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Soul Food

Hidmo Is an Unlikely Hiphop Mecca

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CURT DOUGHTY

Near the end of the Central District and the start of the International District, in an area dominated by industrial bakeries, is the corner of 20th Avenue and Jackson Street. Here you will find Hidmo Eritrean Restaurant, housed in a plain white building that stands in sharp contrast to the decaying Wonder Bread complex nearby. Three months ago, sisters Asmeret and Rahwa Habte bought Hidmo from its founder, Amanuel Yohannes, and turned it into the center of underground hiphop in Seattle.

Hidmo serves Eritrean food, is decorated with traditional Eritrean baskets, has live African music on Sunday nights, and is patronized by local East Africans. It's also the place to be for leading local headz. Jace of Silent Lambs Project first introduced me to Hidmo two months ago by chance. I was walking home and he was there holding a meeting for the Dope Emporium show. He saw me through the window, impatiently knocked on the glass, and asked that I come in right away. Inside I found a group of local rappers and producers sitting at a table, drinking beer, and eating a variety of Eritrean dishes. On one side of the table sat Specs One, Silas Blak, Silver Shadow D; on the other side were WD4D, Khingz, and Jace, who urged that I join the feast and take in the music and conversation that filled the room. After accepting my decline—I was late for an appointment—Jace strongly recommended that I come back to Hidmo and check it out.

I didn't follow Jace's recommendation and instead passed Hidmo again and again, thinking it was just one of the many East African restaurants in the neighborhood. That thought changed two weeks ago when I met with Gabriel Teodros to talk about his new CD, Lovework. We were sitting at a high table in a new cafe on Beacon Hill when he offhandedly mentioned that Sabzi, the producer behind Common Market and Blue Scholars, was spinning at Hidmo. Registering my surprise, he then explained that the restaurant was happening. "Everyone hangs out there," he said. "Go there any night and you will see all the cats... Rahwa owns it, she bought it a three months ago, and when it gets busy she makes me wash the dishes."

The following Thursday night I was in Hidmo, drinking and eating with Rahwa. "You know, when Gabriel is here I do sometimes make him wash the dishes," she said. "That's what it's like around here. I know everyone so well."

Rahwa was born in Eritrea, came to America when she was 4 years old, has seven siblings, and attended Evergreen High School. The 28-year-old has lived in the Central District since 1983, and her ties with the East African community are as tight as her ties with Seattle's hiphop community. "It was weird," she told me over a mug of coffee. "It just happened. One day I learned the owner wanted to sell the place. My sister and I decided it was a great opportunity. We bought the place in December and it has been wonderful. I grew up here; this is my neighborhood. And I grew up listening to hiphop, being a part of the music. So my friends started hanging around here. You know, it's just like that. One day, this guy walks in and asks to spin records; I say sure. He spins reggae on Thursday nights. It just happened."

DJ Duncan is not just spinning any old reggae; he is spinning the best of the best—recent Linton Kwesi Johnson, rare Gregory Isaacs, and old Heptones. As he plays, in walks Amos Miller, who produced most of Teodros's new CD and also "Heavy," the best track on Choklate's self-titled CD. At the bar is Sabzi, who is eating with his brother. "He comes here every night," Rahwa says with a hint of pride in her new business and the fresh scene it has spawned. "He also spins here every Friday with DJ Daps One. I'm also very excited about starting Ladies' Night, which used to be at Re-bar but is moving here on March 3. It's an all-women rap show."

Hiphop, reggae, and Ladies' Night have a new home at Hidmo. recommended

charles@thestranger.com

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