Seattle's spin on hip-hop

Northwest's beat is set to break across the nation

by ATHIMA CHANSANCHAI, Seattle Post-Inteligencer

Seattle, you've paid your dues.

From the I-D to the C-D to the U-D, you started with mix tapes, battles, b-boying, b-girling, tagging, scratching, back-spinning and cats that brought each other up instead of beefing.

Now you're on the verge of cresting, poised to break out into the national consciousness and prove hip-hop isn't dead, it's just, as Seattle's Blue Scholars said, "malnourished and underfed."

This city is ready to feed it, change it and recharge it with its collective energy.

Northwest hip-hop might be thriving, but it's still often overlooked by the mainstream media. There's no shortage of places to see and hear it. And at the front lines: young men and women who connect with their communities, their elders and the ones coming up behind them.

"The world is ready for a breath of fresh air. It's ready for authenticity and smart hip-hop," said Jace, a Seattle educator who is also an emcee with the Silent Lambs Project, a hip-hop group. "We are the last frontier, the Northwest."

The breakout Sound of the Puget could go like this: Gabriel Teodros, 26, Ethiopian/white, born and raised in Seattle, one-half of Abyssinian Creole, set to drop a new album Tuesday, spitting "true to the few with the darker hue" who know what he's been through.

Every song on the radio is patriarchal
Videos show sex and not really much mo
Hip-hop is macho, bravado, ego, battles, guns, drugs, thugs
And not really much mo
My people, what's going on? Tell me where we went wrong

-- Teodros, "Chili Sauce," from the album "Lovework"

Teodros is part of an expansive scene that includes emcees and producers, b-boys and b-girls (break dancers), DJs, activists and educators, and radio stations (online as well). They're the latest generation in waves that spans decades.

It's a story ignored by the mainstream, but nothing's going to stop the current crews who grind their hardest making Seattle heard.

Back to its roots

In a city with mixed cultural scenes that defy stereotypes and easy description, no one wants to pin a label on local hip-hop.

You got your street cats like D. Black who couldn't be more different than your Blue Scholars (a duo that's practically branded socially conscious hip-hop), who couldn't be more different than your Elefaders (turntablists turned four-man band -- the underground of underground hip-hop).

Beats lock, pop and twist under the lyrical dynamos that drop Seattle hip-hop.

Usher in the Renaissance -- a plea to Medici
To commission each and every emcee in the CD
Meet me on the Hill with your catalog of styles
We're collabin' with the crowd congregatin' 'round Sal's
And be loud enough (that) sound travels upstairs

-- Common Market, "Connect For"

They're Seattleites merged with the cultures of their parents -- of Ethiopia, Iran, the Philippines; they're old-school pioneers who paved the way for others; they're women who are reinserting themselves into hip-hop's front lines; they're socially conscious intellects who reveal truths about their communities.

"It reminds me of the Harlem Renaissance artists' culture," Jace said. "People here are very eclectic. Like the Emerald City in the 'Wizard of Oz' -- it's that jewel you find once you get past the trees."

That seclusion has allowed the evolution of hip-hop that cuts against the grain.

"We are so isolated in a sense, with the industry in L.A., New York and Atlanta. We have the opportunity to create in relative anonymity and make it into something unique," said Jonathan Moore (aka J. Moore), a Seattleite whose footprints have been all over the scene for more than two decades. At the same time, he bristles at the idea of any one sound stamped on Seattle's hip-hop identity.

"If there is a 'Seattle sound,' " he said, "it'll be counterfeit."

Ladies First

One thing that sets Seattle's hip-hop apart from the national bling thing is its women, who are entering the spotlight not as scantily clad video hos but as ladies with something to say.

Womyn, let's fight
We need to be heard
Our voices are needed
To be put to use
Because we are the real treasure ...

-- rogue pinay, "Babaeng Mandirigma (Womyn Warrior)"

At Youngstown, an all-female hip-hop event called "INDAYog" in December drew about 350 people, many of them families.

Rogue pinay, aka Katrina Pestano, 22, one of the event's organizers and performers, said, "This was the first of its kind locally -- an all-women's hip-hop show from the perspective of addressing sexism and heterosexism in hip-hop."
The lineup included local acts such as CanarySing, Christina Orbe, Skim, Beyond Reality, Vivid Vixens and Baby T.

Ladies, she said, aren't often in the spotlight of modern hip-hop, so this was a chance to recognize how women are not only equal artists but can be critical to holding it down at home in support of male artists.

One sister shining a light on the local hip-hop scene is Julie Chang Schulman, aka emcee Julie C., also 22. Although she's been in the scene since she was 12, she only recently has begun her role as the unofficial historian/documentarian of local hip-hop, beginning with a three-page newsletter.

Artist Melissa Noelle Green, a former recipient of the Mayor's Awards for Excellence in Hip Hop and writer/director of "Hip-Hop: Back to its Roots," a play performed at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center in the fall, says it couldn't be a better time to be part of local hip-hop.

"I've never seen it so much where we're starting to collaborate with artists across the nation and others in the genre," she said. "Northwest hip-hop is probably going to be one of the most interesting and different kinds of hip-hop that anyone's ever seen."

The difference with Northwest hip-hop, she said, is its connection to its community. It tends to look out more than in.

"We put a lot of our own issues into our music. I don't think we're afraid to talk about things in our hip-hop," Green said.

"What's plaguing our world is going to come down in our music. ... It's not just about being conscious. I think we're getting tired of the booty-shaking stuff."

The Sound of Puget

Northwest hip-hop may seem elusive, under the radar.

But places to see it and hear it are plentiful. On the airwaves: "Zulu Radio" on KBCS; B-Mello's "Street Sounds" KEXP show; DJ Hyphen and J. Moore's show on KUBE; 1150 AM talk radio. On TV: "The Coolout Network" and "Hip Hop 101." Online: Rainydawg.organd myspace.com/bgirl.

Indie labels such as Mass Line Media and Sportn' Life Records have sprung up to give artists a foot in the door.

Artists are teaming up for events such as Dope Emporium (thanks to the Stranger, which has vigilantly covered the local hip-hop scene). Recently, shows at Neumo's, Chop Suey and the University of Washington's HUB auditorium attracted good-size crowds.

The Northwest is energized with organizations that encourage using hip-hop in education and for social justice movements. These include the local chapter of the non-profit Hip Hop Congress at Seattle University, led by faculty adviser Dr. Mako Fitts, and 206 Zulu, the Seattle chapter of the international Zulu Nation.

Daniel "King Khazm" Kogita, Seattle chapter leader of 206 Zulu and its West Coast regional coordinator, is trying to spread messages of unity and continuity through his "Hip Hop 101" TV show and "Zulu Radio" shows.

"Now we have music that's mindless, that carries no meaning. Zulu is trying to be guardians of this culture and make this culture transcend our differences and seek unity in our similarities," he said. "It's about integrity and living hip-hop, not just doing it for the money, and to do that we need to support independent and local resources."

These groups and other elements are trying to make an urban arts coalition, called the Hip Hop Political Convention, which can pull together all this energy and represent Seattle, united under the banner of local hip-hop. Meetings and workshops have pushed it forward, but there's still a lot of work to do.

"Hip-hop is a very competitive sport," Jace said. "You get a lot of battling and beefing, but we want to draw strength from the collective."

One way to empower the community is to bring young people into hip-hop in a positive way.

Jen Johnson with the Seattle Urban Debate League helped organize a camp last summer that brought in kids to learn how to use rap in debate. It's now a regular program.

"A lot of people who never debated before wanted to do it," she said. "The kids are also listening to the lyrics closely, especially to artists around here who are incredibly politically conscious. These underground cats are working in the trenches and they challenge mainstream hip-hop."

In return, the artists are giving back by teaching the kids.

"They're saying, 'We've worked really hard to open these doors, we want you to walk through them,' " Johnson said.

A new kingdom

It's been said that Sir Mix-a-Lot is the king of Seattle, and you can debate that from here to the East Coast, but without a doubt there are a whole mess of young'uns ready to create a new kind of kingdom.

Besides Blue Scholars and Common Market, there are guys such as D. Black, who grew up in a household of hip-hop (parents were Emerald Street Boys and Emerald Street Girls) and is now blazing on the Seattle-based Sportn' Life Records label.

I remember Daycamp Garfield to Rainier
when trouble was my first love I was never scared
got my ass whooped for going to school with a gun
that's when I learned that trouble wasn't fun

-- D. Black, "This is Why"

There are producers such as Jake One and Vitamin D, responsible for producing tracks from 50 Cent's G-Unit, who have lured other big acts to Seattle.

And though it will be an incomplete shout-out, let's not forget Choklate, Saturday Knights, Asun, Rebelz, dRED.i, Massive Monkees, Def Dyme, Laura "Piece" Kelley and Alpha P.

There are also artists such as Draze, a native Seattleite who came up with a different kind of mix tape. He called it mixtapemovies.comand it combined scenes from "Trading Places" with his own original rap about how it seemed to him -- in jest of course -- that Jay-Z was living his life.

He has a different perspective on the Seattle scene: "crabs in the bucket mentality." When one crab tries to crawl out, the others drag him back in. He wants to see more unity.

The struggle continues

With all that's going on locally, the question is who's listening?

Local hip-hop is barely scratched on the mainstream airwaves, radio or television.

But through other media, the sound pounds, relentless in its energy and its determination to give hip-hop listeners an alternative to booty-slapping, blinding bling and utterly predictable playlists.

"Look, at the end of the day, we're here to play big hit records. That's what the community wants," said Eric Powers, KUBE's programming director.

"I'd love to be playing more local music but we have to take the research from the people. There's not a huge appetite for it. A lot of mediums could be doing more. For us to give up an hour and a half speaks volumes. We're not against local music or else we wouldn't be playing them."

Whatever breaks, the hope is that it'll spit true to its Northwest roots, embrace the needs of the many versus the one and reject any attempts to label it.

people of the current who ain't mainstream drowning
from east los to westlake with free flows
to underground punk shows
mosh pits with shamans and they shift forms
so many hats worn
and a torn mindstate
make music with higher stakes
refuse to assimilate

-- Gabriel Teodros, "No Label"

article originally published at http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/pop/303919_hiphop16.html?source=mypi.

I don't think hip hop is

I don't think hip hop is anywhere near dead, it has it's own culture like all other music, mix tape shops through out the city's and urban areas carry every mix with every artist, both known and unknown. Just like if your into rock or metal you know which music shop has the hard to find CD's. Jay Z and many other famous artists have been around since the birth of hip hop in the 80's, in comparison to other music it's still young but has come a long way since then. MTV VH1 all play hip hop BET is dedicated to the music. I just got some O2 wireless festival tickets and will be seeing Jay Z. One of the greatest rappers who's been on linkin park CD's etc who would have thought those two genres would have ever mixed years ago but the music is awesome.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey