A film about Northwest hip-hop from

The Criminal Nation Movie

During 2020’s Coronavirus pandemic, MC Deff (aka Wojack) set about to tell the story of his ’90s gangster rap group through video chats and a simple question: “When did you first hear about Criminal Nation, and what does the group mean to you?”

What follows is a series of touching video voicemails and personal stories from rappers and producers across the Northwest, including Silver Shadow D, J-1, Squeek Nutty Bug, Josh Rizenberg, and many others. This film has a real feel of hanging with the homies. Clearly, this music meant a lot to a lot of people, and this footage is intercut with photos of memorabilia and record covers.

Many of the interviewed artists were youngsters–only 12 or 13 years old–when they first heard the staccato synth opener of Criminal Nation’s mega-hit “Release The Pressure.” Each was thrilled to have hometown heroes on the radio. Awall Jones talks about the beats and his amazement that “they’re from Tacoma, too?!” Un The Rhyme Hustler says, “I was trying to be MC Deff,” echoing the sentiments of many. Several of the artists rap and sing their favorite Criminal Nation songs, too. It’s charming.

Wojack himself does a freestyle summarizing his thoughts on “Day 34 of quarantine.” Notably absent from this project is Wojack’s Criminal National collaborator DJ E (aka Eugenius), though he and the rest of the NastyMix crew–E-Dawg, High Performance, Kid Sensation–all get plenty of props for their roles in establishing the early Northwest sound.

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A film about Northwest hip-hop from

Really Cheat'n

Here are some car-stereo-shaking Central District tales of murder, violence, romance, and good weed: Released in 1995, Really Cheat’n from Squeek Nutty Bug is grooving G-Funk at its finest.

After spending his early years in the Midwest—and in jail—Squeek made a big splash on the Seattle scene in the mid-‘90s, named so because of his distinctive high-pitched vocal delivery. He released a catchy first single called “ILL HETCHA HY”—you should sound this out. The song also appears on this full-length, this all-too-short, nine-track Really Cheat’n. The whole album is funky hop fantastic with live instrumentation courtesy of producer Ryan “RC” Croone, who, after this project, launched a production empire. Together, he and Squeek are bringing that “hydroponic do-do-funk type shit” as he says in the opener. Squeek himself saw his verses as education, once saying to the Seattle Times, “I’m takin’ hip-hop to the vegetables and the vitamins.” The closing track “Outro” is almost three full minutes of thanks to town talent and favorites delivered in a most amusing style. Overall, this is a hella fun record, reminiscent at times of Gifted Gab, who’s one of the main players who turned me onto it. Really Cheat’n was also one of the first releases from CD Raised Records, a Central District record label started by Captain Crunch, a member of the once mythological Seattle hip-hop group the Emerald Street Boys, and father of D.Black/Nissim. That fact, plus one that Squeek was a headliner on Nasty Nes’s “Best of Northwest Hip-Hop” stage at Folklife Fest that year, connects this record to a host of this town’s amazing first generation of hip-hop legends. Dee.aLe from DMS is featured, as are Young K, Lil Mafia (AKA Skuntdunanna), ROK, BG Bari, & Kevin Gardner.

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