Friday, March 09, 2012

A (brief) Retrospect of Hip-Hop in Seattle

Yesterday I posted up the new album from the very talented KnowMads crew from Seattle. At first I was going to go off on the state of hip-hop in Seattle, but I decided to save the thought for a brief retrospective look at the living, breathing hip-hop scene that is striving in Seattle.

Our beloved culture broke out in Seattle in 1981. "Nasty-Nes" Rodriguez started the city's first rap radio show, Fresh Tracks. The program featured music from the likes of Sir Mix-A-Lot, Emerald Street Boys, MC LeRap, PDQ, and Andy Hamlin. 4 years after the integral foundation was set, Seattle's first rap label was founded. Rodriguez gave birth to Nastymix Records. Seemingly the second coming of Egyptian Lover, Sir Mix-A-Lot was the first artist signed to the groundbreaking label and was easily the most successful.

Mix-A-Lot left Nastymix and became a brief nation-wide phenomenon with his lament about his love of big butts in the Grammy Award winning single "Baby Got Back". After that, Sir Mix-A-Lot, like the Seattle scene, fizzled into obscurity in the mainstream for a while. Soon after, the Jasiri Media Group movement went into full effect. Influenced by Saharan African fashions and its heritage, the collective was started by legendary local group Source of Labor. Even though Nastymix was over, the scene was still producing quality; Criminal Nation, Blind Council, Insane Poetry, and Source of Labor, among many others, held the city down but time became a factor and eventually washed them all away into the abyss that holds most local acts.

Something seemingly lit a fire under the Emerald City after the turn of the millennium. The city saw a huge burst of new emcees taking over the limelight. Groups like Boom Bap Project, Blue Scholars, Grayskul, Dyme Def, and Abyssinian Creole rose from the underground and, in the words of Kno, "released all classic discs". Source of Labor member Jonathan Moore now manages a handful of local acts like Vitamin D, Bean One, Grayskul, Boom Bap Project,and Byrdie. Moore is seen as an integral part of the recent flourish that the city has seen.

Seattle is well-known as one of the more diverse cities in Washington, and it's evident by the ever growing minority population throughout the years. The unique hip-hop that now pours from the city is obviously influenced by this diversity. Take the acclaimed MC-producer duo Blue Scholars for instance. Consisting of Filipino emcee Geologic and Iranian producer Sabzi, the group has released very successful independent albums, toured nationally, and has had no problem getting booked for festivals. Geologic has gone on record saying that the combination of cultures in Blue Scholars has been "a factor" in their overwhelming success.

The hip-hop that spouts from Seattle is just as diverse as the city's demographics itself. Sabzi, the producer half for  both Blue Scholars and Common Market, is well known for implementing a countless number of styles into his very highly regarded production for both equally regarded groups. Echoing classic boom-bap with influences from his and Geo's respective cultures, Sabzi beautifully arranges the perfect instrumentation to back Geologic's often political, often personal, but always poetic lyrics. The same goes for his work with RA Scion for Common Market; all of their releases are laced with the unique and seemingly natural production that Sabzi has trademarked in his young and already illustrious career.

Natural is always a keyword when describing Seatown hip-hop and it's an applicable description; artists hailing from the area take what we know and love about our favorite genre, strip it to its roots, and add their own very unique flavor to the melting pot. The KnowMads are one of the biggest examples of this, and it's why they are known as one of the premier groups out of Seattle. Experimental duo Shabazz Palaces are currently making waves for just that. Ex-Digable Planets emcee Ishmael "Palaceer Lazaro" (then simply known as "Butterfly") teamed up with Tendai "Baba" Maraire to create some of the most alternative (in the best way possible) releases in a while with their African-influenced 2009 EPs Eagles Soar, Oil Flows and The Seven New along with their 2011 debut Black Up which topped many "Best Of" lists. Technical skill extraordinaire Sadistik (who we interviewed) has also been a huge figure in the experimental side of things, releasing collaboration projects with forward thinking producers Emancipator and Kid Called Computer.

Minnesota-based independent label juggernaut Rhymesayers has played a large part in the growing buzz around Seattle. Grieves, Grayskul, and Jake One are currently signed to label and Boom Bap Project and Vitamin D used to call the label home. Grieves's brand of self-conscious and honest rap blended right in with the rest of the Rhymesayers. His first Rhymesayers release, 2011's Together/Apart, was very well received in the independent hip-hop community. Grayskul lives up to the diverse reputation of their roots and it is very hard to miss it when listening to their Cannibal Ox-unfluenced music. Jake One and Vitamin D both broke out after both co-producing The Gift of Gab's classic solo debut 4th Dimensional Rocketships Going Up in 2004.

As with every local scene for any genre of music, it's impossible to cover every meaningful act in a few paragraphs, no matter how hard you try. All I can say is that Seattle's local hip-hop scene is one of the best right now and deserves a wider limelight and more attention towards it.


ms.c said...

joe, this is my weekend. I am not reading this. but i clicked the link so i hope youre happy

Joe Valdez said...

shut up stephanie

Ahmad Abdullah said...

Great! Thank you for sharing it with us I really like that … your idea is really appreciate able …
Hip Hop 2012

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