AUDIO: The Golden Gun EP – La & Marcus D

La & Marcus D - The Golden Gun EP

La emerges from an extended musical absence to drop The Golden Gun EP, produced entirely by Pacific Northwest native, turned Tokyo-based label head Marcus D. The lean, polished, sample-based production suits La’s visceral street-oriented boasts and trademark strings of ill metaphors. “Killin’ n-ggas with shit I wrote in oh-ten,” is probably the most apt declaration La makes here, as his writing often feels like it could outlast any rapper in the Town. Golden Gun is only five songs long and begs for a sequel.

Audio Audio / Video

NEW(ISH) MUSIC: “So Good” – La (prod. by Jester)


La shot over this loosie yesterday, or the day before, fuck it I can’t remember, it’s too hot out. Produced by Jester sometime in 2009, “So Good” is about a bomb-ass girl. The Colonel has nothing to do whatsoever with this joint, it’s just there was no track artwork and the image you see above is the second one that comes up when Google image searching “so good”. Somehow it applies, though.

Audio Downloads

206UP.COM’s Top 10 SEA Hip-Hop Albums of 2010

As a hip-hop and baseball obsessed youth, I constantly formulated Top 10 Lists. Athletes, shoes, songs, movies — if it was rate-able, I was Top 10’in it, practically weekly. This is probably why 206UP.COM’s year-end list is my favorite post to write. Last year I waxed not-so-poetically on how, in 2005, Seattle’s underground rap scene single-handedly renewed my faith in the music. This year my affinity for Town rap became even tighter knit.

The albums, songs, free downloads, and videos that originated strictly in Seattle were enough to keep my hip-hop appetite satisfied through the whole year. Not to say excellent new albums by nationally known artists (Big Boi, The Roots, Kanye West, etc.) weren’t heavy on my playlist, or that the underground movements in other cities weren’t relevant. It’s just that hip-hop in the 2-0-6 is so grown now, more than it’s ever been, and the voices, perspectives and spectrum of sounds in our Town are talented and diverse enough to keep my ears fully attuned.

While there were some glaring omissions in 2010 (the new Physics LP being the most significant, for me), there were some other big advancements and unexpected surprises:

The emergence of La (formerly known as Language Arts) as a force to be reckoned with (at least on wax). This cat blew through like a Northeaster on his two LP’s, Gravity and Roll With The Winners, spitting outlandish braggadocio unlike any other rapper in town.

Two career-defining performances by Blue Scholars. The first was at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City, which I wrote about, here. At this show, the Scholars proved to the hip-hop world that they could hang in the Mecca, legitimizing their voice on a whole new level. (Macklemore’s opening performance was definitely notable, too.) The other show folks were buzzing about was the City Arts music festival performance at The Paramount, the first time a local hip-hop group rocked the venerable theater’s stage. Blue Scholars made history, nationally and locally, with these two shows.

This year also saw artists better known for their previously established collaborative endeavors break out with successful new excursions. JFK and Onry Ozzborn both dropped excellent LP’s independent of their legendary Grayskul partnership — JFK on the straight-up solo tip and Onry Ozzborn in collaboration with Chi-town producer Zavala. RA Scion reinvented himself with his Victor Shade project with producer MTK. And Gabriel Teodros and Amos Miller connected in Brooklyn, forming the impromptu collab Air 2 A Bird after being rebuffed in London on the eve of their world tour.

But enough with the recap. The following list represents what 206UP.COM sees as the best Seattle hip-hop albums of the year. There was no real science to compiling the list and, when it comes down to it, these things are matters of pure conjecture, subject to debate and relentless criticism of the people who made them (which this blog always welcomes, by the way). Enjoy the list and Happy New Year!

Honorable mentions:

JFK – Building Wings on the Way Down
LaRue – Saturn Returns
Avatar Young Blaze – Russian Revolution Mixtape

10. State of the Artist – SeattleCaliFragilisticExtraHellaDopeness

The album equivalent of a 2-0-6 hip-hop houseparty, by design SeattleCal wasn’t exactly an official debut LP for State of the Artist, but a showcase for much of the talent in the city. The three SOTA emcees were consistently outshone by their guests and a lot of times the lyrics didn’t seem to make any sense. As strictly a party album, however, there wasn’t one better.

9. Victor Shade – Victor Shade

The re-birth of RA Scion as the rap superhero Victor Shade saw a major shift in musical tone, but not a dramatic change in delivery or aesthetic. RA’s lyrics are still dense as hell and require close examination on paper in order to understand their meaning. It all sounded great, however, over MTK’s knocking production. RA Scion (aka. Victor Shade) remains the most professorial battle rapper in Seattle.

8. Air 2 A Bird – Crow Hill

A soaring achievement considering the bare-bones tools Air 2 A Bird (Gabriel Teodros and Amos Miller) had to work with when making this album in Brooklyn. In its creation, Crow Hill captured the very essence of hip-hop: eloquent poetics, masterful improvisation and a revolutionary spirit  (albeit on a quieter and more reserved scale). This album proves that hip-hop executed with class and panache can be just as effective as the bombastic variety.

7. La – Roll With The Winners

This “debut” album from the emcee formerly known as “Language Arts” featured expert throwback production by an unknown producer named Blu-Ray, whose heavy soul sampling sounds like The Alchemist on his most nostalgic day. The highlight, though, was La’s take-no-prisoners lyrical work. Hearing raw talent like this is akin to watching Allen Iverson play basketball for the first time. At this stage in his career La is still all fearless potential, but on paper he might already be the most technically sound rapper in the city.

6. Helladope – Helladope (aka Return to Planet Rock)

Helladope’s Tay Sean is far too young a cat to be making music with this much soul and expert tribute to the R&B and funk of yesteryear. Still, he accomplished the feat with ease. Along with emcee/vocalist Jerm, Helladope’s debut album offers a fresh take on the P-funk/G-funk rap amalgamation that originated in Southern California in the early 90’s. The sound is updated here with extraterrestrial gimmickry that amuses but isn’t essential to the album’s vibe.

5. J. Pinder – Code Red EP

This star-studded EP by Seattle ex-pat J. Pinder had a professional sheen equal to most major label releases. And it was free, to boot. Unsurprisingly, the folks who built the foundation of Code Red are either consummate hip-hop professionals or quickly on their way: Vitamin D, Jake One and Kuddie Fresh, among others. Pinder’s easy flow and accessible subject matter made this album easy to ride for.

4. Dark Time Sunshine – Vessel

Vessel exists in the same category as the number two album on this list, The Stimulus Package. The lyrical work is quintessential Onry Ozzborn (here reborn as Cape Cowen) but the production is a masterful concoction of headphone-oriented beats that only a cold soul from Chicago could assemble. Producer Zavala cultivates a terrain of rich electronica that feels organic, as if grown and harvested with the precision of robot farmers. The most sonically progressive SEA hip-hop album this side of Shabazz Palaces’ 2009 masterpiece.

3. Jake One & Freeway – The Stimulus Package

At first consideration it seemed strange to include this release featuring an emcee so deeply associated with the city of Philadelphia. Fifty percent of the album artist credit is from Seattle though so how could it be excluded? The obvious truth is Jake One had as much (if not more) to do with the quality of The Stimulus Package as Freeway. Jake has a knack for creating fresh ideas while staying inside the bounds of traditional boom-bap. Stimulus is his best and most cohesive collection of beats, ever.

2. Candidt – Sweatsuit & Churchshoes

Candidt’s long-delayed Sweatsuit & Churchshoes is a refreshing and dynamic package of West Coast B-boy rap. Every local young buck in the game should take this album as the new hip-hop gospel for the way it connects Old School and New. Candidt doesn’t sound like anyone else in the city and his willingness to experiment with new sounds while keeping strict West Coast principles earns SS&CS major props.

1. Def Dee & La (fka. Language Arts) – Gravity

Producer Def Dee caught lightning in a bottle with his masterful production work on this album. Gravity pays direct tribute to NYC Golden Era boom-bap and is unapologetic in its revivalist ideology. It also manages to sound fresh and timeless, however, and is the most musically cohesive album of these ten. Emcee La officially established himself as one of the best rappers in the city. He plays it cooler than on his proper solo debut, Roll With The Winners, but that’s because the music requires him to. Gravity stands firmly to the side of Seattle’s so-called “Third Wave hip-hop,” a position that’s especially important to the purist set. All the current innovation in local rap is a great thing, but so is the creation of more traditional forms like Gravity. It reminds everyone that hip-hop made in our isolated corner of the map is inextricably linked to the region of its genesis.

Album Reviews Best of 2010

REVIEW: “Sweatsuit & Churchshoes” (Candidt)

The two best Seattle hip-hop albums of 2010 are region-specific. Def Dee and Language Arts’ Gravity is cloned from the DNA of mid-90’s New York City boom-bap. It’s a perfectly-penned love note to a definitive sound and era when millions of hip-hop heads came of age. The second album, Candidt’s Sweatsuit & Churchshoes, is a refreshing exercise in West Coast b-boy funk. The main complaint with Gravity may be it doesn’t bring innovation to its source material, yet the same can’t be said about Sweatsuit & Churchshoes. Candidt’s sprawling 21-track workout manages to find fresh ideas within a variety of West Coast sounds that came before it. It has one foot in Old School History Class and one foot in the New School hallway; its breadth of modification and manner in which the two schools are bridged are the album’s greatest attributes.

(Click here to continue reading at SSG Music…)

Album Reviews Seattle Show Gal Cross-Post

DOWNLOAD: “Culture” (Def Dee & Language Arts f/Chev)

Thus far, the best hip-hop album to fall from the Puget Sound’s gray skies in 2010 is Gravity by Def Dee and Language Arts (read 206UP.COM’s gushing Review here). Cue the album up on your headphones, close your eyes and feel yourself transported back to the early to mid-90’s when New York’s boom-bap was re-defined for an entire generation of hip-hop heads. On Gravity, Def and La have recreated that era’s sound with an affinity and attention to detail that could only come from two men weaned on Nas’ Illmatic-era cadence and the hardrock Brooklyn sensibilities of Boot Camp Clik.

The next installment in Def and La’s discography appears to be a project titled CR96X. The first single from that album is “Culture,” available now for a hundred pennies here. The crew’s Bandcamp space lists a CR96X release date of “January 13, 2011,” which, by this blogger’s estimate, is much too long an interval between albums. Here’s hoping Def and La do like Tribe and push it along.

Click image above to cop the track.


REVIEW: “Gravity” (Def Dee & Language Arts)

No idea’s original/There’s nothin’ new under the sun/It’s never what you do/But how it’s done.” — Nas

This fairly dubious assessment on the state of hip-hop progression was proffered by Nas in his song, “No Idea’s Original.” The statement, however, is generally recognized as a universal truth among musicians of any type of music — and artists of any medium, really. Everything in a genre’s canon, even up to its most current iteration, is built upon something from its past. In an odd contradictory sense, modern practitioners depend upon clinging to their art’s long-buried roots in order to move their agenda forward. There would be no progression without that fond nostalgic echo.

And nostalgia is something not in short supply when it comes to memories of hip-hop as it existed in the early to mid 90’s. The Golden Era, as it’s lovingly called, is when hip-hop came of age. And fans of the music who were old enough to appreciate that evolution as it occurred cling to the artists of that time period the same way a hungry rapper clings to a mic; for them, it’s an impossible separation. The sounds and styles of that time provide a point-of-reference for those fans’ identities as lovers of the music and influence their critiques of hip-hop as it exists today; perhaps even sometimes to the detriment of a contemporary artist’s deserved appreciation. (Philosophical debates — even well-written ones — have been posited on this very subject.)

The fact that local duo Def Dee and Language Arts (LA for short) have created Gravity in 2010, an album that clearly owes its existence to the Golden Era (especially as manifested in New York City), is not something to be taken lightly. Hip-hop music was certainly being made in Seattle in the mid-90’s but, save for the antics of Sir-Mix-a-Lot, the scene was confined strictly to the underground. The closest thing Seattle had to NYC Golden Era hip-hop was Tribal’s seminal 1996 compilation, Do The Math, a formative and well-known album for local emcees now in their late 20’s to early 30’s, but not a particularly familiar one to the average fan of the same age. New York’s influential boom-bap of the time was loud enough to ring from coast to coast and Do The Math is evidence of that reverberation in Seattle. That the majority of the city’s impressionable youth were too busy shopping for plaid and flannel, however, is not Tribal’s fault.

The local hip-hop scene as it exists today is interesting. The Golden Era was hip-hop’s officially recognized renaissance, but Seattle seems to currently be experiencing its own unique version. The mid-90’s hip-hop genome has already been mapped and well-documented, but perhaps never fully evolved locally until now. Gravity shares the same musical genes as Pete Rock, Jay Dilla and Mobb Deep of the Golden Era. Listening to the album’s sixteen tracks is like following a trail of Timberland boot-prints through that time period. All of the usual production suspects are present: scarce melodies; tightly-wound kicks and snares; the satisfying discord of crackle, pop and hiss behind the samples; chopped-up keyboard licks; and, perhaps most fundamental of all, bass acting as percussion which creates the thick atmosphere that holds everything together. What’s most remarkable here is how producer Def Dee’s mid-90’s aesthetic doesn’t imitate, but actually builds upon what came before. Def doesn’t mimic or parrot his sources of inspiration, he deftly crafts the beats with just as much skill as his predecessors. His work on Gravity is an astonishing accomplishment in that regard.

While Def’s beats lay the pavement for the ride, the man primarily responsible for driving is emcee Language Arts. He weaves his street-oriented rhymes so effortlessly through the tracks that it takes a few listens to realize just how versatile and effective his presence is. Simply put, LA can rhyme his way around any emcee in the 2-0-6. On “Uno Amore” he declares, “Reinvent the wheel? No I’m patchin’ up the tire,” which is an accurate self-assessment considering LA pulls as much from Nas’ Illmatic-era cadence as he does a characteristically West Coast nonchalance. LA uses his flow to tie Def’s beats up into tidy knots, seemingly never needing to breathe on “To Sir With Love,” which features a boot-stomping rhythm that he matches vocally march for march. Though LA is the primary voice in this group, Def’s tracks ride shotgun alongside his partner, saying as much through rhythm as could possibly be said without words. They’re a consistent and impressive two-man show on tracks like “Day In The Life,” with LA displaying a dexterous rhyme handle over Def’s self-inflicted staccato piano stabs. Every track on Gravity features a quality of rapping that equally matches the quality of its accompaniment.

To say that Gravity is the closest thing Seattle has to its own Illmatic is potentially dangerous hyperbole that immediately turns the author of this review into a target for criticism and attempts at discrediting his hip-hop knowledge. But who cares? Given that hip-hop’s fundamentalism is built (at least partially) on series of robust embellishments, the statement can and should be made given the nature of the two albums. Gravity could also be a cousin, once or twice removed, from Mobb Deep’s Hell On Earth, though it’s not nearly as cold. While it is decidedly “street,” Gravity‘s disposition doesn’t begin to approach Havoc and Prodigy’s flagrant nihilism (for example: nowhere do Def or LA make reference to being stabbed by an ice-pick).

As Nas asserted: “No Idea’s Original.” And to capably make an album like this with such conspicuous ties to the forebears previously mentioned, Def Dee and LA must understand that idiom. The significance of what they’ve created, and when they created it, means even more when considered in the context of Seattle’s hip-hop history. The Six never spotlighted this version of hip-hop. And, while it’s nothing new under the sun, it’s never what you do, but how it’s done. The virtue of Gravity is that it’s done right.

(Def Dee and LA’s Gravity is available for FREE download at the group’s Bandcamp page, here.)

Album Reviews Downloads

DOWNLOAD: “Gravity” (Def Dee & LA)

I can’t say enough good things about this album. Def Dee and Language ArtsGravity is incredibly satisfying. With heavy Jay Dilla and Golden Era influences, the sixteen tracks sound like Timbs hitting pavement in ’96. These cats have done their homework. Look for a full 206UP.COM review coming soon. For now, though, hit the link below to cop for FREE at the duo’s Bandcamp page.

Click here or the album covers below for the download link.