If one man was to represent Seattle in a worldwide hiphop Olympics, I can think of no better personage than producer/MC/DJ Derrick "Vitamin D" Brown. It's no exaggeration to say that Vitamin's work has long been the embodiment of 206 hiphop; with production for his Tribal Music fam (including my all-time 206 group, the Ghetto Children—of which Vita was one-half), not to mention joints for almost e'rybody in the town, including Source of Labor and Boom Bap Project, Vita's held us down well. In recent years Vitamin has laced joints for De La Soul, Gift of Gab, and several artists on the Rhymesayers label—and with upcoming work on projects from Black Sheep, Chali 2na, and Abstract Rude, as well as Seatown's Choklate and Dameon Black, not to mention his own LP, his best has yet to come....

"My household was real musical," Vita recalls at his storied South End studio, The Pharmacy. "My dad, Herman Brown, had a funk group on Motown [Ozone] and was a studio musician. My mother's dad [Clarence Oliphant] was a jazz vibe player back when this was the jazz mecca, and a Tuskegee airman." Brown's familial familiarity with music brought him into Seattle's nascent hiphop scene as well—thanks to his older cousin, Eddie Wells, AKA "Sugar Bear" of the crew commonly acknowledged as Seattle's first rap group, the Emerald Street Boys. "As far as hiphop lineage, I come directly from the pioneers of Seattle hiphop," he explains. "Sugar Bear passed me my first pair of turntables—they was broke, but I fixed 'em up, and I was ready to go. I had those and a drum machine, an HR-16, making old-style beats, doing talent shows at schools and stuff. "

Vita began seriously making music in 1988—the same year Eric B. & Rakim put out Follow the Leader—making beats and DJing. "It was more of a hood thing back then—I didn't even know white people did rap or knew about that around here 'til I went to alternative school and them fools was hip just like I was. So Seattle was the first place I saw that hiphop was, or could be, universal." The scene has definitely grown exponentially since, with mixed results—and notoriously fickle local support. "The scene in the town is a little tainted," Vita admits. "There's way less avenues for getting the real hiphop out there. Back in the day, you had [radio stations] KFOX and KRIZ—they were putting together the showcases, Nasty Nes was on there playin' local music, you had your Sir Mix-A-Lot and your Emerald Street Boys on the radio. Jon [Jonathan Moore of Jasiri Management Group] is trying to bring it back, and play local stuff on the radio—but it's not quite the same. Don't nobody even wanna hear it. But back then we were excited to hear it. Like, 'Man, we wanna hear what's goin on, that's ours!'"

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When asked about the direction he sees the town's hiphop going in, Vitamin is unsure. "It's hard to say, man—now I'm getting old, and with this new generation comin' in, you don't need skills or credibility to really be tight because the average fan is so removed from the culture. You have a lotta young artists that aren't necessarily in touch with the roots of Seattle hiphop, or hiphop period, trying to do it. With money behind 'em, it's all good—but it's really not... Our hiphop community definitely needs to get way tighter."

Only natural, then, that Vita would put his money where his mouth is—and kickstart the popular monthly night at the War Room called Power Bill. Its semiregular "Big Tunes" edition is a beat battle/showcase for hungry producers. "This is the first time I ever promoted at a venue, and it was all my vision," he says. Full of beatmakers and MCs from all over the area, Vitamin's concept is a diverse crowd of artists and fans—not just the usual Cap Hill faces—effectively "bringing the hood back into hiphop." The result: one of the most refreshing events to hit the scene in some time. "I figure, man, if I can just showcase the talent and bring the rappers and the producers in the same room, the scene's gotta flourish from there. There's gonna be relationships being made, and more shit's gonna build up."

hiphop@thestranger.com

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