Photos by Kelly O

Genius Awards 2016

The 2016 Stranger Genius Awards!

Barbara Earl Thomas

Rob Rhee

Mario Lemafa

Erik Blood

Sandy Cioffi

Hardly Art Records

Mel Eslyn

Noelani Pantastico

Tracy Rector

Emily Chisholm

Wave Books

Lindy West

That'swhatshesaid

Robert Lashley

HAS:

A rap style that no one can imitate.

MAKES:

Rhymes that are filled with brilliance but are not always easy to follow.

IS:

Also a regarded chef who used to cook at Kingfish Cafe.


In the mid-1990s, a number of talented young rappers and producers in Seattle's then-black neighborhood, the Central District, made a bold move. They decided to abandon the mainstream and develop a new and profoundly local form of hiphop that blended East Coast boom-bap, jazz samples from the modern moment (1955 to 1968), and something that can only be described as the Northwest aesthetic—the dark green of our trees, the long months without sun, the numerous days of drizzle. One underground crew was Silent Lambs Project, which was basically two rappers, Jace ECAj and Silas Blak, working with some of the best producers/DJs of that period: King Otto, Mr. Hill, and Bean One.

Most local headz first discovered Jace ECAj and Silas Blak on K Records' 1998 compilation Classic Elements, which featured crews from Tacoma and Seattle. Blak displayed on his tracks a style that's deep, complicated, and combative. Blak was not about hot anger, but the slow-burning variety. Two years after Classic Elements, Jace and Blak released a masterpiece called Soul Liquor. Each track on this work is infused with that Northwest mood and has Jace and Blak going back and forth not like rappers but horn players. Before you understand a word of what they are saying, all you hear is the music of their densely rhythmic stretching, bending, and shortening of these words.

Blak has been in the business for two solid decades. He's still growing, still experimenting, still combative. Indeed, there are few rappers who get better as they age. Most become irrelevant (50 Cent) or get stuck in the past (Coolio) or go into decline (Eminem). Blak seems to have achieved a kind of creative escape velocity that has placed him in a permanent state of exploration. Check out the gorgeous and pounding records #BlakFriday: The Mixtape and Editorials: (wartunes) he released last year with the cultural disruptors at the Cabin Games label.

"I have never worked with this kind of production before," Blak explained to me as we sat in the Cabin Games studio on a sunny summer day. "But once I got into it, it was easy for me to do my thing."

The interesting thing about Blak is the person on the mic is not the same as the person in person. Blak is a calm cat. He discusses the ups and downs of his life with none of the passion and combativeness you hear on his recordings. When talking about how Silent Lambs Project started, he calmly discusses his run-in with the law in the early '90s and how Jace and his family pretty much saved him from prison. "They came to the court and pleaded to the judge for me, and the judge gave me one more chance. I will always be grateful to them for that." And we too should be thankful, because the city might have lost one of its most talented and intelligent rappers to the slammer of so much black creativity.