First things first: Rest in Peace to Rick James. The funk legend died of natural causes at the young age of 56 on August 6 at his home in California. Known for hits like "Mary Jane" (simply the best weed song ever penned) and "Superfreak," James was the epitome of early '80s funk. His name has been back in heavy circulation for months now since the ubiquitous Chappelle's Show skits; but hopefully now we can officially proclaim dead the usage of "I'm Rick James, Bitch!"--although I somehow doubt it. James was no angel; but he was unquestionably a musical genius and pioneer, and deserves to be remembered as much more than a tired punch line.

Interestingly enough, some of James' final vocal work and one of his few official collabos with a hiphop act was with Seattle's own Nocturnal Rage--peep the remix to their "Miss Mary Jane" single, not to mention its accompanying video. Rage's label, Noc on Wood Records, has some exclusive interviews and video footage of James in the studio, which hopefully will be available in the near future. While the group maintains they're the only proper hiphop collaboration James ever did, I just caught wind that Kool Keith and Jacky Jasper did three joints with James for their upcoming 7th Veil album.

Speaking of local acts, though, I finally scored an advance copy of Clockwork's official debut, After Midnight. If you've ever caught their live show, you know what to expect: club-banging beats (not sure who produced what, but I know CatchPhrase got some heat on there), and catchy, melodic hooks together with their trademark crispy double-time flows. The super underground heads aren't gonna feel this one, but if you ever heard "The Blah Blah Blah" (or whatever it was called) off their demo, you know their thoughts on that world anyway. My personal faves here are the hilarious and funky "Goosebumps," where the boys fire back at haters, and the thumping "Dubs to Blow" (whose subject matter should be obvious to all my Fresh Coast smokers); also peep the high-powered Byrdie cameo on "On the Move."

Next up is Specs One, a true triple O.G. in this 206 hiphop shit. Stranger scribe Charles Mudede put me up on Specs' bugged-as-hell LP Numerology, which became a favorite to smoke to. Not long after, Specs himself graced me with his new LP, Return of the Artist. Raw as he's ever been, Specs' true-school lyricism and off-kilter production is slightly reminiscent of MF Doom. My favorites on this half-instrumental LP are the interlude-length "Rap Stuff" and his "Ode to Mics," plus the paranoid instro "The Block." Do the knowledge, youngster--Specs has been putting it down since there was in fact an "it" to be "put down" in the first place.

Yes, there's good hiphop in Seattle. So buy local CDs, go to local shows, and spread the word, godammit!

hiphop@thestranger.com

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