DOWNLOAD & REVIEW: Charles – Chev

Click album cover to D/L.

Somewhere inside Chev’s 17-track debut album is an outstanding eight to ten song EP, dying to get out. That’s not to say the long-time coming Charles is a disappointment. Rather it’s a greater reflection of an MC who’s had much on his mind for a minute now, too much to adequately express on a few standout guest shots on tracks by more established Town artists (summarized well by the rapper himself, here).

The first time Chev really caught my ear was on “Certitude” (a joint from Common Market’s 2008 Tobacco Road). His deep, commanding delivery added weight to Sabzi’s synth-heavy composition and his reality rap point-of-view counterbalanced RA Scion’s philosophical wanderings. There’s much more of that grounded perspective on Charles. Chev’s preferred lyrical topic is observations on the hustle, and the fact that he’s in the midst of his own makes him an expert. “Simple Math” is an engaging opening track with commanding head-nod courtesy of Jester. “Beau” pays tribute to lost lives and features a dusty jazz-inflected beat by Def Dee. My favorite song here, though, is the Sabzi-produced “Yesterday” which takes Chev’s nostalgic reflections and Hollis Wong-Wear’s swirling guest vocals, and plants them firmly in early 90s R&B territory.

Charles does go on too long, and Chev over-extends himself with the number of verses on a few tracks, but it’s hard to fault him for putting in work. If you’re first hearing him on this album, it’s his vocal aesthetic that will immediately grab you: a low-pitched, technically proficient flow. Chev’s is a fairly new voice in the local scene that resonates much louder than those of many more well-established ones.

Album Reviews Downloads

DOWNLOAD: Winter Pigeons EP – Made In Heights

Click image for D/L link

The title of this week’s post is erroneous by way of a not-so slight technicality. The download included here is not really hip-hop. It’s more along the lines of electro-pop with an underlying hip-hop spirit. Sabzi, the producer responsible for the music on Made In Heights’ free EP, Winter Pigeons (get it, here), is better known for his rap successes with Blue Scholars and Common Market, which adds a little more validity to this post. But enough with defending the liberties taken, let’s just move on.

Click here to continue reading at SSG Music.

Downloads SSG Music Cross-Post

REVIEW: “Victor Shade” (Victor Shade)

In the Fall of last year, emcee RA Scion adopted the new rap persona Victor Shade, named after a character from Marvel Comics’ The Avengers series. The reasons for the change seemed to be two-fold: 1) an intentional distancing from his well-established identity as the emcee half of Common Market, a group (unfortunately) on indefinite hiatus; and 2) a tribute to his late brother-in-law, a comic book aficionado who personally bestowed the Victor Shade identity upon RA. Hip-hop fans around Town already know the man, born Ryan Abeo, as a dramatic stage presence whose shows have veered into performance art territory. So it’s unsurprising that his new Victor Shade project would be accompanied by a dramatic and well-documented change in his rap alter-ego.

It’s a change that serves to blatantly announce his re-entry to the rap game sans his previous collaborator, DJ/producer Sabzi, a notable proposition not just because of how well-entrenched Common Market is in the local rap psyche, but because the two artists seemed like natural extensions of each other, a rare duality that many don’t find throughout an entire career. Well, in case you’re wondering, Common Market fans, there’s no need to fear as this new iteration, while certainly different sonically, is not an uncomfortable deviation from what you’re used to.

Common Market’s last major release, 2008’s Tobacco Road, was a sprawling exercise in conceptual hip-hop. It featured a few classic moments but ultimately was too long, its length consistent with what one would expect from RA Scion, a rapper with so much on his mind that his lyrics literally required hip-hop Cliff’s Notes (which he occasionally provided on his blog). CM’s self-titled debut, on the other hand, was of more manageable length and should now be considered a local rap classic. Like Blue Scholars’ first album, it perfectly replicated the mind-state of Seattle’s liberal populace: current but old-school; urban but organic; aggressive with its principles but…neighborly. Victor Shade finds a comfortable middle ground between the two CM albums. And, while the rapper in question might balk at any extensive comparison, the exposition is necessary because RA Scion, as he existed in Common Market, is our only point of reference.

A new producer means a new sound. Everett beat-maker MTK is responsible for all twelve tracks on Victor Shade. His style is notably more aggressive than Sabzi’s, which isn’t to say the CM composer didn’t bring out the natural battle-rhymer in RA. (As previously noted, theirs was a relationship based on mutual ability, essentially meeting each other halfway in their artistry.) If anything, RA seemed to bring out the battle-producer in Sabzi. MTK, on the other hand, brings a grenade to a knife fight, meeting Victor Shade at the gravel pit where he’s already most comfortable. With monitors drenched in gasoline and a lit match in hand, their fusion on wax is generally incendiary. For lack of a more elegant editorial: the sh*t totally f*cking knocks. MTK’s assailing production is a perfect vehicle for the natural go-hard tendencies of the rapper.

Yet, with a flow so conducive to battle-rhyming, it’s still impossible to overlook Victor Shade as a pure poet. The density of rhyme and structure is simultaneously his greatest strength and overarching flaw. Similar to Talib Kweli, it’s often hard to follow, understand, and digest what he’s saying. That seems like a petty and nearly useless criticism when considering most rappers don’t say sh*t, but it is what it is.

In Common Market, RA Scion was a poet for the proletarian class and Victor Shade keeps the same company here. Although this time he fancies himself as a bit of a hero for those folks, walking amongst them but not altogether of them. Subversive critiques of our social conditions are the rule of the day (“Bodega Politics”, “Boots”, and “Soothsayer”, for example). Victor Shade requires that you hear more than listen in order to get the picture. For some reason, that exercise is a challenge contemporary hip-hop heads struggle with, probably because we’re too busy breaking our necks to the beat when we should be taking notes (a symptom of the relatively new producer-as-celebrity corollary). The value in Victor Shade’s treatise can only be found in taking the time to listen. And, like RA Scion before him, he’ll probably only respect us if we accept the provocation.

The greatest compliment one might pay to Victor Shade/RA Scion, is that listening to his music is a totally holistic experience. The emotive effects from his well-suited production choices, combined with his aptitude for meaningful lyricism (often existing on some higher esoteric plane), create a multi-layered experience uncommon in most rap music. It’s easy to draw a straight line between Victor Shade and artists in the hip-hop family tree to whom he’s directly related. Those folks include the likes of KRS-One, Chuck D, and Dead Prez. And, similar to those rap brethren, listening to Victor Shade casually is like trying to read really good literature on a noisy metro bus: you can get a sense of what’s happening, but you can’t fully appreciate it until you take the time to deconstruct it. Like Common Market before him, Victor Shade demands his listeners be active. Passivity, ultimately, is for suckas when it comes to this brand of intellectual hip-hop.

Album Reviews

206UP.COM’s Top 10 Seattle Hip-Hop Albums of 2009

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.


Album Reviews Views From the Peanut Gallery

Coffee and Hip-Hop…

…are two of my favorite things. Caffe Vita knows whassup with both. Check out their charitable GIVE project here. It’s a downloadable music compilation (with both mp3’s and videos) featuring over 30 local artists. It includes a bunch of hip-hop: D. Black, Common Market, Fatal Lucciauno, Champagne Champagne, and Fresh Espresso, among others.

All proceeds go to the non-profit, Arts Corps and four local food banks.


I Have A New Blog Moniker!

Just kidding. The name of my blog is remaining 206-UP! I haven’t been heavy in the blog game long enough to warrant a change in my moniker. But someday, if I keep pushing, maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to possess not one, but two blog personas, as have so many athletes and rappers before me…

Anyway, the point of this post was to make those unawares aware of RA Scion’s new rap moniker, Victor Shade. It sounds like a superhero handle which, in fact, it is. It’s also a window blinds company in Saint Louis, Missouri, but that’s not important here. What is important, is that it appears Common Market has been (temporarily?) shelved in favor of RA’s new collaborative effort with local producer, MTK.

In the perpetual style of all-seriousness, as is RA’s modus operandi, he’s taking this new project, well, serious — as is evidenced by these words spoken to The Stranger’s venerable hip-hop commentator Larry Mizell, Jr.

In any event, I’m bummed (boo!) that we may have seen the end of Common Market, but excited (yay!) for the birth of the Victor Shade project, the genesis of which has been (apparently) some time in the making, but its official release upon the masses will happen at this show.

Earcandy's Bumbershoot Kickoff PartyYou can sample a collabo track (“Kasase”) between MTK and RA on MTK’s Myspace page (linked above). It sounds like RA’s — ahem, excuse me, Victor Shade’s — battle-ready flow is fully intact, which isn’t a surprise. But he does sound fresh and new rhyming over MTK’s RZA-style beat. It’s dope. I like it. And I’ll probably like Victor Shade, even though my Lady tells me I don’t do well with change.

More later, fam.

Views From the Peanut Gallery

“They Say I Come Off a Little Self-Righteous…”

I just pulled this clip off another blog (shout to Blogs is Watching). It’s RA Scion being interviewed by some floppy-haired dude from Seattle’s Sound Magazine. Take a gander (and peep the antique-style throwback lamp in the background, probably purchased for $19.99 at the Fred Meyer Mothership in Ballard):

(Note to Sound Magazine: YOUR EMBED CODES NEVER WORK, YO! Check the video HERE.)

It’s fitting that RA’s on some cable access-type sh*t here, being that he’s perpetually “about the people.” A couple thoughts:

1. Are RA’s opening words a foreshadowing of an official “Due to irreconcilable differences, RA Scion and DJ Sabzi have decided to end their creative relationship” statement? Here’s hoping that doesn’t come to pass any time soon. Still, it was interesting to hear him say he thinks the group has gone as far as it can creatively. Makes me wonder what RA has in mind for his future musical endeavors. (Please don’t say “dance record,” please don’t say “dance record…”) There’s a huge amount of artistic integrity there when he says he doesn’t want to “milk” the group for more than it’s worth; lord knows CM’s musical endeavors haven’t been hugely rewarding from a financial standpoint so that can’t be what he’s referring to.

2. At about the 5:50 mark, RA starts speaking his mind on the supposed “progressive” mind-state of Seattle’s residents. He calls Fremont “the biggest fucking sham of progressive politics that I’ve ever seen in my whole life…a bastion of bullshit.” I like that this statement caused a few uncomfortable chuckles around the room — I really hope some of those folks live in Fremont. I definitely feel RA on this one. A few hippie artists and their naked bike-riding friends a “progressive neighborhood” do not make. All I know is that going out on a Saturday night in Fremont is only fun if you’re a white male between the ages of 23 and 30, six feet or over in height, and wearing a severely creased Abercrombie and Fitch hat (save for those nights at Nectar when Sportn’ Life wrecked sh*t on the regular).

I’ve never met RA, but he seems to possess a very intense personality, which is probably why his lyrics are so often inspired. Say what you will about him, but you certainly can’t question his love for hip-hop, nor his commitment to being honest and true to the art form.

Video Views From the Peanut Gallery

OP-ED: The Dreaded “C” Word

changesmall2Here’s an interview with Blue Scholars and Common Market at the 2009 South by Southwest festival in Austin.

Note to self: Next time I see Sabzi, Geo, or RA Scion outside a venue after a show, do NOT, under ANY circumstances, “accuse” them of making “conscious hip-hop.”

Sheesh. Did you see the Sab’s reaction when Mr. Interviewer used the dreaded C-word to describe their music? You’d have thought the producer had been accused of stealing beats from the pre-made demos on his Casio keyboard! When did conscious rap become a bad thing?

I’m guessing the reason why he got so upset is because Blue Scholars doesn’t want to be pigeonholed into a particular category, which I understand — labels are only good on clothes and produce. But in the interviewer’s defense, how is he supposed to quantify the very particular styles that exist within the genre?

My Lady once told me that she can’t listen to a Blue Scholars album all the way through because it eventually starts to depress her. I can kind of relate. Even their party-rocking tracks contain traces of the revolution. The fact is, Geo’s rhymes always reflect a consciousness of the world around him. This is exactly why his music resonates so loudly in a place like the Pacific Northwest, where we pride ourselves on being “progressive,” and “liberal,” and always down-for-the-cause, sometimes to the point of silliness.

I think most thoughtful fans of hip-hop like a little bit of that in their music. You could argue that the Scholars’ spirit best represents the very origins of the culture. Paying them this kind of compliment could be the highest form of praise for what they’ve accomplished as artists. So where’s the beef, Sabz?

I’d be interested to further hear his take on the matter and I shouldn’t speculate on what his particular thoughts might be. I do think that unequivocally putting the “conscious” label on some artists and not others is dangerous. Here’s why: it’s too broad of a term. When we say “conscious,” what exactly are we describing? If, in this case, “conscious” refers to Geo’s lyrics about his Filipino heritage and the struggles his people go through then, yes, his music is conscious. If “conscious” is synonymous with “political” then, yes, without a doubt Blue Scholars’ music is conscious.

For better or worse, in the world of hip-hop criticism, “conscious” is typically indicative of a style that’s considered more valuable than another. This is rarely explicitly stated, but the connotations are there. The problem is, we can’t conveniently use the term to describe one type of subject matter, while excluding others that might also contain value.

If you were to ask ten random fans to describe the subject matter of Blue Scholars’ rhymes, nine out of ten might use the word “conscious.” Ask the same ten fans to describe the subject matter of Dyme Def or D. Black’s music, and you’d be lucky to get four out of ten to use the term. This is where the problem might lie, and possibly why Sabzi gets so upset.

I have to presume that D. Black’s rhymes are inspired by his life experience. Black is a young African-American male in an “inner-city” environment. His experiences in life have thus far been shaped because of these facts. The angst from his trials and tribulations as a black man in America are completely evident in his lyrics. So why would we not describe his music as “conscious?” Would Mr. Interviewer have used the term if he were interviewing D. Black? Unfortunately, I don’t think so. Other words might come to his mind. Words like “gangsta,” “street,” “ghetto,” “crack music,” etc. Words that don’t necessarily come with positive connotations.

Fact is, D. Black’s hip-hop is just as viably “conscious” as Blue Scholars. The general populace just doesn’t put as much value on it and therefore doesn’t use the term to describe it. And that’s a damn shame. The reasons for this extend far beyond what I am capable of as a writer, and are best left for the experts to meditate on.

In the end, I still don’t think we should stop using the term altogether. I would still use it to describe Blue Scholars, and I would use it to describe D. Black and Dyme Def. There are degrees to which “conscious” can be applied. If you really wanted to get technical, I suppose you could put all of Geo’s lyrics on a page next to all of D. Black’s and try to quantify how many times each rapper says something of value that might positively contribute to a discussion on racial/sexual/social politics. Who would win the “conscious contest?” Honestly, I don’t know. I’m not interested in conducting an experiment like that. I think it’s better to just listen to the words, actively, not passively. If we can recognize that there’s something to be learned while we bump this sh*t loud in our cars, then we’re steps ahead of the game.

Op-Ed Views From the Peanut Gallery

Hip-Hop hits the ‘Shoot (Again)

Bumbershoot-2009-wideIt is with great regret that I inform you (friends, strangers, fam-damily) that I will be unable to attend this year’s edition of the Bumbershoot music festival. My presence is required out of town. (I’ll be in the Big Apple, hopefully catching Mos Def on 9/12 at Governor’s Island — gotta get those tickets now while they’re still available!)

It’s a damn shame, too, because it’s another great year for hip-hop at the ‘Shoot. I was just checking out the lineup and lamenting the fact that I’m gonna miss it. Anyway, here’s a brief summary of the hip-hop performances that I won’t be catching this year, along with a few of my thoughts on the matter…

Dyno Jamz (Sat, 12:30 pm, EMP Sky Church) – Uhh, I have no idea who they are. An “eight-man hip-hop ensemble?” Winner of the “EMP Sound Off! battle of the bands competition”? Guess I need to do some homework. I do know one thing, however…they have a really wack sounding name.

Wale (Sat, 5:45 pm, Fisher Green Stage) – It’s everyone’s new favorite emcee! You can’t miss Wale, yo! I have his mixtapes in constant rotation on my iPod. Lyrically, he’s incomparable, but the honest truth is that his flow is only so-so. Doesn’t really matter, though, he shows more personality in half a verse than most rappers do on their entire albums. Plus his production is always top-notch.

De La Soul (Sat, 9:30 pm, Fisher Green Stage) – One of my top three favorite groups of all-time. What else can I say? You claim to love hip-hop? Then loving De La with all your mind, body, and soul is a requirement. Miss this show and you’re fakin’ it.

Dyme Def (Sun, 2:15 pm, Fisher Green Stage) – Got mad love for these local rap heroes. I could see these dudes blowing up nationally at some point. Brainstorm competed in the nationals at the Red Bull Big Tune beat battle last year. Their full-length debut, Space Music, was a break-through for Seattle hip-hop in that it was maybe the first legitimate mainstream-flavored (read: “commercial”) album to ever come out of our fair city.

Swollen Members (Sun, 5:00 pm, Rockstar Stage) – I heard they got hip-hop in Canada, too. This duo hails from our northerly neighbour, British Columbia. Other than that, I don’t know much about ’em. I do remember the joint, “Breathe,” they did with Nelly Furtado (also Canadian), which got my ass moving once or twice. When they perform live, do they do it in a theatre? (Canada jokes are funny, eh?)

Common Market (Sun, 5:45 pm, Fisher Green Stage) – You’ll see a lot of love for CM on this blog. RA Scion and DJ Sabzi are helping set the standard for Seattle hip-hop. Complex rhymes meet beautiful boom-bap. RA’s great on-stage, as well.

D. Black and Spaceman (Sun, 8:00 pm, EMP Sky Church) – D. Black is Seattle’s version of Biggie Smalls, natural and engaging on the mic; a true diamond from the South End. Spaceman is the eccentric court jester of Sportn’ Life. Together on stage they’re sure to get your hands up like the SPD. (Can’t wait for Black’s sophomore full-length, Ali’Yah, dropping 9.15.09. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of Spaceman.)

Macklemore (Mon, 12:30 pm, Fisher Green Stage) – Like Grynch, this cat’s an unlikely beast on the mic. I was definitely sleeping on Macklemore until I spent some honest time listening to The Language of My World. Conscious, introspective, and funny, the album’s a sly charmer. I’ve never seen him live. Next time, I guess.

The Knux (Mon, 1:30 pm, Samsung Mobile Mainstage) – I bought The Knux’s album, Remind Me in 3 Days, based solely on a glowing Rolling Stone review. I was a little disappointed because they spend too much time in rock/dance/techno territory for my taste. The track “FIRE (Put it in the Air),” was one of my favorite songs from ’08, though. I bet this crew is dope live.

The Black Eyed Peas (Mon, 3:00 pm, Samsung Mobile Mainstage) – Ugh. Yuck. Blecchh. Avoid at all costs! I wish the three original members of the crew would hop in the DeLorean and go back to 1998. Their debut, Behind the Front, was legitimate hip-hop. After they added Fergie and annoying pop sensibilities in 2003, it was “goodbye” backpackers and “hello” sell-out city. How disappointing.

Champagne Champagne (Mon, 4:45 pm, EMP Sky Church) – I’ve been meaning to check out their full-length debut, but can’t bring myself to spend the $10 on what might amount to mostly just a bunch of glamour-hop flash geared toward the hipster set. Emcee Pearl Dragon is an underground favorite of mine. I think Pearl’s powers as a solo emcee would reflect more of a pure hip-hop spirit, but who am I to criticize his endeavors as part of this collective? In any case, I’ve heard their live set kicks major skinny-jeaned ass!

I guess that about covers it. Bumbershoot is still over a month away, so you’ve got plenty of time to learn all the lyrics before you go. If you see, please tell him that I’m very disappointed in the direction he’s taken the group. (I’m sure he’ll appreciate the constructive criticism.)


Live Coverage Views From the Peanut Gallery

Sometimes Hip-Hop Needs Cliff’s Notes

We all know Jay-Z’s a lyrical genius, but damn, bet you didn’t know he goes this complex on his sh*t! (After you read this, come back and tell me what you thought of it…)

Which got me to thinking: Have you ever tried to actually listen to a Common Market track the whole way through and understand what RA Scion is really talking about? It’s damn near impossible. I’ve tried numerous times and I usually end up losing track of what he’s saying. I just start zoning out to a point where the beat and the sound of RA’s voice blend together into one. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it would be helpful if all of CM’s albums came with Cliff’s Notes so us fans could understand exactly what the f*ck it is he’s saying.

The fact that RA’s rhymes are so dense is only evidence of just how much of a genius he is, but he also makes it impossible for fans to rhyme along at shows. (If it weren’t for the call-and-response of “Every Last One of Us,” we’d be stuck with just the head-nodding.) I think RA gets this, because for a minute he was posting notes along with lyrics on his blog, Six Minutes to Sunrise, generously letting us in to the backstage of his brain. Here’s his “lyrics to go” for “Trouble Is.” Helpful, yes, but still mostly confounding.

It’s all love, though, RA. If it weren’t for you (and other artists like you), I wouldn’t have anything to show those folks who say hip-hop music isn’t intelligent.

Do work, CM!

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