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The Coolout Legacy

NYC filmmaker Georgio Brown moved to the Northwest in the early ’90s. In 1991, along with VJ D, he founded The Coolout Network, a public access show on cable television that would record the evolution of Seattle’s early hip-hop scene. As Georgio says at the beginning of this film, “we went to the community centers, parks, schools, clubs… Every place that hip-hop was happening… We wanted to cover it.” They certainly did. Coolout ran for 16 years on television, from 1991 until 2007. Various forms of the project continue online to this day.

This particular film, The Coolout Legacy was made by Georgio Brown himself. He narrates and reflects on the impact of the show and its importance to our local hip-hop community.

There’s vintage footage here galore: A teenage Funk Daddy shows off a trophy “taller than me” that he won at a DJ contest, before showing us some of the moves that earned him the victory. Laura “Piece” Kelley addresses the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated rap scene. She often faces the insult that “she can rap pretty good for a girl.” But she replies, “I rap good for the world… And I don’t rap good. I rap well.”

Rapper H-Bomb heaps some well-deserved praise on Specswizard: “Nobody’s been doing hip-hop in Seattle longer than Specs.” We then catch up with the ‘Wizard and he shares a book of graffiti sketches from ’93. The late, great J. Moore shares his wisdom for success and acknowledges the importance of that Coolout played in “coalescing a scene.”

There are numerous live performances and freestyles of Seattle legends in their early days, as well as national acts like Mary J. Blige and Leaders of The New School. Brown talks about encouraging young artists who bravely stand on a stage with a mic and bear their truths. It’s hard. But with Coolout filming you, “every little victory helps,” adds Ghetto Chilldren’s B-Self.

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The Flavor: A Real Hip-Hop Magazine

From 1992 to 1995, Seattle was home to global hip-hop magazine, The Flavor. It wasn’t a magazine about Northwest hip-hop: It was a world hip-hop magazine based that was based in Seattle, with a peak circulation of 70,000 printed copies per issue. As editor and writer Mike Clark explains, the hip-hop genre was fairly new, there was a lot going on, and they “wanted to promote artists that we loved and help them be successful.”

This eight-minute documentary from King Khazm and Will Lemke is wonderful viewing. It’s a joy to learn the history of The Flavor, and the people interviewed are candid about their struggles alongside the successes of the magazine. They were the first magazine in the world to put Nas on the cover, only one example of how they were ahead of their time.

Publisher and editor Alison Pember acknowledges that local rappers would grumble about not being on the magazine cover, but they did have a strategy for putting the Northwest on the map: “Us putting a local artist in an issue with a national artist on the cover… People will pick up the magazine and they’ll read it.” Mike Clark adds the story of how The Flavor connected legendary local group The Ghetto Chilldren to a major label record deal with Geffen.

Finally, you’ll delight in learning about Carl Johnson’s infamous crossword puzzles. They were so incredibly hard and dense with rap lyrical references that the only person who ever solved the puzzle was later hired to work at the magazine.

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Top 10 Songs

Throughout the ’90s, writer Novocaine132 extensively covered the Seattle hip-hop scene. You’ll find his byline on feature stories and record reviews in both The Rocket and The Stranger, and he contributed to the marketing of several Tribal and Loosegroove releases, too.

Over the past few years, he’s been posting a series on YouTube called Top 10 Songs where he digs deep into the work of a particular Seattle rap legend, surfacing the not-to-be-missed songs from their catalogs. Whether or not you agree with the specific choices, each video provides a great overview of each artist’s career and there are lots of audio samples so you can hear what each song sounds like.

He adds, “The project began in 2017 when I heard that Wordsayer had passed away. At the time I was retired from music and print journalism, and I was concentrating my efforts on documentary filmmaking. When Jon died it hit me very hard, and I had to evaluate my life and my work. He and I were good friends in the 1990s, and he inspired much of my work in the area of hip-hop writing. I made a Top 10 Songs video of Source Of Labor at the end of 2017 to help deal with the pain of losing Wordsayer. Then in 2018, I made one for Ghetto Chilldren, and it started to become a series. I named my enterprise “Overstanding Seattle” to give tribute and honor to Jonathan Moore, one of the most truly amazing musicians I have ever known.”

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Stolen Lives

Source of Labor’s Stolen Lives, from 2000, is a masterpiece of Seattle hip-hop. Source Of Labor was unlike any other rap group before or since. Everyone should have this in their collection. I can’t speak highly enough about this contribution to our city’s musical canon. (It’s oft-cited as the record that inspired a young Macklemore to begin rapping, FWIW.)

If you’ve never heard of this record, go seek it out immediately. Pictured here is the 19-track double vinyl. As Wordsayer raps on the opener, it’s an “out-of-body audio excursion.” If you can’t snag the vinyl, there’s also a CD version, with a different cover.

Source of Labor was primarily the work of emcee Wordsayer (the late, great Jonathan Moore) and Negus I, with contributions from Vitamin D and MC Kylea, aka Beyond Reality. Stolen Lives was the long-anticipated debut full-length album from a group whose influence is hard to measure. And they deliver here an album that is viscerally emotional, expansive, and experimental, sometimes with a careening rap flow that feels like a car accelerating down a very large hill without brakes. It’s thrilling.

The album is also defiantly proud of its Seattle roots, with civic anthems like “Wetlands,” or there’s “Sunshowers,” which opens with an audio clip that suggests that the people of Seattle think that “the sun is evil.” (LOL.)

The songs often incorporate live performance recordings, which I have to say groups today don’t do enough. I especially love Side 4 and the song “Invaded Lands”, featuring Beyond Reality, which I’ll confess I’ve often had on repeat, playing just that one side over and over again. Treat yourself and seek this own out today.

Here’s another take:

Source of Labor’s prominence on the local hip-hop scene is growing in accordance with the effort the group (and Jasiri Media as a whole) keeps pourin’ into it. If you’ll pardon the play on words, the labor that goes into the source of this sound is massive: From their regular, high-energy shows in Seattle to Stolen Lives, their new full-length album, Source of Labor are working hard to carve a distinct niche for themselves in a corner of the country that still isn’t recognized for the quality hip-hop that keeps sprouting up out of the region’s soggy, intellectual thought-generating climate.

It’s precisely that climate that Source of Labor keep paying tribute to on songs like “Emerald City,” “Sunshower” and “Wetlands,” a catchy song released last year as a 12-inch single. (Anyone else want to get “Wetlands” nominated as the city’s honorary theme song?)

Razor-sharp turntablism, an assortment of humorous, Northwest-specific samples and nice mixing touches make for a strong, original album, and Wordsayer (vocalist and songwriter Jonathan Moore) has got an unquestionable knack for loose, flowing, historically and socially grounded microphone poeticism. To be sure, not every track is particularly memorable-or even seems designed to be-but songs like “Easy” are standout cuts by any standard. Opening with a live version and segueing smoothly into the studio recording, “Easy” rushes you off on a kind of laidback, intergalactic journey, and stops along the way for some schoolin’ on the importance of a positively conscious lifestyle in word, intent, and deed. That’s the kind of message that we could all stand to incorporate more fully into our lives. (This review originally appeared in The Rocket and was written by Silja J.A. Talvi.)

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Wetlands

More greatness from Wordsayer and Negus I, aka Source of Labor. Here they present their Northwest hip-hop anthem “Wet Lands.” Vitamin D makes a well-deserved appearance on the turntables. “Interstate Translate” is on the flipside, featuring I-Self Divine from the Micranots. Take a careful listen to Negus I’s production on both cuts. His style is distinctive and dense, with layers upon layers of percussion. Over the years he’s become one of my favorite beatmakers, and these two tracks demonstrate his style well. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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IReality

Kylea comes out strong on this slab of hot wax from 1998. Blessed with one of the smoothest voices in hip-hop, she could be found all over Rain City releases for years, from 14 Fathoms to Choked Up to Stolen Lives–and often times I felt her guest appearances outshone the featured artist. With an impeccable delivery and imagery-filled lyrics, she is definitely an artist in command of her art. This collaborative 12″ features two stellar tracks from Kylea with Negus I on beats (two of his best, in my opinion), and an additional track by Source Of Labor. The A-side, “I reality”, has to be one of my all-time favorite Northwest tracks without a doubt. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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Classic Elements

Classic Elements was released by Olympia’s K Records in 1998. It contains tracks by sixteen Northwest hip hop artists, including some certified legends. The lyrics are consistently excellent throughout the compilation. These are songs for the mind, and many are vignettes in the true sense of the word, a good example being the captivating saga contained in “A.N.I.T.A.” by Nobody. The production on Classic Elements glows softly like a vintage Edison light bulb. DJ Sayeed (Black Anger) and Brian Weber (Dub Narcotic) both play a large role in shaping the sound of this compilation. Mr. Supreme drops a sublime Twin-Peaks-esque beat for Jace on “What’s Ya Definition,” and Topspin captures a tempest in a teapot with his beat for “Sleep” by Sinsemilla. Every track on this compilation is a genuine artistic expression, and that carries some risk because the performers put their feelings out on display which renders them vulnerable to misunderstanding, or worse, indifference. One of the highlights is “Hip Hop Was” by Ghetto Chilldren, which shines with professional polish among some of the dustier tracks. When you include a track by Source of Labor with Beyond Reality, “Aunt Anna,” and a couple of underground heat rocks from Silas Blak, “Only When I’m High,” and “Blak And Blind,” there’s every reason to make sure this compilation is part of your music collection. (Written by Novocaine132.)

Here’s another take:

Like the four leaves on a lucky clover, four ’90s era Seattle compilations showcase the diverse hip-hop collectives in Washington State and with them your windfall of sounds and explorations: Do The Math, 14 Fathoms Deep, Walkman Rotation, and here, Classic Elements (co-released by Impact Entertainment and K Records). Back then getting the handful of cassettes and comps was a great thrill, and the Seattle area offered up the best. Classic Elements was released at a time when the main place to hear local hip-hop was on the street at Westlake Center or on KCMU’s Rap Attack. Like the title, the classics here are Ghetto Chilldren, Source Of Labor, Black Anger, and Tilson, all offering hits that transcend national radio rap and bring a better class of words and thoughts. Some groups won’t be found outside of this collection – Nobody, Jaleel, 5E, Ski, and Arson have songs that play smooth and timeless. Classic Elements is as relevant today as it was twenty-some years ago. Released on cassette, CD, and on an abbreviated LP – Find it, get it. Good! (This review was submitted by reader Brett Sandstrom.)

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Whatever / Overstandings

This split 12″ is the first vinyl release from Beyond Reality and the first post-Blahzay Blah outing from Source of Labor. Beyond Reality’s side features the track “Whatever”, with a hook provided by Felicia Loud. The “Moonlight Remix” of “Whatever” is in my opinion the stronger of the two, which is a sedated, dark trippy gem. On the flip side, Source of Labor represents with the track “Overstandings”, along with its also superior “Wetlands Remix”. What can I say, I’ve always been a fan of the b-side. With this release, Kylea proves to be one of Seattle’s dopest MCs of her era; her flow is impeccably even and on point. In contrast, Wordsayer’s flow is on the dense side, and without Blah he tends to crowd the track a little bit. But he’s an emcee who’s always had a lot to say, and his flow is perfect for his message. Negus I, who produced nearly all the tracks, has always been a dope producer – I love his work with BR and SOL, and consider him one of the best beatmakers out there. He certainly doesn’t disappoint here – Especially the “Moonlight Remix”, which I think is one of his best tracks. Source of Labor, unfortunately, folded after their 2000 album, Stolen Lives. Wordsayer has been successful in managing some notable talent in the new crop of 206 hip-hop, but I can’t find any information on what Negus I has been doing. I sincerely hope he’s still making music. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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14 Fathoms Deep

Exponential growth, part one: Woman gives herself a home permanent. Her hair looks so good that she tells two friends, and they tell two friends, and so on…

Exponential growth, part two: Andre “Dr. Dre” Young gets on with NWA, and goes on to make some of the best beats ever produced. On Dre’s Deep Cover track he employed the velvet-tongued Snoop, who hasn’t looked back since beginning his pursuit of Death Row domination. Once Snoop hit platinum status, he was quick to put Daz and Kurupt on a disc, and from there forward those two certainly haven’t done too shabbily. The point is this: Every artist has friends they want to help out once they themselves have safely achieved success.

Keeping this in mind, it is with eager anticipation that I await the exponential growth of Seattle’s rap/hip-hop scene following the long-coming release of the new Loosegroove compilation, 14 Fathoms Deep. This record is so heavy it could hang with Tad. Let’s face it: Its weight is just plain ridiculous. This is the kind of music that could inspire 14 empires, build 14 record labels, or, at the very least, boost 14 of Seattle’s hip-hop groups a little bit closer to well-deserved fame and fortune.

Allow me to break it down track by ahead-of-its-time track. Sinsemilla contributes the perfect opener for the compilation, a scherzando club track titled “Drastic Measures.” Verbal twists like, “Down with a criminal Jill we Jack together” can and will get you open extra wide. Next, 22nd Precinct barges in with the unruly honesty of “Great Outdoors”: “It’s a pity the way the city treats the poor” had me thinking of the forgotten and misplaced, huddling over downtown Seattle’s iron steam grates.

“Official Members” by Mad Fanatic (featuring Raychyld) will definitely catch you rewinding. It’s slow and hypnotic, and lyrics like “My rhyme’s deep in the dirt/ Worms can’t find it” beg to be heard twice. DMS furthers the slow groove on “Keep Da Change,” but spiky attitude is the key here: “The six is in the mix so domino motherfucker” rides a keyboard-funk beat.

A powerhouse Source of Labor dazzles with their track, “Cornbread.” It’s all about musical subtlety when lines like “How can you claim to be an MC/When an MC’s what you just can’t be/ You can’t be an MC and not freestyling” make the point undeniable. Ghetto Chilldren get their OJ on with “Court’s in Session,” and Pulp Fiction’s most enduring catchphrase becomes Forrest Gump’s threat to “get medieval on your buttocks.” The sparest of basslines and flute notes flutter prettily behind harsh words like “You stand accused of being wack in the first degree/ Premeditating slang terms for your hardcore soliloquies.” “All Up in the Mix” by Narcotik opens with the most breathtaking sample on 14 Fathoms Deep (“The 206 is in my mix”). The rhyme proceeds to kick some street philosophy with plenty of drinking and smoking thrown in for good measure.

Beginning vinyl side three is Jace (featuring Dionna), with “Ghetto Star.” Its catchy chorus and storyline lyrics ensure this track will be engraved front-and-center in your brain for weeks to come. Beyond Reality–who are listed on the album as Kylin–brings on the spirit of the Jasiri Media Group with their track “Can.” “Let me take your mind on a little mental journey,” invites lead MC Kylea. For the most metaphors per line, look for “Higher Places” by Prose & Concepts, a group that falls into the “survival of the fattest” category.

“Insomniack Museick” by NS of the O.N.E Corporation is probably the moodiest track on the compilation. Dark clouds of drifting keyboards become still more ominous layered behind introspective lyrics such as “Sometimes I’d even trade a nightmare/ Just for 50 winks.” The beat on “Interrogation” by Blind Council bubbles like the scuba gear on the compilation’s cover, and the rhyme is strictly for the connoisseurs out there. Union of Opposites (featuring Shonuph) put down a forward-moving track titled “Continuations”-its relay-style chorus is as fresh as the verses, and the melodic tone moves the disc into another direction entirely. “Wipe off the dust from your mind and recline in my oration.” It’s at once relaxing and educating.

The last cut, also by far the longest, is the most difficult to categorize. The group is the Crew Clockwise and their song, titled “A New Day,” is a heady mix of the many styles showcased on 14 Fathoms Deep. Now I know what Specs meant on Do the Math when he said, “Soon to hit wax I can’t wait.”

So now you know the deal. When these groups start putting their friends on future projects, it may mean more than some heads can handle. 14 Fathoms Deep is not just another hip-hop compilation. In actuality, it’s a promise of even lovelier things to come. Instead of talking about how materialistic and useless today’s rap is, these 14 groups are doing something positive and proactive. Rap music is not dead. Seattle has the Phoenix in the mix. (This review originally appeared in The Stranger in 1997 and was written by Novocaine132. The compilation’s record release party was held on March 15, 1997 at Ground Zero in Bellevue, Washington.)

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Word Sound Power

Jasiri Media Group arrived on the Seattle scene in the early ’90s as the brainchild of Jonathan Moore, a.k.a. Wordsayer. The Jasiri record label was created primarily to express the heritage of African culture and how it developed in the United States. This meant confronting harsh truths about racism and the extensive history of the Atlantic Middle Passage. Jasiri did not dance around these difficult subjects but rather forced the listeners to think about them. Wordsayer even named his group “Source of Labor” to describe how the European slave merchants viewed their human cargo.

Word, Sound, Power is an ambitious musical project from 1997 which features many artists on the Jasiri label, including Source of Labor and Beyond Reality. “Overstandings” is one highlight track by SOL, and it sums up many of Wordsayer’s philosophies and observations about life. The real dynamo of this compilation is Beyond Reality. On tracks like “I Reality,” “Whatever,” and “333” emcee Kylea drops her typewriter-click-clack lyrical technique that captures the urgency of the group’s message. SOL and BR collaborate on one spectacular track, “SolBr,” which crystallizes the talent and drive of these two groups. Word, Sound, Power is necessary and beautiful, and this compilation is a key part of Seattle’s long hip hop history. (Written by Novocaine132.)

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Balance

S.O.L. is the embodiment of Northwest hip-hop. They’ve been staples in the scene here for as long as I can remember. Emcee/school teacher Wordsayer was at all the functions; I’d see him at every single show and battle. Since ’95 they’ve been puttin’ it down on wax, and I assume they’ve been around for longer than that. This is their second release, from ’96, and features DJ Kamikaze, emcees Wordsayer and Blahzay Blah, and beatmaker Negus I.

It’s a strange record. The songs “Balance” and “Galaxies” are fully represented with vox and instrumental versions (“Galaxies” has a remix as well), but there are snippets included of three other songs I haven’t been able to find anywhere in their full versions. “Easy” showed up in a different form on their full-length album from 2000, but the version found here, along with “Sailing” and “50¢” have long eluded me. Eight tracks of hard labor. (This review originally appeared on the Bring That Beat Back blog and was written by Jack Devo.)

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