THOUGHT BUBBLE: On Jarv Dee’s Satellites, Swishers & Spaceships



Moor Gang general Jarv Dee dropped his Satellites, Swishers and Spaceships long-player a couple weeks ago. You should grab a copy for yourself and learn just why, on paper anyway, the Moor Gang continues to run the deepest, most skilled collection of rappers in the Town.

SS&S is often predictably turnt, profane and violent — exactly the characteristics that Moor Gang’s detractors will evince as to why this clique’s music plays secondary to the “message” rap of other crews who better fall in line with Seattle’s quasi-Socialist aspirations. Whatever.

No other Moor Gang release to date has exhibited the type of smart, pointed, sub-textual critique of this city’s rap standards like SS&S. Jarv exposes the privileged truth-sayers — like the Seattle Weekly author who penned this bit of criticism on fellow Moor Gifted Gab’s album Girl Rap — as writing from the inside of a pristine vacuum, blissfully unaware of potentially troubling outside empirical evidence.

The actual truth plays much more dirty and in different ways: there’s the luxurious, fully objective version which lubricates debates about the looting in Baltimore and Ferguson only to result in heaved gobs of responsibility politics getting splattered about; and there’s the even more insidious, damaging version which Jarv points to on tracks like “Mind of the Masses” and its accompanying interlude, “Fox Urban.” Jarv echoes similar concerns as the Moor Gang’s lofty-perched critics over what gets rapped about — drugs, violence, misogyny (the fundamental “Re-thug-lican” rap tropes as they’re hilariously coined here) — but from a position of greater authority than those uninvolved in actually creating — and, sometimes, living — the art. Jarv’s practice of hip-hop fuels his very livelihood, and so does the demand of accountability fuel the critics’. If the rapper is taking the time to question his motivation, shouldn’t outside observers be doing the same?

Satellites, Swishers and Spaceships is conspiratorial and paranoid because to remain otherwise means giving in to the “Mind of the Masses.” It’s a tug-of-war for which we all have a losing record, Jarv included. “Re-thug-lican” rap keeps bitches and guns around because there’s often nothing better to replace them with. Sure it’s the creature eating its own tail but, hey, at least there’s food.

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THOUGHT BUBBLE: On Ronnie Dylan’s “Manumission” Video

Get Off My Lawn

When you are a white rapper who decides to make the title of your second hip-hop album an epithet for the liberation of slaves, well, I’d say you’d better know what you’re doing.

Ronnie Dylan seemed to take to the task with an appropriately heavy hand, especially considering the weighty subject matter of his album in question: Manumission. I met Ronnie for coffee about a week ago at the Ace Hotel in Midtown Manhattan to discuss not only his new record, but his new music video for the title track which, upon first glance, features the unsettling — but not atypical in American pop culture media — image of a wilderness “savage”-type character portrayed by a young man with brown skin. Naturally, I found the video and the title of the album to be at perfect odds with each other and figured there must be some deeper explanation for the choices made in the video.

Based on my and Ronnie’s conversation, I’ll say this: I don’t believe the very earnest, and very young rapper consciously placed the image in his video as a way to express either, 1) an outwardly exuberant hatred of brown people, or 2) the very opposite: a subversion tactic meant to stimulate a meaningful conversation about race among people who are prone to picking up on these types of images (that whooshing sound you just heard was me raising my hand). If, however, that is what the video accomplishes, even among a handful of Ronnie’s friends and fans, then it’s certainly a happy coincidence.

Ronnie admitted to having picked up on the potentially troubling imagery after the casting and production of the video had started. He decided to move forward with it as a sort of extended metaphor for the “rap game;” a way to echo the sentiments of certain white rappers trying to break in to an artistic craft traditionally dominated — and created, of course — by black and brown people. That’s a convenient and troubling answer to explain away what was probably just a case of latent prejudice, a curse bestowed upon us by this country’s history and suffered by every single person reading this post.

The video ends with the protagonist (a young white male) donning the “tribal” markings of his hunter, and taking up spear to fight against the “savage.” Thus the hunted becomes the hunter, and our hero finds courage where once there was cowardice. The outcome of the encounter is left ambiguous, but that doesn’t really matter. In any resulting scenario, here we have a white character who will find some varied degree of redemption through the actions (nay, the very existence) of a person of color. Mainstream pop culture — especially film — is fraught with this trope, the only product of which is white people feeling pretty good about what they’re viewing because it speaks directly to their guilt or bigotry (and perhaps both at once).

It’s fine for characters of color to remind white protagonists of their burden through these fictional narratives. What’s not okay are these trending chronicles in which PoCs liberate whites of their burden through some sort of philosophically or spiritually redemptive act. Yes, white people have hard lessons to learn, but the last thing they’ve ever needed was to be granted freedom.

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THOUGHT BUBBLE: On Raz Simone’s “Macklemore & Chief Keef” Video

For a minute last year, Seattle became the center of the pop music universe based solely on the appeal of a pretty-good-for-hip-hop-karaoke indie smash hit. (Don’t worry Macklemore riders, I’m not forgetting the handful of Billboard sediment that got stirred up in the post-“Thrift Shop” tidal action. But I am saying the country wouldn’t know “Can’t Hold Us” in the same way if Mack hadn’t first rocked the faux tiger skin.)


The biggest irony of this unlikely shift in cultural orbit around the Upper Left was that even though the song in question was, in fact, a rap song, the city from which it emerged was never fully acknowledged as a “rap city.” Seattle as a bonafide center for hip-hop culture hasn’t been named as such in the Court of Public Rap Opinion. Of course we all know that’s unfair, especially if you’re a frequent reader of this blog, or, better yet, one of the many hard-working, nine-to-five wage-earners who also moonlights as a dope MC in the Town. Hip-hop grows wherever struggle lives, and that is to say everywhere. I know this, we know this. Blue Scholars, The Physics, Dyme Def, Thraxxhouse, and Moor Gang know this. But in a broader cultural context, half the battle in getting your town put on the hip-hop map is getting more than just a grip of outside observers to project that most nebulous of conditions upon you: Realness. Whatever that means.

Again, anyway…

In yet another corner of Seattle’s rap mini-verse stands Raz Simone. The Central District’s chief street reporter was busy in 2014 making moves with one of the most preeminent figures in rap music history. If you’re prone to making such subjective proclamations you could have said that, other than Macklemore, Raz was Seattle’s other “big story” in rap music in 2014. Since signing a creative partnership with 300 Entertainment Raz has been — in the parlance of our times — “on his grind,” touring with Strange Music’s Rittz and amassing a cadre of well-wishers, energetic collaborators and — very likely — straight dick-riders (hey, it comes with the territory). Raz’s “The Village” is equivalent to Macklemore’s Shark Face Gang, except that the latter’s import exists now only to stoke its fellow members’ enthusiasm for Mack. Shark Face Gang is the cult underwritten by Dr. Pepper. The Village, on the other hand, is still a natural resource. A resource that Raz himself knows is necessary should he wish to continue his ascent to music stardom.

Which brings us to Raz’s new video: “Macklemore & Chief Keef.” It’s true, Raz calls out Macklemore for not doing as much as he could to put his city on and that’s undoubtedly what internet commentators will obsess over. But Raz is savvy enough to know that charges of outright jilt are more complicated than that. He also knows that a particular contingent of folks in Seattle wish him to be the darker (pun intended) counterpoint to Macklemore — the real side of this 2-0-6 rap shit. (Again, whatever the hell that means.)

“My city thought I might part the sea open,” Raz proclaims here. But even a deal with Lyor Cohen and a national coast-to-coast tour hasn’t changed the fact that he’s “still in the field” in order to make ends meet. The further you get into this song, the more peripheral Raz’s displeasure with Macklemore becomes. There are grievances to be aired sure, but in the end it’s really only about what hip-hop’s political operatives have known all along: It’s the game, stupid.

Of course the greater lesson here is the natural attrition your creative vitality suffers as celebrity grows. The more number one hits Macklemore accrues, the more he becomes engulfed by the fake empire that his main collaborating partner preached about in a college art project. As celebrity grows, so too does the abstract nature of your persona. Jay Z, at this point in his career, is more of a story — an idea, really — than he is flesh and blood. Raz isn’t ignorant; he knows that’s how it works. My guess is that the venom he spits in “Macklemore & Chief Keef” is more a product of his frustrations over the reductive nature of ubiquity than the fact Macklemore might not be returning his phone calls.

In any case, the shit’s real, son.

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206UP YEAR-END: The Top 10 Seattle Hip-Hop Albums of 2014


206UP turned five years old this year and I, as my mother and carbon dating would assuredly tell you, turned 37 in human years.

As far as the blog goes, it has never been more self-sustaining. We (and I say “we” because, unlike the previous four years of the site’s existence, there are voices contributing now beyond my own) are a production company, a resource for insight into live shows in Seattle, and a nationally recognized tastemaking outlet on par with the Pitchforks, Consequences and Wonderings of the online music world. (In a strange twist, however, none of the editors at those sites ever return my calls.) I kid, obviously, but still… Things are going really, really great in the 206UP office.

In my personal life, I can’t recall a year when I experienced wider swings in happiness and anger. The happy part came when I got married in May (I know, mazel tov!). And the anger part heaved and fluxed throughout the year with the ease of a sighing elephant, as blatant transgressions within our society dominated feeds and headlines.

How’s that for light and dark?

Thankfully, however, hip-hop goes where we go. And Seattle, being a microcosm of the rest of the country, did as much to illuminate the sustaining, healing aspects of the culture locally, as other more pronounced voices did their part nationally. The most important music, in my opinion, spoke to our most important concerns. Below the jump you’ll find albums that did just that, and yet others for which escapism was an equally important task. In either endeavor, this is the hip-hop from Seattle that best held us down in 2014.

Best of 2014 Best Of Lists Features

206UP YEAR-END: What Mattered Most in 2014

Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images News

Photo: Scott Olson / Getty Images News

Great things happened in Seattle hip-hop in the year 2014 and many of those things took the form of cohesive, fully-realized albums. We’ll get to listing some of those tomorrow. Today, though, we’ll be talking about the two records that mattered most to 206UP, both within the last 365 calendar days and, as we’ll clumsily attempt to illustrate, time immemorial. One has specific ties to Seattle (it’s this blog’s top hip-hop album of the year). The other, while not intrinsically tied to the Town, was such a monumental — and surprise — release that it demands mentioning here. Both records flirted with the dimension of time the same way a drummer like Questlove flirts with rhythm: easily manipulated, altered to slow or speed our senses, and employed to imprint thoughts, memories and ideas onto our subconscious so that images like the one above become mere fossils in a morality tale we hope to never tell again in real life.

Best of 2014 Best Of Lists Features

206UP FIVE YEAR (2009-14): The Top 15 Albums

FIVE clear

Better late than never … 206UP concludes its run of special features in celebration of the blog’s five-year anniversary. For all past related entries, see here. For yet another controversial, internet-exploding list of music-related opinion, see below.

Herein lies The Top 15 Seattle Hip-Hop Albums of the Last Five Years*, according to the often-tardy but never half-formed opinions of 206UP.COM. We present 15 because ten seemed too few and 20 too many. If an album made this list, we wanted it to actually mean something.

These are the albums that spoke to us the most over the course of the last five years. In revisiting these records — and many, many others — during the formation of this list, it was interesting to track how the perception and opinion of the music changed from the very first listen to the umpteenth spin. The benefit of hindsight and the context in which you’re experiencing the music is always in play when compiling a list like this, which might help explain why the album that originally held the unequivocal top spot in our minds, in fact changed upon later re-visit, replaced by a collection of tracks that — in our opinion — stands impervious to criticism in their breadth of creativity, profoundness and accessibility. If you’re an everyday reader of this blog, you probably already know what record I’m talking about.

And with that, hit the jump to read the rest.

*7/5/09 through 7/5/14

206UP 5 Year Anniversary Best Of Lists Features

206UP FIVE YEAR (2009-14) – “Dispatch From the Summer Music Journal of Hollis” by Hollis Wong-Wear

FIVE clear206UP continues its run of special features in celebration of the blog’s five-year anniversary.

Today, we’re super pumped to be handing the keys to the blog over to the uber-creative Hollis Wong-Wear. Hers is the third entry in 206UP’s series of guest posts written by different members of the Seattle hip-hop community.

I met Hollis for the first time back in 2010 at Bowery Poetry Club in New York City, where she performed, along with fellow MC/singer MADlines, as one half of the duo Canary Sing. Since then, Hollis’ various musical projects have led her back to NY a grip of times, most notably with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis during their three night Madison Square Garden run last winter, and for a handful of shows with her own band, The Flavr Blue. Hollis wrote this essay in early July, on the eve of the electro-pop trio’s third and fourth shows in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Like many people — myself included — she has an intensely romantic relationship with New York. I’m always struck by how easily the ethos of the relatively low-key Seattle music community vibes with the perpetual turnt-up-ness of Gotham. Blue Scholars, THEESatisfaction, Shabazz Palaces, The Flavr Blue, and, of course, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have all experienced success here, which is a testament to the Town’s hustle and universality of its music. NYC can be a shark to those brave enough to swim in its entertainment waters, but none of those Seattle cats have ever gotten eaten.

Read more from Hollis below the jump.

206UP 5 Year Anniversary 206UP Exclusive 206UP Exclusives Features Guest Posts

206UP FIVE YEAR (2009-14): “Five Seattle Producers Pushing it Forward” by Spekulation

FIVE clear

206UP continues its run of special features in celebration of the blog’s five-year anniversary.

Today’s post is the second in a series of guest contributions from different members of the Seattle hip-hop community. Yesterday, Ricky Pharoe provided insight into what it meant to be a rapper drifting in that nebulous realm of up-and-coming yet down-and-out in the Seattle scene circa 2007.

Today, producer/MC Spekulation lists his top five favorite Town hip-hop producers. 206UP thinks you should pay special attention to what he has to say because of his own particular pedigree as an artist: a well-tuned ear and attention to the intricacies of musical composition as opposed to rudimentary pad pushing on a drum machine. The five artists Spek lists embody the very definition of the term “producer” because they stretch beyond the simple beatmaker maxim.

Hit the jump to read more.

206UP 5 Year Anniversary 206UP Exclusive 206UP Exclusives Features Guest Posts

206UP FIVE YEAR (2009-14): “Monday Nights at the Chop” by Ricky Pharoe

FIVE clear

206UP continues its run of special features in celebration of the blog’s five-year anniversary.

Today’s post is fairly significant because it marks the very first time the site has welcomed a piece by a guest contributor. Better still, the author of this post is one Ricky Pharoe, the MC from left-of-center groups Art Vandelay and Ricky and Mark.

You could call this piece a sort of coming-of-age Seattle hip-hop tale, blessed with the sort of acerbic wit and droll humor that colors the majority of Ricky’s lyrical bars.

We’re really happy to have him and think you should all read this — especially you down-and-out rappers who are considering ending it all by enrolling in community college.

Ricky’s life lesson begins after the jump.

206UP 5 Year Anniversary 206UP Exclusive 206UP Exclusives Features Guest Posts

206UP FIVE YEAR (2009-14): The Top 25 Tracks

FIVE clear

206UP turned five years old on July 5th. Can you believe it? What started as a lark — a mere glimmer in the apple of my internet eye — has grown into the most popular Seattle hip-hop blog in existence. (I’m not tooting my own horn here, do the Googling and see for yourself … Okay, maybe there’s a little bit of tooting going on.)

Some quick history: 206UP began as an alternative creative outlet a couple of years after I moved to New York City. For a time, I was keeping one of those very self-indulgent, personal blogs about my new life in NYC — very uninteresting stuff to anyone other than my mom. After I put the kibosh on that, it only took about 20 minutes to decide I wanted to try something different. 206UP was basically borne out of an instantaneous decision; there was really no planning involved, which probably explains why the very name of the site was hijacked (subconsciously, I swear) from a sub-heading on Larry Mizell’s now-defunct — and definite source of inspiration — Raindrophustla.

I still live, work, and write and manage the blog from New York City, which keeps me once or twice removed from the local scene at all times. But in some ways that separation is preferable: 206UP prides itself on maintaining a critical edge which would be tough to preserve if I were sitting down to coffee with these rappers every weekend. In the end, this site strives to provide an exhaustive, discerning look at the dedicated and well-deserving Town artists putting in work in the name of hip-hop music. We keep this site going because we care, just like the artists we feature.

To celebrate the five-year milestone, regularly scheduled programming is being preempted for the next few days in order to bring you some special features. First up is a list: 206UP’s Top 25 Seattle Hip-Hop Tracks of the last five years*. These are the songs the site kept coming back to time and again. The ones that made immediate impressions when heard for the first time and, more often than not, the ones that endured and actually got better as time passed. These tracks also tend to stand alone, as singular, well-rounded examples of the artists that created them. If you were to name the single most important factor in determining if a song made it onto this list, it’s probably that one.

As always, you might disagree. You will disagree. And 206UP’s own opinion is subject to change. In fact it probably already has. The list begins after the jump.

*7/5/09 through 7/5/14

206UP 5 Year Anniversary Best Of Lists Features