The first hiphop show scheduled at the recently rehabilitated Crocodile, a record-release party for Dyme Def's outstanding new Panic EP, already has a dark cloud hanging over it. On Saturday, April 11, Dyme Def's managers, Benito and Josh Berman of promotions company Soul Gorilla, received an e-mail from Crocodile booker Eli Anderson informing them that local rapper Fatal Lucciauno would be removed from the event (he was scheduled for a 15- to 20-minute onstage appearance). There were three possible, and not mutually exclusive, reasons for this: One, Fatal's raps are on the gangsta tip of things; two, he has a criminal record (he was convicted two years ago in a drive-by shooting in which no one was injured); and three, he opened for a hiphop show at Chop Suey that ended in bullets, blood, and a corpse.
Fatal is dogged by the fact that, on that night he performed at Chop Suey, a gunman opened fire into the club, killing one man, MC 29-E, and wounding two, Trama and 1st Black Prez—although, according to his manager, DeVon Manier of Sportn' Life Records, Fatal was long gone by the time the bullets started to fly. On Wednesday, April 15, Manier was informed of the Croc's decision, and though disheartened, he was not at all surprised. It was not the first time his artist had been banned from a venue or removed from a lineup. "Since the shooting, it's been tough," he says.
There is a sad irony in all of this. Chop Suey—the scene of a crime that has negatively impacted the hiphop community since January—played a central role in establishing the unprecedented healthy hiphop climate Seattle has enjoyed for the past half decade. It was the first rock venue to seriously open its doors to venue-starved hiphop artists. Indeed, Kerri Harrop, who does marketing for the Crocodile, had a hand in making that opening possible. While the booker at Chop Suey in 2002, she and Marcus Lalario (the current owner of the War Room) started Yo, Son!, a weekly hiphop event whose DJs and promoters deliberately mixed rock with hiphop. Following the success of Yo, Son! came a series of important hiphop shows (Common Market at Neumos, Dyme Def at Vera Project, Blue Scholars at Showbox) that eventually collapsed the wall between indie hiphop and indie rock venues.
This was the big difference between the '90s and the '00s. In the '90s, local rappers simply opened for big national acts. In the '00s, local acts began opening for local acts. As Jonathan Moore of Big Tune and Jasiri Media Group often points out, before Chop Suey and other Capitol Hill venues began regularly booking local rap shows in 2004, there was almost no place for local rappers to perform in this town. And this shortage not only meant no visibility but also no income. The community had little or no access to the financial infrastructure that's needed to sustain a scene and its artists and businessmen.
"This is what I do to keep paying the bills," said Benito of Soul Gorilla over the phone. "I don't have any other job. This is it. So it is very important that a venue like the Crocodile books our shows." Benito did not want Fatal removed from the bill, but he also wants to maintain a good relationship with the Croc and booker Anderson (who, by the way, did not respond to calls or e-mail).
In a letter sent out to the public on April 18, the management at the Croc stated: "[We are] not judging Fatal Lucciauno for his past mistakes, and we understand that history can be a difficult thing to overcome. It is regrettable that the decision to drop him from the bill had to be made when, really, a candid conversation could have probably cleared the whole thing up." Soul Gorilla's Benito and Berman missed an arranged meeting with Anderson on Thursday, April 9, a week after they submitted their lineup for the show, which Harrop says cost them an opportunity to participate and possibly influence the decision about Fatal Lucciauno.
"I don't want people to be afraid of me," says Fatal over the phone. "I'm just telling you about myself—this is how it happened, and this is why I did what I did. I don't want to go back to being homeless again. I don't want to go to prison again. I don't. So pray for me, and help me—that's what I'm about. I'm not Jay-Z, saying crime pays. I don't have naked ladies walking across the videos. That is not me. I rap about the effects of guns, jail, and HIV on a young man's life."
Indeed, the theme that dominates Fatal's hiphop is not the worship of the gangsta lifestyle but the documentation of the poverty that leads a man into that way of life. Track after track, he describes the grim realities of being dirt-poor in one of the richest cities of the world. And when he performs, the most powerful moments are when he is expressing these harsh realities directly. He wants you to feel and see it.
And despite this mess, Fatal wants to make sure you can see and feel hiphop at the Crocodile, beginning this weekend with Dyme Def—that is what is most important.
"I don't care about being removed from the show," he says. "I just want them to keep the door open for other hiphop artists. You see, Seattle's hiphop community is the most close-knit community I have ever seen. Though we all come from different walks of life, we all pretty much depend on each other to keep things going. So if a place regularly books shows for even some of us, it is good for all of us. That is how close we are. As long as the Crocodile supports local hiphop, I support the Crocodile."