Thursday, April 20, 2006

Microphone check 1, 2-0-6

Play it: Blue Scholars Blue Scholars
Play it: Seattle Hip-Hop
In a city that's been waiting to blow since big butts and teen spirit...
- "Inkwell" Blue Scholars
The Blue Scholars' re-released debut album finally made it into Rhapsody this past week, and it is a cause for celebration. Originally 11-songs, A Light in the Attic Records recently (February) re-released this landmark album with three more tracks, after the Seattle duo managed to sell 10,000 on their own (out fo the trunk of their car.) Reminescent of Gang Starr with the accessibilty of De La Soul in their heyday, Geologic (MC) and Sabzi (DJ) carve out their own unique sound and their blue-collar and mixed ethinic background (Phillipino and Iranian, respectively) informs much of their views and sound. Their latest EP, The Long March, takes them even further down the road to stardom, and it won't be long now until they grab the brass ring w/ a major label, and blow up. With them, several others in Seattle are primed to bust out as well, as the scene has been building for some time.

Looming in the shadow of that mighty big butt, Seattle's hip-hop scene has toiled underground throughout the 90's and early 2000's, but seems ready to explode on the national scene now with the combo of Blue Scholars and Common Market. As Jeff Chang's excellent Can't Stop, Won't Stop points out, hip-hop was born of difficult times, and it's true of Seattle as well. While we don't have something as blaring as The Cross-Bronx Expressway to point a finger at, Seattle has had several things going on that has fostered animosity and frustration.

First and foremost is the nanny state policies of the city regarding nightclubs. Throughout the late 90's and early 2000, the city seemed to basically be at war with Hip-Hop and all-ages clubs (and if they were both? Forget about it!) Ordinances made it nearly impossible to keep a place open, and enforcement of these laws became arbritrary and often appeared racially enforced. This, it follows, created a rise in Seattle Police vs. minority neighborhood battles, which to this day is still a sore subject on both sides. Also, Seattle's tech boom elevated some incomes and helped create a have-and-have-nots gap that found the gentrification of many low-income areas. That was quickly followed by the bubble burst, and record unemployment numbers. These are many of the social ingredients that helped create the environment (ie, something to write about) but it wasn't enough. The skill of three local Producers (Bean One, Jake One, and Vitamin D) attracted national acts to come through and work with them, and while Blackalicious and the like passed through, the locals rubbed shoulders... things rubbed off, numbers were exchanged, etc. The Stranger's Charles Mudede deserves a lot of credit for writing about the scene with a weekly column that has since been carried on under a different name by the capable hands of Larry Mizzel, Jr. (My Philosophy.) It's fitting that Mudede continues to write up the Police Beat column for The Stranger, as it serves as a weekly reminder of the continued race relation issues that Seattle faces (and, in turn, feeds hip-hop frustration/inspiration.) The other major player in this growing scene is radio station KEXP playing the heck out of Blue Scholars and Common Market... since the stations' reach goes beyond just frequency modulation (thanks to streaming via the internet) music-loving folks all over the place are discovering these artists.

So who's who now in this scene getting ready to blow? Blue Scholars, Common Market, Boom Bap Project, Grayskul, Frameworks, Silent Lambs Project, and, still in on the scene as always, the shadow source hisself Sir Mix-a-Lot. You'll notice (in the playlist) that while "Baby Got Back" still is a reference point for Seattle Hip-Hop, nothing ('cept Mix-a-Lot himself) sounds like it's of influence at all. Besides Blue Scholars, Commmon Market posess the best chance to make a national splash, with their KRS-One MC-appreciation and tight beats and soul-inflected samples... it's only a matter of time.

Charles Mudede's excellent Seattle Hip-Hop profile from late last year (The Stranger)

Can't Stop, Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation (review/recap of Jeff Chang's book.)

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drake leLane said...

Blue Scholars Blue Scholars

1. Solstice: Reintroduction
2. Blue School
3. Bruise Brothers
4. Motion Movement
5. selfPortrait
6. Freewheelin
7. The Inkwell
8. Burnt Offering
9. Evening Chai
10. Blink
11. Sagaba
12. The Ave
13. Life & Debt
14. No Rest For The Weary

drake leLane said...

Seattle Hip-Hop

1. "The Inkwell" - Blue Scholars
2. "Push" - Common Market
3. "Reprogram" - Boom Bap Project
4. "Convoy" - Grayskul
5. "2 Horse" - Sir Mix-A-Lot
6. "Transform" - Optimus Rhyme
7. "Speakin' Easy ( Jake One Mix) (Produced by Jake One)" - L*Roneous
8. "The Hustler (Vitamin D's Mix)" - N.s.d. Project