Sometime around 2000, the great Dr. Dre, one of the architects of the West Coast sound and attitude, appeared on MTV and offered his top 10 hiphop tracks of all time. In that list, only two tracks were made by West Coast headz (one of which was Dre himself). The rest came from New York City.
What Dre's top 10 list made apparent was this: No matter where the rappers live—Tokyo, Seoul, Johannesburg, Paris, London, Los Angeles—they are oriented by New York. Meaning, not only do they owe everything to New York, but they understand their position, their style, their type of beats always in the context of the city that gave birth to hiphop.
Rik Rude feels the centrality of New York in the hiphop universe. The 30-year-old rapper moved to Seattle from the Bay Area two years ago, but it was his birthplace of Flint, Michigan, where Rude first heard the beat of hiphop, where he fell in love with the Juice Crew and Kool G Rap. Because hiphop is a culture that emphasizes (maybe overemphasizes) place, neighborhoods, streets—Rude soon felt the power and confidence of New York. The MCs from that part of the world rarely went through a song without asserting which borough they came from: Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, the planet of Brooklyn. Nor did they ever tire of repeating that they were the founders of "this here rap game."
"It was music we heard from a distance, from across the Great Lakes," Rude says. "It was their music and you felt that. And you got a sense that they really didn't care about any other city but New York. That's why it was such a surprise to discover that J Dilla was doing stuff with my favorite group of that time, A Tribe Called Quest. Dilla was from Detroit! And he had the same confidence as the New York cats. Detroit could be as good as Queens or the Bronx."
Rude's music is a reflection on the development of hiphop from its source in the boroughs to all points on the globe. He positions himself as a Left Coast head (Bay Area/Seattle), true. But, like Boston's Edan, in his blood and in his rhymes is the presence of Big Daddy Kane, the essence of East Coast arrogance and aggression. "From Philly to Flint/From the Pacific to the boroughs... I still play the villain," he raps in "Tea with the British."
Flint might be where Rude's hiphop journey began, but Seattle is where it reached its destination, at the Lo-Fi Performance Gallery. "The way I rap now and the stuff I'm making owe a lot to [Stop Biting] on Tuesdays at Lo-Fi on Eastlake," he says. "When I first went there a year or so ago, it was amazing. Four DJs spinning, breakers everywhere, rappers battling. I was inspired by the environment." The result of his Tuesdays spent at Stop Biting and a friendship with local producers P Smoov and Boop Nice is an album, Diamond Pistol Rap, which he just finished, and a recently released mixtape, Cigar Rock Star.
The majority of the tracks on the album and the mixtape were mixed in the Robot Room on Queen Anne. Boop Nice was the key producer and P Smoov the engineer. The collaboration is a rich and thick mix of hiphop eras, styles, and subgenres: Some tracks are in the sci-fi mode (or sonic fiction, as Kodwo Eshun would call it), others in the RZA fantasy mode, others in the Dilla neck-snap mode. Rude's raps come in several flavors—some, to cite Kane, are "raw like sushi," others are as conscious as the Poor Righteous Teachers, and most are as playful as Slick Rick.
Where are Rude's beats and rhymes from? They come from outer space, from the depths of the underground, from the future as it was imagined in the 1980s. It's a hiphop that's "more dust than digital" (to use the words of Cyclops 4000), a hiphop that hisses and crackles like an old cassette tape found in an abandoned basement, hiphop that's made with nothing but love. "Yo, man, this shit is like Transformers," Rude declares near the opening of the mixtape. "This is like '85 shit, cats blowing up shit, robots on some crazy shit. Fuck it, let's get into the track."