"All that shit back in the day/All that shit was history."
—Yung Gleesh, "Trappin' Benny"
Near the dawn of the '80s, Sugar Hill Records chief Sylvia Robinson was trying desperately to sign a rap group, but she couldn't find any that were interested in actually going into the studio—until then, rap had been a strictly live phenomenon, existing only in clubs and at house parties. When Robinson's son discovered Henry Lee "Big Bank Hank" Jackson tossing pizzas and rhyming, she offered him a spot in her put-together crew, the Sugar Hill Gang. Of course, the rhymes Jackson had been reciting at the time were from the Cold Crush Brothers, who he was managing, and the ones he brought to his first studio session were straight from another of his clients, Grandmaster Caz (who'd willingly loaned Hank his notebook for the session, a fact he bemoans to this day). Thus was born hiphop's first giant leap into the music business, Sugar Hill Gang's multi-platinum 1979 hit "Rapper's Delight." When thinking in terms of culture and industry, it's good to remember that the first rap song all your favorite rappers ever heard was—as scribe Oliver Wang once put it—"an inauthentic fabrication." Rest in peace, Big Bank Hank (1956–2014).
Incidentally, November is Hiphop History Month in the state of Washington, so declared by Governor Jay Inslee, and in turn endorsed by the mayors of Tacoma, Lacey, and Bremerton. But I wouldn't hold my breath for ol' beet-faced Ed Murray to join the chorus. I do love seeing the acknowledgment for the culture, the honoring of hiphop's beginnings, its beautiful creation myth—as glorious a triumph over adversity as there ever was, and a force for peace amid warring tribes. Let it not be lost on those who'd enshrine, define, and categorize it, though, that hiphop is a part of the continuum of black music, an original ingenuity that will always exist. (Where, though, is our new beat, our future cool, our as-yet-uncolonized next movement? Show me that parade.)
I keep hearing people bitch about these "History of Seattle Hiphop™" articles and posts. 'Tis the season again, it seems. I've yet to see one that didn't gloss over, omit, or misrepresent some crucial era, crew, or event that was critical to some facet of the scene's growth—either because the writer wants to downplay its relevance or is just plain ignorant (i.e., they weren't there). I know that Dr. Daudi Abe, whose perspective I trust, is working on a well-researched, book-length history of this city's hip hop—and we're definitely gonna need it. As the landlords sell off the city's flavor at breakneck speed to appease the cash-flush and hot-dog-water-tasteless hordes, as the freaks and weirdos and artists get priced out, as Seattle gets richer while its black households get poorer—how's all this going to affect the rap? (I'd guess that the colder it gets, the farther south the real shit will keep moving.) Can't call it, but I'll still be doing my best to pay attention, even after I'm History™.