206UP.COM will be offline until July 26. Posts will continue to run but them sh-ts will be automated. Your life will probably not be the same but you’re gonna have to deal. Kind of like when I had to deal when my parents insisted on watching Peter, Paul and Mary on PBS in the 80’s. (Although “Puff The Magic Dragon” was truly some ill sh-t.)
Three days ago, this blog turned two years old. I forgot its birthday. I am a bad parent.
What started on mostly a lark on July 5, 2009 has turned into a bonafide, pro-bono, part-time job. Thankfully it’s remained a labor of love. I don’t even entirely recall what motivated me to start this sh-t, but I don’t remember much thought being put into it. My personal blog was getting stale (still is, much to my mom’s chagrin) and the need for a creative outlet was heavy on my dome at the time.
In 2009, I still loved hip-hop. I was a Seattle transplant in a relatively new city (New York) whose rap scene felt colossal and the thought of trying to cover it with any amount of success was equally intimidating. Deciding to write an SEA-focused rap blog was probably my subconscious reaction to missing my homebase. It felt natural to start something I could immediately relate to. Thus began the natal stage of 206UP.COM.
From those first days of “borrowing” the majority of the blog’s content out of necessity (turns out it helps to have a bit of an online rep when it comes to getting on press emails — who knew?) to today, having the opportunity to recently interview Seattle rap standard-bearers Blue Scholars (that piece coming soon!) and having my so-called “expert” opinion on Northwest hip-hop solicited by Rev. Lennox Yearwood’s office, this blogging-about-rap sh-t is getting more fun, more interesting and, as the scene continues to boom, more time consuming. I still do it for free, however, because it’s purer that way. And I still do it because of my inherent love for the music. I guess the reasons for writing 206UP.COM haven’t changed at all, which probably means they were all really there in the first place even if I didn’t know it then.
So happy two year birthday to my blog. An idea that, as it turns out, existed well before its first post was ever written.
Now about this mixtape…
Consider it a sort of birthday party favor for everyone who reads 206UP.COM (you are out there, aren’t you?). I’d been steadily trying to curate a representative sample of stuff I’ve been listening to over the past few months, a difficult task when one of the goals was limiting the length to no more than 20 songs. I started with over 60. The end result is 22. Close enough. By no means is this meant to be comprehensive — there are two or three glaring omissions and probably even more material that I wasn’t able to lend an ear to that should have been included — but I think it accurately shows the breadth of sound currently happening in The Town. Hope you enjoy it.
(This one is called Volume II because there exists a Volume I [from late ’09], that I never made available to readers. If you’re interested in that, here it is.)
It doesn’t really matter what winter holiday you celebrate, if any. (I happen to celebrate Christmas. My girl celebrates Hanukkah. My brother celebrates neither. Whatever, it’s all good.)
206UP.COM just hopes this finds you happy and surrounded by the people and music that you love. And with that, I’ll let Run DMC and the Peanuts gang take it from here…
Note: A Charlie Brown Christmas apparently came before the Peanuts crew added Peppermint Patty (a lesbian — okay, presumably), Franklin (a black kid) and Jose (a Mexican-Swedish kid — who knew??) to the mix. I love Peanuts, but would it have been too much to add an Asian kid? Just sayin’…
I’m pleased to announce that I’ve further committed to filling up even more of my down time with yet another pro-bono writing endeavor.
I’ve started contributing New Music write-ups to everyone’s favorite source for independent music in Seattle: the lovely Seattle Show Gal. Which, in case you don’t already know, is a collection of music bloggers comprised of more than just one “Gal.” There are many of us “Gals,” some of whom are not even “Gals” at all, but guys. Like me.
Anyway, I’ll be cross-posting my write-ups on 206UP.COM in a futile attempt to not compete with myself (futile because SSG collects literally hundreds of thousands of hits a month, compared to my pithy few hundred). Or you can catch everything I write on SSG here.
And just a reminder, I contribute full album Reviews to the faithful hip-hop heads over at Above Ground Magazine (shout to Tyler, Dominick, et al). It’s cold in Iowa (where AGM is based), so I figured adding a little 206 fire to their midwest freezer is the least I can do. Ha.
EXPOSURE. EXPOSURE. EXPOSURE.
Now act like you know and tell a friend!
“…the sum of its parts” is certainly an adage applicable to the best hip-hop groups. Still, Sabzi and Geo (aka. Prometheus Brown) are pretty f*cking great when they’re doing their own thing, too.
Pro Brown drops some of his solo guest shots on this post from his personal blog, Prometheus Brown — with commentary (love that!).
For those of us far-removed from Haiti, be it because of simply geographic location or because we have no personal relationships with Haitian folks or others who were in the country when the earthquake struck, we face a very different challenge at this time: the temptation to turn our backs on the crisis.
As the immediateness of the tragedy fades, and we turn on our computers and televisions every day, there is the temptation to pull away from the images. Through the dulling filter of news media and Twitter feeds we can allow the pain and suffering to become as real, or as make-believe, as we want. From the comfort of our living rooms we can choose to not pay attention. It’s uncomfortable to watch, and so easy to turn away.
It’s unnerving when disasters like this happen and those of us in a position of being unaffected are allowed that luxury. Everyone is guilty of simply ignoring humanitarian crises in communities far-removed from our own. We all do it every day — and not just with Haiti.
This is especially not the time to succumb to the temptation of turning away. Those of us fortunate enough to have not been personally affected by the earthquake (which probably constitutes the majority of this country’s citizens) have a different kind of personal responsibility during this crisis. The responsibilities of paying attention, supporting those who are affected, and then helping in some way, any way, possible. To do otherwise would be to fail ourselves and our fellow man.
Read the stories in the paper, look at the pictures, watch the videos online. Spend time recognizing how delicate and precious life is by acknowledging the recent event on a daily basis, and then pray for the strength and resiliency of those who experienced the earthquake, survived it, and are left to pick up the pieces.
Comfort our brothers, Sol and Khingz, and all of the other Haitian folks in the Seattle hip-hip community by supporting them and their families and then making a tangible difference through responsible contributions to the relief effort. Hopefully you’ve already done that. If not, start by attending this benefit show on February 4th at Neumos.
UPDATE (1.28.10, 9:45 pm): A clip of Sol and Khingz in the studio recording a song dedicated to the recent events in their home country.
Contrary to what some prominent journalists and bloggers would have you believe, hip-hop in 2009 is not dead. At least not in regions like the Pacific Northwest, areas that aren’t traditionally associated with carrying hip-hop’s proverbial torch. While Seattle’s rock-oriented past certainly qualifies it as one of those regions, in 2009 The Six definitely showed it can at least fan the genre’s flame, if not assume a lead position for helping advance hip-hop even further into the 21st century.
It was not always like this, however. I remember back in 2005, browsing the hip-hop section at the (now defunct) Tower Records on lower Queen Anne and pulling a relatively unspectacular-looking CD from the shelf. That CD was Blue Scholars’ self-titled debut album. I’d never heard of Blue Scholars prior to that chance encounter, and I decided to take a gamble on the record. I hesitantly spent my twelve dollars on the CD (remember those?), basically on a whim and with a sliver of hope that I might find something to help rescue me from the doldrums of mainstream rap. See, I was getting so bored with the genre at the time that I was starting to turn my attention away from hip-hop and more toward indie rock. (As the Thornton brothers would say, “Eeyyyechh!”)
That Blue Scholars album eventually led me to Common Market; which led to Cancer Rising; which led to Abyssinian Creole; which led to Macklemore; which led to Grynch; which led to Dyme Def; which led to Sportn’ Life’; and on and on, eventually to me deciding to start this blog. I still credit that first Blue Scholars album for single-handedly renewing my faith in hip-hop music. Sounds rather dramatic, doesn’t it? Well, it was. In 2005, as far as I was concerned, hip-hop was dead, or dying. I realize now that that simply wasn’t the case. I was just looking for good music in the wrong place. I was spending too much time on MTV and BET, and not nearly enough time in the place where the art form was still being practiced with love and care: the underground.
The most incredible thing about Seattle’s hip-hop movement has been the relative speed at which it’s gained momentum. Blue Scholars dropped their debut in 2005, a mere four years ago. That was essentially the beginning of a sustained explosion. The next two years saw the further rise of Sabzi and Geologic, and then the emergence of others I mentioned above. The culmination of the decade’s Town movement has undoubtedly been 2009. This year we’ve seen an abundance of talented artists rise seemingly from out of nowhere. Who knew there was this much talent lurking under Seattle’s perpetually gray skies?
I credit Seattle’s hip-hop movement for my re-discovery of the art form. What began for me as an infatuation with golden-era NYC hip-hop and Cali-gangsta rap over twenty years ago, has become much more. More than just a pastime or hobby. It’s the music I ingest every day. The soundtrack to my morning commute and when I walk down the street at night. It’s something that I consume. Just as much as coffee in the mornings and football on the weekends, hip-hop music is part of my life. And I’m thankful that artists from my native city are the ones to have brought me back to the beats and rhymes.
Hip-hop: dead in 2009? I say f*ck that. As evidence to the contrary, I now submit the following list of Seattle’s best hip-hop albums of the year. Hip-hop is alive and breathing today — and not only that, it’s progressing. Here are 206UP.COM’s Top 10 reasons why:
10. OOF! EP (Blue Scholars)
An experiment of sorts by Seattle’s most nationally-relevant hip-hop group. I wrote previously that this is what it sounds like when Blue Scholars go on vacation. They accomplish their musical goals with mixed results. “Coo?” and “HI-808” are two of their best songs ever, but I still don’t like “New People” (though it has grown on me a little). Sabzi remains the best hip-hop producer in the Northwest. And Geo is one of the three best emcees. Now, can we have more of the normal Scholars revolution in 2010, please?
9. Songs for Bloggers (GMK)
An offbeat trip down the broadband wire, courtesy of talented up-and-coming rapper/producer, GMK. Songs for Bloggers charms upon repeated listens and verifies the unlimited potential of the Golden Mic King. On Songs, he takes the listener into the World Wide Web, poking fun at bloggers like me who enjoy the luxury of anonymity and the (sometimes) unfair categorization of rappers into niches that conveniently serve to fit our expectations. GMK is unique, though. A dual threat who is capable of going in any number of directions.
8. Ali’Yah (D. Black)
Ali’Yah represented a shift in tone and lifestyle for Sportn’ Life lead dog, D. Black. A man whose rap career began with aggressive, street-oriented rhyming seems to have made a 180-degree turn. He’s still aggressive and street-oriented but now moving in a different direction, urging his fellow soldiers to step away from the drugs and guns and toward the redeeming light of personal and social responsibility. There was a lot of uplifting hip-hop in Seattle this year and D. Black’s Ali’Yah proudly led the way.
7. Panic EP (Dyme Def)
The best Emerald City sh*t talk always comes courtesy the three bad brothas of Dyme Def. On this album, however, it’s sh*t talk with a purpose. Normally as confident as tigers in a room full of injured gazelles, Brain, SEV, and Fearce Vil are filled with a little trepidation given the condition of America’s financial system. The seven tracks on Panic are loosely built around a recession theme. They urge us to ease our “Foot up off the Gas” to save some scratch. But, in true Dyme Def fashion, they never tell us to stop partying.
6. Glamour (Fresh Espresso)
Easy to hate on and equally as easy to dance to, Glamour simultaneously represents all that is right and wrong with hip-hop. P Smoov and Rik Rude’s hipster musical stylings bring more folks into the 206’s glorious hip-hop sphere — and this is a good thing. The duo have virtually nothing of substance to say, however — and this is a bad thing. Doesn’t matter, though. The relevance of Fresh Espresso is firmly established in The Town, so soapbox bloggers like me can step the f*ck off, I guess. Plus, P Smoov’s already prodigious talent and still-to-be realized potential are undeniable.
5. Hear Me Out (Yirim Seck)
The most underrated Seattle hip-hop album of the year. An unexpected dose of raw and real, Yirim Seck is an everyman emcee that just happens to be more talented than, well, almost every man in the local rap game. Like an expanded and Northwest-relocated version of ATCQ’s “8 Millions Stories”, Yid Seck experiences more lows than highs on his debut album, yet still perseveres like a champion. Hear Me Out neatly captures the pathos of the struggling working class as well as the current unbounded optimism of the local hip-hop movement.
4. High Society EP (The Physics)
The trio of Thig Natural, Monk Wordsmith, and Justo captured lightning in a bottle on this EP. Simply put, they found sonic perfection for seven whole tracks. There isn’t another album in Seattle, let alone the entire country, that had me craving more after I got to the end than The Physics’ High Society. If their sophomore full-length delivers the way HS did, we might be looking at the group that could carry Seattle hip-hop (popularity wise) higher and further than any other.
3. From Slaveships to Spaceships (Khingz)
To listen to From Slaveships to Spaceships is to hear a man being liberated from his paranoia, self-deceit, doubt, and culturally-imposed expectations of who he “should” be. That’s all. Probably the most intensely personal hip-hop album of these ten, it’s a brave exercise in therapy on wax for Khingz, an artist who is always thinking of ways to express personal growth in his music.
2. Graymaker (Grayskul)
The duo of JFK and Onry Ozzborn prove yet again that they are light years ahead of most other hip-hop groups. It’s difficult to keep pace when their philosophies and creative eccentricities are coming at you in so many scattered images and metaphorical tangents. Paired this time with producer Maker, a Chicago native, Grayskul unites the Northwest and the Midwest in a way only they are capable of. The moody production and dark-themed rhymes belie a hint of optimism that isn’t readily apparent but is ultimately responsible for some of the most lively hip-hop out of Seattle, ever.
1. Of Light/Self-Titled (Shabazz Palaces)
One of the five most creative and forward-thinking hip-hop albums of the decade. Everything about this album seems like it was pre-meditated. From the esoteric packaging, to the intentionally-veiled identity of the project’s main participant, to the deliberate pace of its “marketing” roll-out. Shabazz Palaces represents everything that is good about hip-hop. It casts a dark shadow over the genre’s vapid and disposable popular product, and illuminates hip-hop’s unlimited potential as a subversive course to self-awareness and urban pedagogy.
Three more for good measure…
Snow Motion (THEESatisfaction)
Self-Titled (Champagne Champagne)
The VS. EP (Macklemore and Ryan Lewis)
(And finally, a shout-out to They Live! I’m sure They LA Soul is dope, but I didn’t hear it in time for this list. Surely it’ll be a best of 2010…)
That’s all she wrote for 2009! More to come from 206UP.COM in the ’10.
New Year’s Eve prediction #1: In 2010, hip-hop in Seattle will be ruled by two entities — rap veterans The Physics and the (relatively) new-school Cloud Nice collective. (Thig, Monk, and Justo just need to get that sophomore full-length out pronto to claim their spot!)
Tay Sean and company have already done an excellent job of keeping it moving with a series of free leak, mixtape, and EP drops, with no real prominent LP release. That will change in early 2010, with Helladope’s already highly-lauded Return to Planet Rock. There’s gotta be something in the air up on Beacon that’s causing all of this dopeness. (Come to think of it, the cause of the dopeness might actually be dope — but whatever.)
Cloud Nice is positioned to take over hip-hop in The Six with their brand of futuristic, highly-danceable northwest-coast g-funk. Tay Sean’s production is simple enough to appeal to the young kids, yet advanced and clever enough (musically that is) for older heads to appreciate. If TS were an NBA player, he’d be Chris Paul: playground flashiness combined with a heavy dose of old-school fundamentals.
Here’s the latest from CN’s Beacon Hill lookout, a brief six-track EP from Mister Mikey Nice called Chillin’ In the Future. Click on the album cover below for the DL link.
(A quick note on my download posts: one of my few rules for linking to these downloads is that I absolutely must listen to the material, preferably a minimum of two times, before I comment or post on it. I hold to this philosophy because the whole point of 206up.com is to provide thoughtful commentary and criticism on the music. And how can I do that if I haven’t actually heard the ish? Anyway, my point is, I’m trying not to get caught up with being the fastest blogger [I don’t have time for that anyway] or the most exclusive — though I do appreciate being included on artists’ email lists with the more venerable local bloggers. Anyway, that’s all. Just wanted to share.)
Huskies over Cal Bears, 42-10 in 2009 season finale. One more year, Jake. One. More. Year.
(Hey Dawg fans out there: where does #10 currently rank in your all-time favorite Husky football player pantheon? My Top 5: 1. Napoleon Kaufman, 2. Marques Tuiasosopo, 3. Mario Bailey, 4. Jake Locker, 5. Reggie Williams. Leave your Top 5 in the Comments!)