I first formally met Jonathan Moore, who passed on Wednesday at the age of 47, in the summer of 2014 while conducting initial research interviews for my book, Emerald Street: A History of Hip-Hop in Seattle. When I told him what I was doing he immediately invited me to his Belltown gallery, where we spoke for a couple of hours, me recording and scribbling notes while he laid out his hiphop story. The volume of his resume made a second interview necessary, which he was more than happy to do as soon as I’d finished digesting the first one.
Here was a man who, as a student at Roosevelt High School in the mid-1980s, rented rooms at the Seattle Center and threw “Prep” dances. After graduating from Morehouse College and forming the group Source of Labor in 1992, Moore remained active in growing the local scene on various levels. He began producing regular community-based hiphop shows and activities at Langston Hughes Cultural Arts Center, and in 1993, Source of Labor played the Crocodile Café in Belltown, bringing Seattle’s ‘second generation’ of hiphop downtown for the first time.
Moore formed Jasiri Media Group in 1994, which Mickey Hess, in the book Hip-Hop America: A Regional Guide, described as breaking away “from the vision of gangsta rap, which was the main focus of the rap industry at the time,” and instead promoting “a positive energy and medium for education in the community” that brought with it a “more educated, meaningful form of musical expression.” Meanwhile, with the Teen Dance Ordinance strangling the life out of all-ages events in Seattle since 1985, Moore produced the all-age friendly “Sure Shot Sundays” in 1999 at the Sit & Spin downtown to provide opportunities for young people to see, hear, and perform local hiphop. It was there, in 2000, that a young teenager named Ben “Macklemore” Haggerty made his live stage debut as a member of the group Elevated Elements.
When Seattle Mayor Paul Schell publicly blamed hiphop for a 2000 shooting outside a Pioneer Square nightclub, Moore organized a peaceful rally at Westlake Park in response. He teamed with Vitamin D to grow the local “Big Tunes” producer/beat competition into a traveling national event broadcast on BET. At a time when local hiphop radio was sorely lacking, he began co-hosting “Sunday Night Sound Session” with DJ Hyphen on KUBE in 2005. Even today, Moore has indirectly left an imprint. A lunch with Sub Pop Records Executive VP Megan Jasper led to Shabazz Palaces signing with the label in 2010, which eventually also led to the signing of up-and-coming local MC Porter Ray, and the release of his highly anticipated debut album Watercolor.
Although I shared the initial rough draft version of the Emerald Street manuscript with Jonathan, the fact that he did not get to see it published adds to my sadness. In my opinion, his timing and body of work puts him among the most significant cultural figures in local history. Until the Crossroads, peace to J Moore, a true hiphop renaissance man and a complete Seattle original.