Sportn' Life Records: 10 Years of Seattle Hiphop Greatness
Ten years ago, Sportn' Life Records was born, from what label cofounder and president DeVon Manier calls "a crew of friends that used to hustle together—we called ourselves Last Men Standing [a crew that included the Reign City MC Fleeta Partee]. We met Damian Black at 14 through his dad, and he was already a monster. At the time, it seemed like nothing was coming out of the hood that was really worthy. We wanted to take off where Tribal took off. We wanted to produce quality Seattle shit, not the generic Bay Area–style shit that was goin' on then. We wanted to be an independent force like so many black labels were becoming, and we wanted to uphold the legacy of D.Black's parents—the Emerald Street Boys were the first ones out here doing it, period."
SnL's first release was a 2002 vinyl single with D.Black (then known as Danger) on one side and Last Men Standing on the flip. A Sportn' Life compilation would follow in 2003. SnL put its stamp on the town and put out some landmark Seattle hiphop albums—from D.Black's Ali'Yah to Fatal Lucciauno's The Only Forgotten Son. Not only that, it has curated and exposed some of the best artists from here—the aforementioned dudes, plus cats like J. Pinder and Dyme Def. "Every artist that stepped through the door after [the compilation] came through D.Black, from Fatal to Pinder to Larry Hawkins (FKA SK) to Dyme Def to Spac3man—cats came through the Pharmacy [recording studio], when it was in the South End, sometimes right off the block. Damian's dad was gracious enough to have it be in his basement. Vita was gracious enough to man the boards. BeanOne was with us, too." Little surprise, then, that the Sportn' Life brand has long been one trusted in the town for quality.
D.Black, long the focal point of the Life, retired from making music a few years back. "I adapted, I learned," Manier says. "Him refusing to do shows on Friday, that scared the shit outta me! Not only that, retail really slowed down by the time we got distribution in 2008, and things shifted toward free music, so we had to adapt there, too. But around the same time as he was withdrawing from the scene, I started seeing Fly Moon Royalty around—and their music fit in where his left off." FMR's versatile electro-soul-pop not only gave the Life a new sound, it broadened the label's appeal beyond hardcore hiphop lovers. I low-key marveled at the Life's breadth while watching FMR's Adra Boo sing an Etta James tribute with the Portland Cello Project at the well-bearded folk explosion known as the Doe Bay Festival.
But the Life, true to its roots, last week brought us the Vitamin D–produced "Tell Me," featuring a returned D.Black—now known as Nissim—alongside Fatal, Spac3man, and Larry Hawkins. It's the leadoff single of their upcoming My Life My Love EP, a supercrew project that's long overdue. The whole SnL roster is performing on Wednesday, November 21, at Barboza, celebrating their decade in the game, outlasting and outblasting the comp—as should you. L's up.