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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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The Don Of Diamond Dreams

In their annual year-end critics’ poll, The Seattle Times ranked The Don Of Diamond Dreams as the very best Seattle album of 2020, saying:

Ishmael Butler is a Seattle original. The enigmatic rapper/producer has been at hip-hop’s vanguard since Digable Planets’ Grammy-winning heyday in the early ’90s. During the past decade, the onetime jazz-rap leader and, ahem, Seattle Times paperboy became an influential alt-rap figure, further expanding the art form through Shabazz Palaces’ polyrhythms and Afrofuturist touch. This spring’s Sub Pop-issued The Don of Diamond Dreams ranks among the best work of Butler’s illustrious career, showing he hasn’t stopped moving forward in three decades.

Butler makes literary sport of hip-hop’s braggadocio traditions, name-checking 1920s French actors, and “catching mermaids without no hook” on the hypnotizing “Chocolate Souffle.” Elsewhere, the warped funk of “Fast Learner” is fit for an intergalactic space cruise or midnight drive through neon-lit streets. In a year when local hip-hop shined so brightly — and some in the mainstream might be catching up to his star-surfing ways — amid a tumultuous start of a new decade, there’s comfort knowing this Seattle visionary still carries a guiding torch.

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On The Quarner

On The Quarner was recorded and released in quarantine, inspired by the Miles Davis record of (almost) the same name, featuring nine mind-bending tracks fused into a single, continuous mix. Shortly after it dropped, The Seattle Times declared that On The Quarner was one of “the best Seattle albums of 2020,” praising its “loops and fragments that drift by in a slow-rolling haze, with tightly packed punchlines and metaphors.” KEXP called the record “a masterwork that warrants uninterrupted listens,” adding that “Stas is a sculpture artist, building statues out of every musical element possible, stacking rhyming sounds and pitch-shifted harmonies, unpacking complex thematic concepts and rapping circles around even the best of her peers just for the hell of it.” This year, Stas again proved to be an unstoppable, multitalented force in NW hip-hop.

Here’s another take:

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

Rapper/producer/DJ Stas THEE Boss has blessed us with her first solo project since 2017. With her new EP, completed as the pandemic took hold, the former THEESatisfaction member stitches together a series of pieces into one 16-minute movement that plays like an abbreviated mixtape. While its collection of loops and fragments drift by in a slow-rolling haze, there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it quality in Stas’ unflappable delivery as she unfolds tightly packed punchlines and metaphors.

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Sang Stasia!

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

Stas doesn’t so much rap over beats as the emcee/producer’s relaxed flows aerate her misty tracks with the feeling of a dream you’re certain is real. The former THEESatisfaction member might have a New York address now, but she’s still pushing the needle for Seattle hip-hop.

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Love Memo / S'WOMEN

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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Watercolor

Someone said the slow-burn groove of Porter Ray’s 2017 Sub Pop release, Watercolor was “decidedly wavy.” It’s a good descriptor of the push-pull forces at work here: just as songs begin to take off, they slow down again. It’s this ongoing tension that makes the record so fascinating and so perplexing.

This is headphone music, demanding your attention, full of hushed lyrics, buried voices under the verses, mumbles deep in the mix, and smooth ass bass lines. (Shout out to BRoc on the production.)

I’m a huge fan of Porter’s back catalog of mixtapes, but even then, it took me a dozen listens to make sense of this 18-track double vinyl. We live in a time of five-second sound bites and snap judgments, and this record defiantly rejects both. It builds slowly. It demands investment and patience.

Watercolor starts to kick into gear around track 4, “Past Life” (feat. Ca$htro), before easing down again into an instrumental interlude.

Watercolor slowly primes you to achieve that moment where you’re ready to receive bold truths. This record is musical yoga, held in stasis, where the smallest movements are rendered epic, practice through repetition, recurring themes, and verses throughout multiple songs and MCs. Just breathe. Those bangers come later: “Lightro,” “Beautiful,” “Sacred Geometry”—all on the latter half of the record—deliver in spades. The longer you spend in this dream space, the deeper the dream goes. Lay in corpse pose. It’ll come to you.

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S'WOMEN

Stas Thee Boss subtitles this record, “An aquatic explanation of failed female companionships.” Pitchfork described it as “a collection of innuendos that deliver bravado and honesty with ease.” Regardless what you call ’em, there are 11 terrific tracks here, the sum too short at 23 minutes total running time.

Most songs are dense 120-second pops. French chefs have a name for their tiny, tasty morsels: “amuse-bouche” or “entertaining to the mouth.” Let’s call these songs “amuse-oreille” because they greatly entertain the ears, like little explosions of audio delights.

Back in September, I was talking with Stas outside a party and she said this record is made from “hella samples” and that for her, samples contain life and soul.

In each track, the individual elements breathe at their own pace. Songs slowly coalesce as though you were half-listening to multiple stories all at once… When magically their grooves transfixingly lockstep. I wonder if this is a reflection of Stas’s prolific DJ life, always queuing up a new joint while the current one shakes the speakers.

On December 21, Erykah Badu quoted this memorable verse from “Tried It” to her 2.6 million Instagram followers: “How you got the sage and the incense, but still got the rage in your intent?” These are songs you can listen to 10 or 20 times through and still hear something new. That’s the beauty of breath, and of samples that have souls.

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Solar Power: New Sounds in Seattle Hip-Hop

From UK music mag The Wire: “Fab comp on fab orange vinyl collating 14 leap-off points from a loose collation of Seattle based hip-hop artists and producers. The musical diversity here is ear-popping, ranging from the glitchy dubhop femme-gospel of DoNormaal and Stas Thee Boss and the electro ferocity of Remember Face to the rain-soaked doleful grooves of Jarv Dee. Crucially, the racial and gender mix ensures that the story told never gets dull; the album chops and changes to give an intriguing portrait of 14 artists you’ve never heard before finding their own ways to chart Seattle life and Seattle strength through hip-hop. Fascinating.”

From Michigan alt-weekly Northern Express: “This compilation, complete with its appropriately solar flare-focused cover art, brings together more than a dozen performers from Seattle’s hip-hop scene on a transparent, vinyl-only collection that gives these impressive artists the flair they deserve. Included here are tracks by Jarv Dee, who throws down an unforgettable remix of “I Just Wanna”; Gifted Gab, who mixes up R&B and late ’80s rap-pop on “Show You Right”; and Sendai Era, whose tropicália-influenced closer is an album standout.”

From Dusty Groove Records in Chicago: “A nice primer on the underground hip-hop scene in Seattle, circa the post-millennium teens! Solar Power doesn’t really set out to round up a succinct snapshot of a particular Seattle style and sound, so much showcase how diverse and distinctive the voices and producers in the city are. This compilation has the potential to survive as a pretty vital time capsule of this era in Seattle hip-hop history. It’s a lot more gender inclusive than many compilations, too, showing that it isn’t just a boy’s club – and tracks includes “Know Better” by New Track City, “Stop Calling My Phone” by Taylar Elizza Beth, “Front Steps” by Raven Hollywood, and more on colored vinyl.”

From Portugal’s Rimas E Batidas hip-hop magazine: “A new hip-hop edition with 14 tracks of emerging talent. Solar energy is the motto given to this compilation: The idea that Seattle stays true to its past while using its own strength as fuel for the change and renovation of its artistic panorama. This sonic self-sufficiency, a unique sonic imprint for the city, recalls the old glory of grunge, but it’s now in rap that this engine lies, emerging from a more underground, carefully manufactured sector, in the cellars and abandoned factories that will thrive there for not much longer. DoNormaal, Astro King Phoenix, Stas Thee Boss, ZELLi or JusMoni give voice to the manifesto of a constantly changing movement across the city.”

From Jet Set Records, in Kyoto, Japan: “Out of the city where Shabazz Palaces, Blue Scholars, Macklemore and Sir Mix-A-Lot made their base and their mark, a 14-song limited-edition compilation on orange vinyl. From emerging label Crane City Music, this one introduces you to the current Seattle hip-hop scene. The musicians explore various experimental styles, ranging from R&B to G-Funk. Seven of the tracks are from women artists. The jacket artwork by Seattle artist Ari Glass is also brilliant along with the content.”

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As Saffroniaa

Otherworldly and sensual, JusMoni’s solo release As Saffroniaa is dreamy, sultry intergalactic make-out music, washed in infinite hip-hop reverb. JusMoni’s sweet and tender voice calls to mind classic jazz divas while also sounding uniquely not at all like any of them. (“Saffroniaa” is a character from a Nina Simone song who is trapped between two worlds.) I love the extensive vocal sampling and the bubbling, gurgling beats throughout, including some fine work from producer 10.4 ROG, who also contributed sensational production to Jarv Dee’s The Red Eye Jedi this year. Close readers will note that JusMoni herself has been a key contributor to a few of my other top records this year, including those from Porter Ray and Tay Sean.

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EarthEE

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

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

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Supa Dupa (Love Affair)

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

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riZe vadZimu riZe

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

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Stas for Hire

A while ago, when Stas had a regular Wednesday DJ residency at Havana in Capitol Hill, I once saw her perform DJ magic: In the middle of playing a song from Beyoncé’s Lemonade, she extracted a phrase and looped it–imagine a carefully curated skipping record–leaving us in the audience rapt as we repeatedly anticipated an imminent crescendo, extending that one powerful moment into infinity, and transforming a well-loved song into something completely fresh and new.

Stas for Hire is a six-track instrumental beat tape from 2014 composed of short song sketches where she uses this technique is used to great effect, especially on a song like “Kilted then Skirted out.”

“The Many Ways In Which She Tried It” was reworked, rapped upon, and re-released on her 2017 album, S’WOMEN. Though there are no verses on this EP, the voice is sampled and used in oh so many joyous ways.

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awE naturalE

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

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

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

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Loves Anita Baker

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

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Sandra Bollocks Black Baby

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

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Helladope

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

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

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

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SeattleCali Fragilistic ExtraHella Dopeness

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

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

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Magnetic Blackness

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

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Loves Stevie Wonder Why We Celebrate Colonialism

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

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

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4 The Love of Music

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

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They L.A. Soul

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

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

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

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