Image by Emma Looney.

The calendar tells me it’s nearing the end of December and hence begins 206UP.COM’s countdown of the best Seattle-area hip-hop albums of the last twelve months. Today the blog features the requisite Honorable Mentions. (Which we all know is just a mechanism designed to appease indecisiveness and waffling on behalf of the writer — guilty as charged.) Tomorrow the blog will feature the 10 through 6 positions, and on Thursday it will conclude with 5 through 1. If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, there should be no surprise as to the record that will top this list. (Hint: I am undoubtedly not the only one who will place it at the apex…)

The crew that occupies the top spot is indicative of one important signifier regarding 206 hip-hop: The artists who have been doing it the longest in this Town are still the ones doing it the best. Recently Seattle has had two acts embark on wildly successful national-headlining tours, both featuring 30+ dates each. But there’s only one act currently holding down an international tour, and it’s the dazzling brainchild of one of the city’s “old heads.” This bodes well for us. Seattle is a location with relatively little rap tradition, but the last five years have seen exponential growth to the point where there are too many acts to fill venues and not enough interested listeners to promise success for everyone. We’ve reached the musical equivalent of what chemists call “supersaturation.”

Seattle rap must now grow outward in order to truly succeed, and the man doing it the biggest is the only one the local community should trust to carry the torch (regardless of what Sir Mix-A-Lot says). His is a demeanor that perfectly represents what Seattle is about, his point-of-view one that is vastly under-represented (both in Town and out of), and his creative acumen advanced enough to stay relevant in an ever-shifting musical landscape that requires deft alterations in sound and a healthy dose of intrigue to hold listeners’ short attention spans.

Younger rappers, take heed: This sh-t right here is a marathon, not a sprint, regardless of what these flash-in-the-internet-pan MC’s are telling you. You’d be wise to tie up your laces, keep your proverbial powder dry, and turn off that internal metronome for just a moment for some good old-fashioned note-taking. Time for you to listen to Black.

And with that, here are 206UP.COM’s (OTHER) Top Seattle Hip-Hop Albums of 2011 (the Honorable Mentions):

(Note: Links to purchase or download are included. Just click the album cover image.)


Avatar Young Blaze – The Iron Curtain

With each subsequent release, Avatar Young Blaze shows the promise that lurking somewhere in his ever-plotting mind is a top-notch trap masterwork waiting to be unleashed. Not to say that The Iron Curtain isn’t excellent. It is. And it’s the best he’s ever sounded on the mic. With more optimism in his lyrics (living in sunny SoCal will do that to you) and an expanding musical palette, Av has become a valuable Central District representative to the West Coast and beyond. Check out the track “UK Grime,” which sounds like it was concocted in a basement out in East London. It’s the only Seattle rap song of 2011 that made me want to break sh-t.


Kung Foo Grip – Capitalize

From the land of pristine suburbia (otherwise known as Kirkland) comes Kung Foo Grip and their decidedly un-sterilized update on underground Golden Era rap. The term “old soul” can’t be more aptly applied to these two underage MC’s (Greg Cypher and F is H) who found upstart success as on-the-scene battle rappers. They’ve since moved beyond the corner into high-quality studio productions like Capitalize‘s get-lifted “Def Yoda pt. 3,” a celebration of youth and their own unequivocal dopeness.


Hi-Life Soundsystem – Hi-Life Soundsystem

MC Khingz has been doing it for more than a minute around Town and everyone knows him as the thoughtful, science fiction-loving word-nerd (I mean that in a good way). He’s as comfortable embracing his own high-level mic prowess as he is learning the city’s populace on how f-cked up their racial and gender constructs are.

Hi-Life Soundsystem is the collaborative endeavor (with MC B-Flat and producer Crispy) that sought to temporarily shed the dreaded “conscious” label that’s been attached to Khingz in favor of his strobe-lit party-rocking sensibilities. “Death of the Party” was the best Seattle club jam of the year. It consistently brought the house down on the dance floor but Khingz and B-Flat couldn’t help turning their verses into something of a cautionary tale directed at folks who perpetually overdo it. This is music for party-goers who can appreciate their festivities without needing to overindulge.

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