Local hiphop didn't see as strong a wave of CD releases in 2006 as it did in 2005. Instead we witnessed an unprecedented wave of great and often sold-out local hiphop shows.
The first was back on February 11 at Chop Suey. Common Market opened for KRS-One to a packed house. The occasion was special not only because it marked the arrival of a new hiphop force, RA Scion and DJ Sabzi, but also because near the end of Common Market's set, which closed with the track "Doors," Ra Scion began chanting "The South Bronx! The South! South! Bronx!" Seemingly out of nowhere, KRS-One jumped on the stage and joined in the chant, the hiphop hymn that he created 20 years before. The overlapping and passing of the mic from Ra Scion to his teacher, KRS-One, connected Seattle with the birthplace of hiphop.
Though a big night for local hiphop, that sold-out show was still headlined by a dependable hiphop draw, legend KRS-One. However, by the end of summer, the need for star power to generate strong ticket sales began to diminish. More and more local acts began packing medium and big venues without help from internationally recognized names.
But it was the Mass Line show at the Showbox on June 23 that marked the tipping point for local hiphop.
To the surprise (if not shock) of everyone, this show sold out a week before it happened, before a word was written about it. Seattle finally went out to watch its own hiphop and nothing else. The city began to see itself, to believe in itself, its powers, its ideas. This self-sense, self-support, and self-certainty has been there for the indie-rock scene for longer than I've been in this city. But with the exception of Sir Mix-A-Lot, local support was not there in a real way for local rap crews. Even the mighty Oldominion could barely stand on their own feet—if they weren't opening for a famous rapper, then they were performing for a moderate or low turnout.
Even in 2005, the year Grayskul released one of the best CDs in the history of local hiphop, Deadlivers, attendance at their shows was not remarkable. "For some reason, they do very well elsewhere," a local promoter told me not long after the release party for Deadlivers. "When they play in Seattle, no one comes to see them. It makes no sense. The record is released by fucking Rhymesayers; that's a big deal. But people don't seem to care."
That was 2005.
This year, a big and almost sudden change (break) occurred: In large numbers, people in Seattle started coming out just to see Abyssinian Creole, Cancer Rising, Choklate, Silent Lambs Project, and, of course, Blue Scholars.
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Dope Emporium, a hiphop arts expo taking place next Thursday at Capitol Hill Arts Center, hopes to synthesize the spirits of the last two years. With live performances, merchant booths, and visual art, Dope Emporium will celebrate the production successes of 2005 and the performance successes of 2006 as we move toward 2007.
Dope Emporium was conceived by Silent Lambs Project, a driving force in local indie hiphop.
"It's the vision of hiphop as art and the showcasing of Pacific Northwest talent," explains Jace of Silent Lambs Project. "It's a collective of organizations, media, and artists coming together to make the public aware of what the artists have to offer. The goal is to have an event that is to bring out what is often unseen and unheard. And, what this area has to offer the world of hiphop."
Jace wants Dope Emporium to become a regular event, "a meeting place that is free, for all ages, and open to new ideas," he says.
Grynch, Onry Ozzborn of Oldominion, Specs One, Dyme Def, and BeanOne are among the many hiphop artists that will be showing at Dope Emporium, and two of what will be defining indie hiphop labels of 2007 are also taking part: Mass Line and Sportn' Life Records.
While the better known Mass Line mines knowledge rap exclusively, Sportn' Life encompasses an array of hiphop styles. Managed by DeVon Manier, Sportn' Life releases artists that identify with pop hiphop (D.Black), street rap (Fatal Lucciauno), and the backpacker set (J.Pinder). (Fatal's CD drops in late winter and J.Pinder's CD drops in early spring.)
"Integrity and versatility is where we are at," explains Manier. "In my experience with rap labels, people tend to stick to one type of rap. If it is knowledge rap, that's it—that's what they do. If it's gangsta rap, that is what they do. We want to have different things going on. And though we want to go national... [we] think it's better to build fans here first. You know what I mean? If D.Black is being played in Vancouver, BC, then it's easy to get up there and do a show and promote. I think Mass Line has that same attitude, which is why I respect them."
Mass Line, run by Dave Meinert and DJ Sabzi, will certainly dominate 2007. The label has all but one season covered: In winter, Gabriel Teodros is releasing a solo project; in spring, Blue Scholars are releasing a CD; and in fall, it will be Common Market's (re)turn. On top of all that, Guru is dropping a track produced by DJ Sabzi. And it just don't stop. It goes on and on and on to the break of dawn.
See you at Dope Emporium.