VIDEO: Do The Math Podcast – Episode 2 with Deven Morgan & Jake One

There has been a recent movement in the Town toward documenting, both aurally and visually, the rap-related things happening inside the bounds of this fair area code. From the good folks at Mad NW who are responsible for the excellent local rap documentary The Otherside, to blogger Jack Devo’s online vault of Seattle music rarities, and finally to the burgeoning Do The Math podcast, created and hosted by 206 hip hop superfan Deven Morgan.

Meant to be a StoryCorps of sorts strictly for the Seattle rap nerd set, Deven is both honest and earnest in his love for Town hip hop. Episode 2 features the vital producer Jake One waxing nostalgic about creating records in the former heyday of Seattle hip hop. Do The Math seeks to highlight the so-called “second wave” of Seattle rap, the time and artists just after Sir Mix-A-Lot’s apex, but before the rise of Blue Scholars and Macklemore. These are the typically forgotten artists, best represented by the loose collective known as Tribal Music whose Do The Math compilation album, released in 1996, is both the namesake and spiritual foundation for Deven Morgan’s podcast endeavor.

I can’t claim any amount of authority over Tribal or Do The Math other than what I’ve read — and heard — since starting this blog in earnest four and a half years ago. I will say, though, that Tribal’s brand of hip hop is the type to which I’ve always been most drawn in life. DTM is a Golden Era revivalist’s wet dream, created on the tail-end of that movement’s waning years* a time when rap music, it seemed, was less about singular identities and more about the movement. That’s fairly nebulous, I suppose, but so becomes history when the great windshield wiper of the mind blurs and distorts your recall over time. Thank the rap gods, then, that someone is committing these things to permanent record.

*Technically it’s post-Golden Era, but things arrive late in Seattle. So be it.

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Queens Has its “Tribe,” Seattle has its Tribal.

I grew up in a very rural, somewhat isolated community in Washington State. It’s amazing to me that hip-hop music of the early to mid-nineties from Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx managed to reach my adolescent ears, especially given the facts that my house did not have MTV, high-speed internet was not yet available to Joe Consumer, and the number of radio stations in my town playing so-called “urban music” was limited to just one, that’s right: KUBE 93 — where you would be lucky to hear more than five different songs in one hour.

Yet even without the internet or cable TV, somehow I managed to get my hands on the earliest albums by groups like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and Black Sheep. Not surprisingly these are the groups whose music has endured for me, from age 13 to __ (age omitted). Why a relatively quiet, shy kid from the country felt some sort of connection to The Native Tongue Family’s brand of hip-hop is beyond me, but it has nonetheless become the gold standard that will define my taste in music forever.

All this to say, it wasn’t until much later that I learned of a group (actually more of a collective, composed of many different emcess and dj/producers) who was doing the same type of music, and located basically right in my own backyard.

Tribal Music was doing the jazz-inflected, alternative-style hip-hop similar to that of Quest and De La and all it would’ve taken for me to find them was a short trip down the I-5 corridor to the 206. I guess it’s not surprising that Tribal, a movement founded in a major metropolitan area, was influenced by those classic hip-hop acts in New York City, a place that defines the very word “metropolitan.” If Q-Tip could somehow manage to find his way into my bedroom speakers in rural Washington State, he damn sure was going to have an influence on a few cats in Seattle!

Still, the sound of A Tribe Called Quest was very specific to New York. When Tribal was doing its thing, there was no definitive “Seattle sound.” In fact, there was no nationally recognized Seattle hip-hop movement to speak of at all, unless you count the novelty that was “Baby Got Back.” (Which I don’t, by the way. Sir Mix-A-Lot, while certainly a pioneer in the Northwest rap music scene, did not constitute a legitimate “movement.” That is, unless you count the shaking of 10,000 assess at various wedding receptions across the country as a “movement.”)

I suppose the “movement” in Seattle was taking place where the best movements always begin: underground. Tribal Music was (and still is) definitively underground hip-hop.

Anyway, if you’re not hip to Tribal, then you’re in luck! Their 1996 compilation album, Do the Math, is available by FREE download here. I would contend that these guys did Native Tongue-style hip-hop almost as well as the founders themselves. It’s a shame they didn’t get more national shine for their work.


(Just one more thought: Hip-hop music is so often a very specific way of describing a very specific lifestyle in a very specific place. So why do so many people not affiliated with those specifics find such an affinity for it? Q-Tip and I were located at opposite ends of the country and at totally opposite ends of the lifestyle spectrum. I think maybe in the earliest years I was listening to Quest — and perhaps even to a greater extent groups like NWA — it was a purely voyeuristic experience that I was enjoying. Today, I can say that the rewards in listening to their music are different. There’s an actual desire to better understand the point of reference, the lives of the rappers that inspired the art. Hip-hop music, to me, is much more valuable today than it was yesterday.)

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