Seattle's Mr. Hill has always been the one to play the humble part, no matter how many topnotch projects he's involved with. The DJ/producer responsible for the beats on such Northwest releases as Onry Ozzborn's The Grey Area as well as the upcoming Grayskul project with Onry and JFK, Hill (AKA Todd Gumke) has been making music for quite some time. He's dabbled in production work for H-Bomb from Sinsemilla, Boom Bap Project, and the Silent Lambs Project, and lately he's been holding it down as the house DJ for a majority of the hiphop shows Stuck Under the Needle has been throwing. He's spinning this Thursday, December 11, when the Battle Axe recording artists Swollen Members come to town with Sleep and Clockwork, as well as on Saturday, December 13, when Planet Asia and Rasco, also known as Cali Agents, perform with Jean Grae and Of Mexican Descent. (Both of these are all-ages shows at the Chop Suey.)

An avid listener of hiphop since the golden era, Hill bought records here and there as a kid and eventually got turntables. "I was always the guy that had to change the tape in the car after every song because I wanted to hear something different--which annoyed a lot of people but that's the way I was," he says.

It was listening to Eric B. & Rakim's Paid in Full that got Hill seriously interested in becoming a DJ himself in 1994, though. "I thought Eric B. was dope at cutting back then, although he really wasn't. But listening to him scratch made me want to get into it. Him and DJ K La Boss from EPMD."

Some might also remember Hill from his now defunct production crew, Chapter 29, the group that included Putney Swope and DJ Kashun. Hill met Swope back at the pirate radio station FUCC 89.1 where they both had hiphop shows, and they moved on to have shows together at Groovetech.com, where they met Kashun. "We all made beats, so we formed Chapter 29 as a production company to get our music heard," explains Hill. Eventually Hill began to do his own thing, though, to start defining his own style.

In the mid-'90s, his passion for DJing started dying down when Hill felt less inspired by the output from the hiphop community. He got into beat-making instead in 1997 when Swope got a Dr. Boss sampler. "We would mess around on it and eventually he ended up buying an MPC 2000. I hit that thing every day until I bought my own gear," he notes. The first beat that he actually laid down for someone else was used on "Investigation Zero," off Footprints' 1999 cassette tape Operation Raw.

"I make music because it's fun to create--from buying the record I sample, to making the beat, to laying the track down at the studio, to hearing the end result," he says. While the majority of his material is darker than that of the average cookie-cutter producers out there, that darkness brings depth, and there is certainly a lot of feeling pulsing through Hill's beats. "I like to make music that either makes you think about shit or makes you want to hit someone," he explains. "Not that I try to do that, but that's what ends up coming out of my samplers."

Next year, expect to hear even more from Mr. Hill. Having already worked with Aesop Rock and some of the Living Legends, it's no doubt the guy is moving up in the world, but he's still very rooted in the local scene. "Onry [Ozzborn] is by far the hardest-working MC I've ever done music with," he says. "He doesn't say, 'Ah, let's go back and do that later' or 'That's good enough.' He will do what it takes to get it perfect every time. His music definitely reflects that."

With the recent surge of popularity for underground music on the dance floor, though, Hill has also gotten back into DJing. "It's a lot funner for me because I feel there's a lot better music out today. For the past few years, all I heard was garbage. And I can't play that. These days there's lots of new groups with different approaches and different styles. I get that same feeling as I used to when I started DJing, like I can't wait for someone to hear this one cut."

hiphop@thestranger.com

MR. HILL'S REQUIRED LISTENING

1. Gang Starr, Daily Operation (Alliance)

2. Positively Black, Positively Black (Select/Trumpet)

3. EPMD, Strictly Business (Priority)

4. Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (Def Jam)

5. KMD, Mr. Hood (Elektra)

6. Gravediggaz, 6 Feet Deep (V2/BMG)

7. Viktor Vaughn (AKA M. F. Doom), Vaudeville Villain (Traffic)

8. Aesop Rock, Bazooka Tooth (Def Jux)

9. Dilated Peoples, The Platform (Capitol/ABB)

10. Jace (of the Silent Lambs Project), Street Talkin' (White)