meeting a woman who thinks she’s hot shit because she’s got a beeper… “Both of us are playing the same damn game, we’re players.” Hmmm. Mix continues to warn against drugs: “I’m a dope rhyme-sayer, but don’t smoke me.” In the music, there’s an odd tension as sitcom theme song keyboards run up against some dark, deep sub-bass.

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Iron Man

This revenge song from the man you love to hate lit the fuse that ushered in the Grunge explosion.

In 1986, Run D.M.C. had a huge hit with “Walk This Way,” by sampling (and later collaborating with) hard rockers Aerosmith. The huge commercial potential of crossover rap-rock meant that everyone in hip-hopdom went in search of their own guitars + bars anthem. Mix-A-Lot’s entry was “Iron Man,” a tune that first appears on the B-Side of SWASS and heavily samples that Black Sabbath song that today everyone knows because of the Marvel movies.

Mix wanted to double down on an authentic “Metal” sound, so he re-recorded the song with NW thrash group Metal Church, who lay down some electrifying riffs and thunderous chords throughout.

Okay, so… Metal Church were from Aberdeen, WA, and fronted by guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof. The group’s newfound fame working with Mix inflamed a petty rivalry between Kurdt and unknown 21-year-old guitarist Kurt Cobain, who often hung around at their practice space and who felt Metal Church were lame and worthy of ridicule.

Indeed, Cobain’s desire for Nirvana’s debut to surpass the popularity that “Iron Man” had bestowed upon his musical rivals fed into their songwriting, and led him to intentionally misspell his name “Kurdt” on Nirvana’s debut LP, “Bleach,” which dropped in summer 1989. (Ironically, the album’s two opening cuts, “Blew,” and “Floyd The Barber,” channel some serious Sabbath amp sounds and guitar riffs.)

Mix-A-Lot’s “Iron Man” spent 12 weeks on the national Billboard charts, peaking at #17.

The single’s flip is “I’ll Roll You Up!” You might assume it to be a cannabis anthem, but early Mix was pretty anti-weed, making fun of “tokers” on his early tunes. This song is another battle rap, repeating his supremacy, stating “I did ‘Posse on Broadway’ in cruise control” and criticizing overuse of the funky drummer sample by his rap rivals, adding “I never jumped on a James Brown bandwagon.”

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Seminar

On the cover of Mix’s second full-length album, he and the posse—Kid Sensation, Maharaji, and Attitude Adjuster—sit in Greek robes, carving their songs into stone. But flip it upside down and there they are again, in reflection, dressed as revolutionaries.

When interviewed about his latest album, Mix was defiant: “I don’t care if it sells just one copy… I’m happy with this record.” But Seminar was a smash. It sold a million copies. It went gold… And eventually platinum, too. It spawned three massive hit singles: “Beepers,” “My Hooptie,” and “I Got Game.”

It’s clear from the moment you drop the needle that Mix is trying something new. One year previous, Public Enemy’s Nation of Millions blew up rap like an atomic bomb, and every artist was now scrambling to incorporate messages of justice and race into their lyrics.

When asked about his own politics, Mix replied, “I love this nation… that’s why I criticize it. I love my car… that’s why I tune it up.” In the song “National Anthem,” he criticizes the systemic racism in our government and policing—as relevant in ‘89 as it is today. It will probably also inspire you to read about Iran-Contra affair on Wikipedia in order to decipher the lyrics.

The second side opens with “The (Peek-A-Boo) Game,” a sad story ripped from the headlines: A young woman is forced into the sex trade only to meet her end at the hands of the Green River Killer. In the late ‘80s, there was an active serial killer who murdered 71 young women in the Seattle and Tacoma area, and so people were understandably scared. (The killer wasn’t caught until 2001.)

The most baller track on this record is “Goretex,” an ass-kicking, foot-stop ode to great boots. The beats and synths here are massive, floor-shaking thumps. Mix’s verses weave and dodge and land punches. I always laugh when the chorus sings “sound effect” in response to each of the posse’s activities.

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Rippin’ / Attack On The Stars

The “Rippin’” EP is a true double A-side: Center circles are labeled “1” and “A.” Both singles are strong, but the best cut by far is a mind-boggling three minutes and forty seconds called “bonus beats.” Mix chops up Kid Sensation’s beatboxing into a wild construction, demonstrating how truly skilled he is as a beatmaker, sampler, and turntable scratcher. At the end, he boasts to Nes that his competition “better retire.”

To best understand early Mix-A-Lot, picture him as an identity worn by Anthony Ray, the same way Bruce Wayne dons the guise of Batman. Early Mix was “Adam West”—a campy, computer-obsessed nerd with style who knows how to rock a party.

“Rippin’” plays like a send-off for this early Mix, looking back at his early hits and summarizing his rise to success. The lyrics revisit the themes from “I’m A Trip,” a section of “Square Dance Rap” makes a reappearance, and he samples vintage Electro greats Kraftwerk and Gary Numan.

After this record, the Mix character becomes brasher, bolder, more gangster… a guy who’s tough because he’s a gun-toting badass with a posse, and not just because he knows how to oscillate the bass kick on his computerized gear.

It’s always been curious that most of Mix’s earliest tunes have never been released digitally or on streaming: These songs are mostly great fun, weird, geeky, production marvels. Go seek out the original vinyl records! I found many of these in used bins for $1. You’re in for some wild ass silly shit.

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Posse On Broadway

Mix famously came up with the idea for this song on tour after noticing how there was a “Broadway” in every town in America, and he wanted to tell the world about the one he knew best, here in Seattle.

The cover photo on this EP shows “the posse” standing on the corner of Broadway and John, across the street from what is now the Light Rail station entrance. You can see Dick’s in the background.

Everyone knows this song: Mix and the crew go cruising around Capitol Hill and the CD in their black Benz limo, picking up ever more homies and women until their car’s muffler is hanging on the ground. (You can even look up the route on Google Maps.) They decide to go to Dick’s only to spar with a local rival crew, played by Incredicrew in the music video. (The video wasn’t actually shot at Dick’s because, at the time, the owner wouldn’t give Mix permission.)

Contrary to views expressed on “I’m A Trip” a couple of years earlier, gear head Mix shouts out his fandom for the Roland 808, noting how “the 808 kick drum makes the girlies get dumb.”

This 12” EP contains “The Godzilla Remix,” a glorious seven and a half minute version of the song, featuring sub-bass beats, scratching, new bass lines, and extra verses. The remix is followed by a further two minutes of bonus beats.

On the flip side is the cut “F The BS,” a track that appears on the cassette and CD versions of SWASS but not the vinyl, so this is where I always go looking for it. The beats on this song simply roar and Mix tears it up with rapid-fire raps.

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SWASS

Sir Mix-A-Lot is one of Seattle’s Greatest Of All Time Rappers. It’s surprising how often Mix gets written off as a one-hit-wonder, as though the dude doesn’t also have multiple platinum and gold records to his name. (He’s also made $100+ million dollars from that “big butts” song, making him not only our first major rap star but also our most-ever commercially successful one.)

His debut album, made four years prior to “butts,” is a self-released gem called SWASS. It’s the one with “Posse on Broadway.” The album sold so many copies on vinyl and cassette and CD that it went gold, and then platinum, and indeed, between 1988 to 1991, it was the bestselling record to ever have been released in the Northwest in any genre of music.

Think about that for a second.

For the three years prior to Nirvana’s Nevermind, Seattle was suddenly on the map as a rap success hotbed, known all around the world as Sir Mix-A-Lot’s town.

This album—a debatable acronym for “Some Wild Ass Silly Shit”—is a gonzo trip, full of West Coast attitude, electro-gangsta beats, and humorous stories. On the front cover, Mix grabs the Space Needle as if it were a giant cock. The album plays like a concept album: you follow Mix and his posse as they pull heists, go clubbing, drive around the CD and Capitol Hill, and end up at Dick’s. (Note that the song “Bremolo” towards the end is an unfortunate blight of sexist trash and you should skip it.) This record put Seattle on the national rap map for the very first time, the beats and rapping are fire, and it’s as bizarre and entertaining to listen to today as it was 33 years ago.

You can find SWASS on Spotify, and I strongly encourage you to go listen to this slice of Seattle hip-hop history today.

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I Want A Freak

“I Want A Freak” has not aged well. There’s no tiptoeing around the fact that this song is mostly sexist trash, one of many regrettable rap tracks by many, many rappers from this period. Mix complains that too many unattractive “mud ducks” think they’ve got a chance with him when all poor Mix needs is a “freak”: A sexually adventurous mini-skirted woman who’s down to go “all the way” and party. This song is a lot of insults directed at women.

Someone’s inevitably going to argue that these lyrics are just some innocent “boys will be boys” locker room talk, but that’s exactly the issue with dick-dominated songs like these: Too many rap songs tell young men that a woman’s value only extends to how far she’s “willing to go” and that it’s totally okay to insult girls who refuse to “put out.”

But let’s not blame Mix entirely: “I Want A Freak” began as a B-side on his 1986 “I’m A Trip” EP. The song proved so popular that NastyMix re-released it here as its own single, with two new remix versions. A surprising number of online commenters—both men AND women—cite this as their favorite Mix-A-Lot track, so IDK.

This vinyl’s B-Side cut is worth a listen. “Electro Scratch” is a delightfully weird rap song, with vocoder vocals and beatboxing. You also have Mix-A-Lot showing off his prowess at scratching the platters, demonstrating he’s not only about computers. It includes the first appearance of Kid Sensation, Mix’s teen protégé who would soon launch his own successful NastyMix career…

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I'm A Trip

Sir Mix-A-Lot’s first commercial single, “Square Dance Rap,” was a bonafide international hit. When he returned to Seattle he found the local scene had become filled with haters, everyone accusing him of “trippin’.”

His second EP is a battle rap response to “you jealous boneheads: you know who you are” from “the man you love to hate.” On it, he proudly declares that “my game is never lame,” while adding “To rock the West Coast you must know more than turntables, yeah I said it, and I’m right… I’m the only DJ with computers in Seattle.”

Indeed, the superiority of his computer music is a theme that carries throughout most of the EP’s five tunes. Mix itemizes his gear, explains how to use bass oscillators to improve your drum sounds, dismisses anyone using the Roland 808 or Technics SL-1200 all the while praising his own choice of the Oberheim DMX drum machine. This EP is musically awesome but also nerdy AF. The last song begins, “I demolish DJs with computer technology.”

A skit at the end of side A is the first recorded appearance of the word “Swass,” as Mix and Maharaji discuss their fashion sense: “I’m Swass. That means I look good, and I know I look good.”

One crazy little story to add: Vanilla Ice, in his 1991 autobiography, included several pages of verses that he wrote when he was young… Except these were actually the plagiarized lyrics of “I’m A Trip.” Mix threatened a lawsuit, leading to a tabloid-fodder beef between the two in the early ’90s.

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Square Dance Rap

You could write a whole book on the importance of this record to Seattle music. Released seven years before “big butts,” it was the first record from local label NastyMix, started by radio DJ “NASTY” Nes and artist Sir “MIX”-A-Lot, in partnership with Ed Locke, the business guy.

It was the mid-’80s, and hip-hop was still trying to figure out what it was. “Square Dance Rap” is a strange entry into the canon. It has sped-up chipmunk vocals. At the time, super-fast rapping was a thing, and Mix achieved this by slowing down the song, spitting his verses, and then speeding the song back up. He then performs as a Southern hillbilly character, instructing us how to square dance. But also, the beats are monstrous, the bassline is groovy as hell and you’ll find yourself singing along while contemplating the racist history of the United States. It’s one of those rare songs that becomes all the more perplexing the more times you listen to it.

NastyMix sold more than 45,000 copies of this record, kicking off an empire over local rap that lasted almost a decade, and launching Mix into the stratosphere. Also note that this record was “written, arranged, programmed, performed, produced, and engineered by Sir Mix-A-Lot.” The man did it all himself.

The song did well locally in Seattle, but it was a runaway hit in England. In 1986, Mix-A-Lot was invited to play the UK Fresh ’86 festival at Wembley stadium in London. He performed in front of 80,000 people, alongside his peers Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, Dr. Dre & World Class Wreckin’ Cru, and numerous other golden age greats. (You can find the whole two-day festival on MixCloud, and it’s well worth a listen.)

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