Years Active: 1991–98.
Provenance: Garfield High School, Central District, Seattle.
Essential Albums: None officially released, just demos passed around, dubbed, and hoarded. All Northwest hiphop heads worth their salt should be familiar with the essential compilations Untranslated Prescriptions, Do the Math, 14 Fathoms Deep, and Classic Elements—all of which contain Ghetto Chilldren songs, and all of which are within your grasp via generous uploaders or used-CD sections.
Essential Songs: "Slangin Cuts," "Hiphop Was," "Court's in Session," "N's Don't L," "Who's Listening," and my personal favorite, "Hood Rat."
Influenced By: Ramsey Lewis, A Tribe Called Quest, Cold Crush Brothers, the CD.
Influence On: A great deal of Seattle hiphop to come after.
Precautions: The last attempt at a GC reunion, seven years ago, sadly only featured Vitamin D. This year, according to the P-I, B-Self is "looking forward to it like a convict to his release date."
Why You Should Give a Fuck: See, heads in the Northwest have agonized over the question of the "Seattle Sound" in regard to hiphop for literal decades. Over the years, there've been many great and resonant takes on what the 206 could and should sound like, but for my money, the Ghetto Chilldren's work (and the work of the whole Tribal Productions crew) in the '90s was it, the embodiment. Just ask a local scene vet—wait, I'll save you the work.
"I honestly believe," says Mike Clark (former host of KCMU's Rap Attack and 206 hiphop scholar emeritus), "that the Ghetto Chilldren, and the entire Tribal Productions collective as a whole, were the most important thing to hiphop in the Seattle area in the '90s. They were, and still are, my favorite group of all time from this area and one of my all-time favorite groups period in rap." Clark helped get the Chilldren a development deal with Geffen Records, which sadly didn't pan out. Had their music gone nationwide, there is no doubt in my mind that GC would have been nationwide cult heroes in the mid-to-late-'90s underground swell. [["It was disappointing because all I ever wanted was to see artists and groups in this area get their due—but in retrospect, I'm so glad they didn't do it, because Geffen (who wanted GC to work with the Dust Brothers) wanted to take away the organic, creative style that Vita and B-Self had worked so hard to develop."
That organic style could be heard first in the production:]] While Seattle became a rock and roll hotbed, its rap scene toiled in obscurity—and Derrick "Vitamin D" Brown's warmth and proficiency with sampling deep jazz cuts helped define the sound of a scene poised between opposing national trends—he was born in a city trapped indoors, making music, blowing plumes of Northwest high-grade.
Vitamin is the son of Herman Brown, a member of Motown group Ozone and label studio guitarist, and younger cousin of Eddie "Sugar Bear" Wells, a member of Seattle's first hiphop group, the Emerald Street Boys. [["GC represent a literal continuation of Seattle's specific hiphop and overall musical history (which is kind of the Brown family's history in a way), as a link in the chain that goes from Septimus (fka Just Us, the Seattle-based Brown family band) to Emerald Street Boys and then to Ghetto Chilldren/Tribal Productions," says writer Deven Morgan, Seattle's premier Tribal enthusiast/archivist.]]
"Vitamin D has always been glue to the Seattle hiphop community," says a local emcee called Macklemore, "bridging generations and creating a distinct sound with his production." Mack notably name-checked the Ghetto Chilldren in his song "The Town": "My greatest teachers: B-Self and Vita."
He's far from alone. MCs Vitamin D and the prodigious William "B-Self" Rider weren't Gs, hardcore lyrical masterminds, or smooth R&B dudes—they were unfailingly thoughtful, poetic, and upbeat, two Black everymen navigating hiphop's changing mores. "If there was a heart to Tribal Productions as a conglomerate," says Morgan, "they were it, and that heart was a place of honesty and a complete lack of pretentiousness—not exactly hallmarks of hiphop tradition. Ghetto Chilldren were supremely stylistically influential to the groups that came in their wake, who for a variety of reasons were able to break through that glass ceiling and actually get out of Seattle."
As a fan of the '90s era turned critic in the early 2000s, I heard it right away in the early records from acts like Blue Scholars, Macklemore, and the Physics.
"When I was in high school," says the Physics' Thig Nat, "Ghetto Chilldren were so inspiring because these were guys from my city making music that was just as good as anything being made at the time. It made me want to be a part of what was going on."
"GC were, in many ways, the soundtrack to my upbringing in the Seattle music scene," says Macklemore. "There was a humanness and an intimacy in the recordings, and a vibe in the samples Vita picked. The way they rapped, it was like they were talking to you, not at you, with their delivery and subject matter."
"I know why I thought they were dope," says DJ Topspin (aka Blendiana Jones), Seattle legend and Tribal crew member via his group Sinsemilla. "They made intelligent music, evidenced by the wordplay as well as the detailed, emotive production."
"To me, GC were so important because they represented a Seattle feel of the whole movement that was happening in the early '90s," says Strath Shepard, writer/DJ/label head formerly of '90s rap scene chronicle The Flavor and Conception Records. "The sound and feeling of Native Tongues and everyone in their orbit in the east, but then this newer West Coast sound of Hieroglyphics, Solesides, the Pharcyde, and other underground crews—and the feeling that Seattle was just as good and had its own currency."
Seattle-bred superproducer and '90s contemporary Jake One opines that GC "were the first group from Seattle to really have the total package."
Alison Pember, publisher of The Flavor, told me that when she left Seattle in '96 to work in the music biz in NYC, "I made sure to bring the Ghetto Chilldren's music with me. I played it for everyone I could and it was the one Seattle artist that people all liked. I am still surprised they didn't have more success outside of this city, but I guess we Seattleites selfishly like to have great artists that we keep just for ourselves."]]
"I had a radio show in Bellingham," says **Strath** Shepard, **writer/DJ/label head formerly of '90s rap scene chronicle The Flavor and Conception Records**. "But I would take the Greyhound down to see them with other Seattle crews like Elevators, 22nd Precinct, Blind Council, and Source of Labor at the Langston Hughes Center. I remember very vividly meeting B-Self and Vitamin outside before a show, and they were surprised to hear I was playing their tapes on the radio—but I was such a fan, I was (and still am) completely in awe of them both. I wonder if Vitamin even knows how many people he has influenced across this city, for decades."
Vita and B-Self would have had to have taken leave of their five senses to have missed the accolades a couple generations of Seattle hiphoppers have heaped upon them since their run. Yeah, you might've missed them the first time—but maybe now you know exactly why you should give a fuck.