Sat Jan 24, Chop Suey, 9 pm, $12 adv.
The story of Seattle's hiphop scene has distinct chapters. From 1981 (the year Seattle's first rap radio show, Freshtracks, goes on air) to 1992 (the year Seattle's first major rap label, Nastymix, released its last important CD, Criminal Nation's Trouble in the Hood), the scene was dominated by Nastymix and the label's biggest, platinum-selling star, Sir Mix-A-Lot. In 1993, that began to change, though, with the emergence of new prominent figures who started actively transforming the way local hiphop was perceived and experienced.
This second chapter (which we're slowing phasing out of) is more modern in outlook than the first, mostly because unlike the Nastymix days, it is very political, and openly Afrocentric. The cover of Sir Mix-A-Lot's Seminar had him and his crew wearing Roman togas, looking like Caesarian senators; the rappers of the second chapter would never do such a hokey thing. They instead find inspiration in sub-Saharan African fashions, heritage, and Weltanschauung. At the center of this new movement is Jasiri Media Group ("jasiri" being the Swahili word for "courage"), a hiphop collective established in 1993 by Source of Labor, a group whose most prominent member is Jonathan Moore. And now it's Moore who has been helping shape our third--and possibly most widely exposed--chapter in local hiphop history.
Born in Seattle and educated in Atlanta at Morehouse College, the story of Moore's arrival on Seattle's club scene is one of pure perseverance. "Back then [in 1993], basically, we [Source of Labor] had no venue outside of the Central District," explains Moore from his office, which he shares with the indie hiphop label and promotion company Stuck Under the Needle. "We did not have an in to the downtown area. But I knew Caroline Davenport of Tasty Shows, who at that time booked shows for a club called RKCNDY. So, one day I cycled down to the club from the C.D. and told her what we [Source of Labor] wanted to do at their club, but she was like, 'Rap doesn't do too well for us.... There are safety issues....' You know, those kinds of buzzwords. There had been shootings at that time, at the Paramount, and so people were nervous about rap shows. I told her that we weren't gangsters; that this wasn't what our music was about. Don't get me wrong, the gangster thing has its place, but that was not us.
"Anyway, Caroline said, 'Come back in a couple of weeks.' And I came back in a couple of weeks on my bike. She then said to come back in a week and she might have something for me. And this went on and on until she finally acknowledged my persistence and gave me some off-night--Tuesday, I think. The bill was us, Jace and the 4th Party, Blind Council, and Six in the Clip. That was one of our first shows in Seattle, and a lot of people turned up and it was hassle free. We did another show, and it was again a success. The word then got around among booking agents, and soon more venues opened up to us downtown. We started playing at other clubs."
Source of Labor started out in 1989 as DJ Kamikaze, Negus, and Wordsayer (Moore). In 1997, Vitamin D replaced Kamikaze, and in 1998, Source of Labor included regular (rather than guest) musicians--Darrius Willrich, Kevin Hudson, and Dvonne Lewis. In 1997, Source of Labor and other Jasiri artists--Beyond Reality, Felicia Loud--appeared on a compilation called Word, Sound, Power; and in 2000, Source of Labor released their first (and now only--as they're breaking up) full-length CD, Stolen Lives, which in 2001 was distributed by one of the biggest indie hiphop labels of that time, Subverse Music.
"When [Source of Labor] started to get venues," Moore says of the mid-'90s, "we didn't have the luxury of saying, 'Great, now all I have to do is perform.' It wasn't like that at all. Once we got a show, it was more like this: Now we have to promote the show; now we have to stage-manage; now we have to settle and count money at the end of this show...."
About the time that Moore and his peers established regular hiphop nights in the downtown area, he also began organizing, by necessity, shows that featured national rap acts. His first big show in town was the Roots, who performed at RKCNDY in 1995. This was the start of a list that would include Blackalicious, Company Flow, and Saul Williams, whose 2001 national tour was managed by Moore. It doesn't end there. Moore also manages local hiphop acts, many of whom--Vitamin D, Bean One, Grayskul, Boom Bap Project, Byrdie--are playing a crucial role in the third and emerging chapter of local hiphop. This new wave is extensively multiracial, with Asians, whites, and blacks functioning at every level of the art (production, rapping, promotion); it's also very well connected.
For example, local producers Jake One and Vitamin D co-produced Gift of Gab's (of Bay Area-based Blackalicious) new solo project, Fourth Dimensional Rocket Going Up, which was recorded entirely in Seattle. In 2003, Jake One's profile went national and he is now working with commercial rap artists as well as the usual indie suspects. Vitamin D recently produced four songs for Chali 2na (of Jurassic Five), and also produced two tracks for the upcoming De La Soul CD. Another local producer, Bean One, is set to work with Los Angeles' Living Legends, and Boom Bap Project and Grayskul are receiving wider and wider attention.
In one way or another, Moore is associated with these completed or developing projects, which is why he has decided to bring an end to the long life of his group Source of Labor. "I just don't have the time to properly commit to my own art," he admits. "The responsibility of managing artists, working to realize their projects, means I cant miss opportunities, miss appointments, miss meetings because I have rehearsals, or have a show. I'm completely fulfilled by what Source of Labor has accomplished, but now what I want to do is make sure that the artists I represent get the attention--even the basic infrastructure--that we never enjoyed when we started."