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#TEN

Shout out to DJ Zeta and his ongoing series of All City Chop mixtapes. Pictured here is his latest, #TEN, a sampler of the best the local hip-hop scene has to offer, featuring tracks from DoNormaal, Dex Amora, Nacho Picasso, WIZDUMB and many more. He’s an awesome champion of Seattle hip-hop, has his fingers on the pulse, and has introduced me to more than a few amazing local musicians who were not yet on my radar. Get this sampler free on Bandcamp. Alternately, go see Zeta perform live at Vermillion every third Friday as part of his ongoing “Wild Style” residency.

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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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50 Next: Seattle Hip-Hop Worldwide

50 Next: Seattle Hip-Hop Worldwide drops you into a literal roundtable conversation between Town legends old and young. James Croone of The Emerald Street Boys tells the story of discovering how “poetry on top of music” could carry a message. Spyc-E shares how she first learned to write rap verses, at age 11, and is kindly teased by the group into performing her first-ever childhood rhymes. Later, Khingz thanks Vitamin D for mentoring him early in his career, and for how it helped him achieve his own success. This half-hour documentary captures several charming, rambling discussions about the long history of Northwest rap. The whole thing is a delight.

Eazeman from ’90s group L.S.R. reflects on how major-label rejection shaped the scene early, saying “If you don’t want to show us for who we really are, then we don’t need you. We’re going to make our own party.” Rapper Candidit adds, “Don’t come if you’re not prepared.”

The group passionately rails against the evils of what they describe as “capitalist hip-hop,” which divides communities and makes local artists into commodities to be bought and sold. There’s a need today for more love and mutual respect and not so much focus on money and fame and numbers. Instead, they explain how everyone making art in the Northwest has a responsibility to fight back against the mainstream, “intended to pacify society” adds CPS da Scientist. Rapper DICE encourages artists to follow their imagination, saying “who cares what is new and cool now. Figure out what it’s going to be cool next, and then be the first to do it.”

50 Next was released as part of a larger online interactive experience by Aaron Walker-Loud and Avi Loud, “a multi-media time capsule of what was, what is, and what’s next…” The whole project is still online and is viewable here.

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The Message E.P.

Seattle rap legend Fatal Lucciauno was very busy in 2012. While he was still working on his grand and iconic opus Respect, Fatal went in the studio with Jake One, and the two of them conjured up a sneak-attack EP called The Message. Respect, which included hits like “Gotta Go,” “Black Hoody Rap,” and “Better Than You,” was completed and released later that same year, and both projects dropped on Seattle’s Sportn’ Life Records.

The Message boasts a lineup of eleven original Jake One beats of all sizes and shapes. The danger of doing a whole record with only one producer is a cloned sound. Jake avoids this pitfall thanks to his creativity, and each beat on The Message is different from the others. On “Warm Ups,” Fatal runs easy victory laps around less capable rappers. “Sinners Prayer” is a strong cut, where the contemplative lyrics are perfectly nestled in the gentle beat. “Some of us are just prone to violence,” confesses Fatal.

One of Fatal’s strongest traits as an MC is the fact that he examines society’s myriad contradictions in his search for meaning. He poses rhetorical question after question on this EP. “How would the world react to a president who’s Black if Huey’s the one who made it instead of Barack,” he asks on “Drunken Poetry.” The last song on The Message, “Cry For Help,” doubles down on this concept, for instance, “What if I was to turn state’s evidence, go against everything I ever believed in?”

Production on “The Mad Hatter” goes to the same drum gravity vortexes found in Jake’s beat for “Rock Co.Kane Flow” by De La Soul. Fatal assembles a strong verbal attack, for example, “Cut your b**** up, this ain’t Nip & Tuck.” But, for me, “Mad Hatter” is too similar to the 2004 De La track for me to relax and enjoy it. Similarly, I also found the loud, peppy drums on “My Caliber” to be distracting when placed with the more mellow lyrics of this love song.

“The Life” is probably my favorite track on The Message. It is an affectionate and sentimental look at the day to day experiences of a dyed-in-the-wool Seattle hustler. Fatal really has a skill at imagery, and similar to Notorious BIG, he packs a lot of content into very few words. “Praying that the District Attorney will lift the sentence. Dreams of a corner office, but every time I’m in it, they give a cup to piss in,” he laments. Some might find the EP’s prominent f-slurs offensive, but no-one can deny that Fatal Lucciauno is among the most dedicated rappers to ever grace the Emerald City streets. Written by Novocaine132

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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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Town Biz Mixtape

No list of essential Seattle hip-hop compilations would be complete without the inclusion of Jake One’s 27-track opus, the Town Biz Mixtape. He dug deep into the crates, surfacing lost hits, deep cuts, and the finest local hip-hop spanning more than 20 years. (From 1989 to 2010, when this CD was released.)

The mixtape is an essential playlist that surfaces forgotten gems and unexpected bangers. My favorite track here is Vitamin D’s “Who That??” feat. The Note (from Narcotik), but there are so, so many solid tracks. Everyone’s on this, from Blind Council to Mash Hall, The Physics, Tay Sean, J. Pinder, and Shabazz Palaces. Listening to Town Biz will leave you realizing how blessed we are to have so much musical talent in our own backyard. But we knew that already, didn’t we? Thanks to Jake One for compiling this so we can spin it on a sunny summer afternoon and feel hella proud.

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Ali'Yah

Seattle hip-hop blog 206UP picked this record as one of the “Top 10 Albums of 2009,” saying that:

Ali’Yah represented a shift in tone and lifestyle for Sportn’ Life lead dog, D. Black. A man whose rap career began with aggressive, street-oriented rhyming seems to have made a 180-degree turn. He’s still aggressive and street-oriented but now moving in a different direction, urging his fellow soldiers to step away from the drugs and guns and toward the redeeming light of personal and social responsibility. There was a lot of uplifting hip-hop in Seattle this year and D. Black’s Ali’Yah proudly led the way.

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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, blesOne and new partner emecks teamed up to form a band called Don’t Talk To The Cops with Mizell as their DJ and released a 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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Reigncraft Volume 8: Sweat Equity

The final numbers are rather impressive! Seven years. Eight CDs. One hundred and sixty songs! Reigncraft was a networking experiment that released compilations of Northwest hip-hop artists from 2003 until 2009. Reigncraft Volume 8: Sweat Equity is the final chapter of this deep Seattle journey. As with the other volumes, everything on the CD is hot, but I will focus on just a few of my favorites to save space.

Billy The Fridge shouts out Reigncraft 8 on his bouncy track “Cadillac Rollin Fat.” This song was later remixed with verses by Barfly and Gatsby, but here you get three entertaining verses by Fridge. From my years of listening to this artist, I have concluded that while many rappers use words simply to communicate, Fridge instead kaleidoscopes the English language in his quest to entertain. He is the Willy Wonka of Seattle hip-hop, and if you haven’t yet experienced Billy The Fridge, you are in for a treat.

Artist LaRue calls for racial unity and solidarity with the track “Rise Up,” and the positive message here is resounding. Sometimes you need a reminder of what’s important in life. The late Zig Ziglar gave us a relevant quote to chew on, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing, that’s why we recommend it daily.” To me, tracks like “Rise Up” gain value as the years go by, while other materialistic or violent songs become obsolete.

“The Myth” by Fatal Lucciauno is a heavy duty tour de force. The beat by B.Brown is grand, evoking the pomp and circumstance of Dr Dre’s masterpiece 2001. Fatal shows why he is perhaps the most complex lyricist ever to emerge from Seattle. “Fixed everything from horse races to court cases,” he boasts. Fatal’s work carries the somewhat divine authority of a writer who wastes no words. Each word and phrase in “The Myth” is there for a reason, fate demands it.

With a sophisticated beat by Mr. Hill, and lyrics of velvet by Candidt, “Life Of A Emcee” might be competing with Greasy Earl’s “New Earl Order” as my favorite Reigncraft track of the entire series. Candidt makes rapping look effortless, and he threads an important needle that many MCs can’t. What I mean is he puts excitement and drama in his voice, but doesn’t have to raise the volume to do so. Additionally, he doesn’t fall in to the common lyrical trap of rote recitation, so “Life Of A Emcee” feels unrehearsed and spontaneous. Congratulations to the series executive producer KNDNM, and to all the artists who ever contributed to Reigncraft. Written by Novocaine132

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White Van Music

Hmmm... There's not a lot of information about this project in the museum encyclopedia. We'd love your help! TOWN LOVE is maintained by an awesome community of passionate volunteers who keep it all up to date.

Do you know something about the history of this record? Do you have a favorite lyric or a favorite memory? Send us an email on why this is one of the great hip-hop albums from the Northwest. Thanks!

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Reigncraft Volume Seven: Wake Up

The Reigncraft series of Seattle rap compilations is a wonderful place to start if you have no idea about hip-hop culture in the 206. There are hundreds of artists in our town who put out interesting music, even if the national press only covers two of them. Reigncraft Volume Seven: Wake Up, which dropped in 2008, is just as badass as volumes one through six. Let’s take a look at a few highlights, unfortunately there are too many tracks here to cover them all.

“Start Some S*** Pt. 3” by Cancer Rising is outrageous. A DJ named blesOne had just joined the group, and the song is like a Tasmanian devil chewing on your leg. The combination of blesOne and Gatsby from Cancer Rising would evolve into late-stage Mash Hall, including classic albums like They La Soul. Former wrestler Billy The Fridge drops “Smells Like Hip Hop” as his oblique tribute to Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Fridge goes meta and references Reigncraft a couple of times in his verse. For instance, “This city is behind me and we’re on a mission, buy that Reigncraft disc and give it a listen,” and “If you don’t know Grynch or the Blue Scholars, then give me ten bucks and I’ll give you two dollars, and a copy of Gotta Do It.”

“Plague Your Mind” by Second Family is interesting to me for the commitment to wordplay, and the relentless grinding beat. Producer Baked Beatz shows restraint, and the track just drip, drip, drips like water torture. I replayed this track a bunch of times, and I still can’t quite put my finger on it. Backing vocals by Latin Rose enhance the gloomy yet dangerously thrilling panorama, effectively capturing the allure of street life on tape.

I want to like “Homelessness” by Byrdie, but somehow the song never comes together for me. The lyrics are a masterpiece, as they explain all the factors that can lead to someone being unhoused. “I speak for the homeless stuck in the streets, every day and every night trying to make ends meet,” Byrdie practically screams on the chorus. You can tell he feels emotional about this topic, and it’s a revelation to hear a rap that isn’t about selfish materialism. Unfortunately, the production seems oddly mixed to the high end, and doesn’t develop an appropriate vibe for the material. With a different beat, I think this song could be more powerful.

Near the end of Wake Up is nineteen year-old Sol’s “Kno U So Well.” This song is lighthearted and fun, and Sol uses his voice articulately and with good rhythm. The vibe is similar to “My Name Is” by Eminem, complete with circus-sounding production and ridiculous lyrics. “Fuck a pistol, I drop an Iraq missile. Leave nothin but your eyepatch, call it the Slick Rick move.” The song is a bit clumsy, but it shows potential for this young MC. Written by Novocaine132

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The Only Forgotten Son

In a podcast interview with DJ Peg, Fatal Lucciauno remembers the first rap that he ever wrote when he was a young child of seven or eight years old. Then he proceeds to spit the verse, which uses the hook, “Education is the key.” Fatal also remembers a second early rhyme that he wrote about having a positive Black identity, despite the legacy of historical American racism.

Fast forward to 2006, and Seattle rap family Sportn’ Life Records was having a huge year. The label put out Cause & Effect by D. Black, an album so heavy that it has been described here at Town Love as a “debate-ending anvil from a talented prodigy.” Sportn’ Life then teased an album from Fatal Lucciauno by dropping a three-song promo CDr. The hard hitting tracks, “Watch My Back,” “You Ain’t Hood,” and “Opportunity (feat. J Pinder),” made an impression on Seattle rap fans, and by 2007, Fatal had completed his debut album, The Only Forgotten Son.

“I’m Here” starts things off like a shot of strong liquor, instantly setting the mood. Before The Only Forgotten Son, Fatal had collaborated a couple of times with D. Black, and early in their careers the two rappers shared a lyrical and thematic gangsta rap lane. Fatal’s delivery on “I’m Here” definitely reminds me of D. Black, and that’s a good thing. The music sounds doom-filled and ominous, and the lyrics are hungry, “So fuck the label, fuck the law, fugitive artist, I just duck and draw.”

“Won’t Change” brings Tribal Productions legend Vitamin D onboard to drop his herky-jerky jalopy flow over a slinky groove. In fact, Vitamin keeps his production batting average high by effortlessly smacking beats like this one out of the park. Vitamin shares some of his life history so we can understand his pedigree, “Raised Democrat, soul child, used to bump Pendergrass, into rap, plus there’s a little pimping in the cat.” Fatal’s lyrics are more defiant, and he stakes a claim to his hood identity which is set in stone. Things get even more gritty on “Don’t Grind Don’t Eat,” and the song reminds us that everyone needs a hustle to survive, whether it’s a legit one, or something more criminal.

My favorite track on the album is “Gangsta Groove.” This absolute classic was produced by D. Black, who made six of the beats on the album, including “I’m Here.” “Gangsta Groove” drops little bon mots and aphorisms alongside punchlines and hard rhymes. With references to David Hasselhoff and O.J. Simpson, the track weaves humor with real talk in a very effective way. Fatal would go on to have one of the most accomplished careers of any Seattle MC, with at least six full albums under his belt. The Only Forgotten Son is another big win for Sportn’ Life Records. Written by Novocaine132

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