Home Music 50 years of hip-hop: Seattle : NPR

50 years of hip-hop: Seattle : NPR

50 years of hip-hop: Seattle : NPR


Sir Combine-a-Lot, Macklemore, Lil Mosey & Ishmael Butler. Collage by Jackie Lay / NPR.

Sipa USA through AP / Kevork Djansezian / Bennett Raglin / Theo Wargo/Getty Photos / AP

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Sipa USA through AP / Kevork Djansezian / Bennett Raglin / Theo Wargo/Getty Photos / AP

Sir Combine-a-Lot, Macklemore, Lil Mosey & Ishmael Butler. Collage by Jackie Lay / NPR.

Sipa USA through AP / Kevork Djansezian / Bennett Raglin / Theo Wargo/Getty Photos / AP

Because it celebrates its fiftieth birthday, we’re mapping hip-hop’s story on an area degree, with greater than a dozen city-specific histories of the music and tradition. Click on right here to see the whole checklist.

It is telling that of the 2 Seattle music scenes that bubbled up within the late ’80s and early ’90s to provide large mainstream hits, solely one among them earned the nickname “the Seattle sound.” However as a lot as grunge will get the credit score for cementing the Pacific Northwest as that period’s locus of counterculture, Seattle’s rap scene had the same fringe sensibility, one which could not be pinned to a single sound, vibe or lyrical model. If most creative actions have cohered round a standard method, the hip-hop from the 206 is, as a substitute, outlined by its sprawl.

When native radio veteran Robert L. Scott first performed “Rapper’s Delight” on KYAC 1250 AM in October 1979, the South Seattle membership Lateef’s virtually instantly grew to become a web site of participation and experimentation for the rap-curious. Quickly nightclubs, group facilities and native occasions had been serving to to nurture a vibrant scene that included acts like Jam Delight, Emerald Road Boys (and Women) and Silver Chain Gang. In 1981, after KYAC grew to become KKFX (KFOX), the station welcomed the DJ ‘Nasty’ Nes Rodriguez-hosted FreshTracks to Sunday nights, the primary rap radio present west of the Mississippi River. Along with new songs, Nes launched his “Mastermix,” an eclectic 30-minute block that introduced reside scratching and mixing to Seattle radio for the primary time.

After listening to a couple of sequence of more and more in style weekly events thrown on the Boys & Women Membership in Seattle’s traditionally Black Central District, Nasty Nes met the host, a DJ/rapper going by Sir Combine-A-Lot. Impressed by what he noticed, Nes invited Combine-A-Lot to air his materials on FreshTracks. Quickly after got here a brand new establishment, Nastymix Information. Shaped in 1985 by Nes and Combine-A-Lot with Ed Locke and Greg Jones, Nastymix grew to become one of many extra unlikely success tales in music historical past: an impartial rap label staffed by 10 folks, based mostly in Seattle of all locations, that launched a platinum and a gold document in two years and grew to incorporate breakout acts like Child Sensation and Excessive Efficiency on its roster. The trajectory might need continued if not for Combine-A-Lot’s litigious departure on the high of the last decade, taking his rising fanbase with him.

Nastymix closed in 1992, however its brief life had offered a blueprint for the right way to construct a profitable, minority-owned rap label, placing out native music with international attain. (The subsequent wave of rap entrepreneurs — J. Prince in Houston, Dr. Dre and Suge Knight in Los Angeles and Grasp P in New Orleans — was absolutely taking notes.) Native momentum, nonetheless, was stifled by limitations just like the Teen Dance Ordinance. Handed by the Seattle Metropolis Council in 1985 in response to buzzed-about allegations of drug and sexual abuse at youth occasions, the TDO put a stranglehold on all-ages concert events, requiring younger patrons, rap’s major viewers, to be chaperoned. Two off responsibility cops needed to be on the premises, with one other outdoors, and promoters wanted $1 million in legal responsibility insurance coverage. Although later changed by the much less restrictive All Ages Dance Ordinance in 2002, the TDO was undoubtedly taxing for a burgeoning scene constructed largely round group participation.

Regardless of these obstacles, the Nineteen Nineties introduced a wave of latest interpretations. The pop enchantment of Sensation, the acid-jazz mix of Sharpshooters, the consciousness of Supply of Labor and Erika “Kylea” White, and the earthy, natural kinds of The Ghetto Kids and Tribal Productions all expanded the inventive vary of rap from Seattle. Ishmael Butler left faculty to begin Digable Planets on the East Coast, bringing an intricate, finely spun method to rap sampling nonetheless heard in Seattle manufacturing. “Child Bought Again” made Sir Combine-A-Lot each iconic and notorious, particularly after its cartoonishly specific music video was restricted to night hours on MTV. By way of all of it, the scene was held down by Vitamin D, creator of legendary Central District basement recording studio The Pharmacy, and son of Motown legend and Ozone member Herman Brown. KEXP DJ Larry Mizell, Jr. as soon as stated he’d nominate the distinguished DJ, producer, and guitarist as Seattle’s consultant in a worldwide hip-hop Olympics, and he has been as instrumental as anybody in bringing a multiplicity to rap in Seattle and the Northwest.

And it wasn’t solely the music that was rising: Throughout that interval, the broader tradition of hip-hop continued to increase its roots extra deeply by way of the town and its satellites. Fever One, of the seminal NYC B-boys Rock Regular Crew, returned residence and mentored eventual two-time world champion breaking crew Large Monkees, who then opened a studio of their very own. Natives Tony Shellman and Lando Felix co-founded the hip-hop vogue manufacturers MECCA and ENYCE. By the 2000s, the graffiti provide retailer and exhibition area Artwork Primo had opened, and the non-profit 206 Zulu was utilizing hip-hop as an academic software to interact and empower Seattle’s low-income communities of shade. Ultimately, in 2014, November grew to become Hip-Hop Historical past Month in Washington state.

With time, the divergent strains of Seattle rap have solely gotten extra wide-ranging. Butler’s experimental duo Shabazz Palaces, signed to Sub Pop, interact in futuristic, genre-defying experiments. Nacho Picasso and Gifted Gab, each from the collective Moor Gang, swing in several instructions — the previous injecting a sinister, chaotic vitality into Seattle road rap, and the latter delivering tumbling, irked bars from past a blown excessive. Travis Thompson, a part-Navajo rapper from the southern Seattle suburb of Burien, furnishes expressive beats with shrill flows and rousing bits of introspection. And Lil Mosey, from the northern suburb of Mountlake Terrace, is on a distinct planet fully; the crooner, who started posting his music on SoundCloud in 2016, makes subdued auto-tuned songs just like the breezy, crisp “Blueberry Faygo.”

If there is a by way of line in all of this, it is that the Seattle-bred artists who infiltrate mainstream rap have accomplished so regardless of operating counter to mainstream narratives. In his 1987 breakout hit “Posse on Broadway,” Combine-A-Lot reversed area on the rising recognition of gun-toting, super-macho West Coast gangsta rap, calling out home violence with a story about utilizing mace to defend a girl from her abusive boyfriend. “Child Bought Again” went No. 1 in 1992 pushing again in opposition to Eurocentric magnificence requirements. The next 12 months, Digable Planets, who cited philosophers and name-checked Roe v. Wade within the pro-choice anthem “La Femme Fétal,” topped the Billboard rap charts with “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat),” now a jazz-rap customary. Vitamin D’s protégé Jake One, as soon as a member of the G-Unit manufacturing crew and later an prolonged member of the Rhymesayers household, would work with native luminaries like Deadly Lucciauno and Grynch and keep true to a soulful boom-bap sound, at the same time as his laundry checklist of credit got here to incorporate E-40, T.I., Snoop Dogg, Future, Travis Scott and Drake.

After which, in fact, there’s Macklemore & Ryan LewisThe Heist, whose large singles “Thrift Store” and “Similar Love” challenged two of hip-hop’s oldest norms: an obsession with costly, extravagant issues, and a persistent pressure of homophobia. The document conquered the Grammys with an over-the-top efficiency and a win over finest rap album favourite Kendrick Lamar (for which Macklemore would make an uneasy public apology), and its success reignited discourse round queer rights in hip-hop and past (constructing on the work of artists like THEESatisfaction). For some, this was the cap on an underdog story, a Seattle longshot with real expertise rising to the very best reaches of the business. For others, the optics of a white artist beating out a Black rapper’s intensely autobiographical album after which making a scene of his guilt felt tone deaf. However no matter you considered him, Macklemore personified loads about Seattle: its workhorse ethos, its intensive grassroots scene, and a capability to manifest outsider stars that the broader world by no means noticed coming.

In 2013, Seattle-based critic Charles Mudede wrote in The Stranger: “As Sir Combine-A-Lot raps solely like Sir Combine-A-Lot, Macklemore raps solely like Macklemore. Certainly, lots of the feedback on his YouTube movies evaluate him to Tupac, not as a result of they sound comparable, however as a result of they share a method that feels sincere and direct.” That, in a nutshell, is the story of the scene: sincere and direct, witty and benevolent, carried out for its followers, possessed of its personal thematic issues, its artists a throng of nonconformists every doing their very own factor.

All Rap Is Local icons.

The place to begin with Seattle rap:

  • Emerald Road Boys, “The Transfer” (1983) 
  • Sir Combine-A-Lot, “Posse On Broadway” (1992)
  • Digable Planets, “La Femme Fetal” (1993)
  • Blue Students, “Joe Metro” (2007)
  • Jake One, “Dwelling” (2008) 
  • Macklemore, “The City” (2010)
  • THEESatisfaction, “Queens” (2012)
  • Draze, “The Hood Ain’t The Similar” (2014)
  • Gifted Gab & Blimes Brixton, “Come Right” (2018) 
  • Travis Thompson, “Want You” (2019)



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