Seattle DJ/graffiti artist/B-Boy extraordinaire Jeff Higashi—aka Soul One, aka Soul Uno—passed away in his sleep on March 19. The outpouring of love among his peers in the local music scene was profuse and moving. Higashi's art and personality profoundly affected many in the city. I did not know Higashi—who excelled as a selector of hip-hop, dancehall, reggae, funk, R&B, and other genres in clubs around town—but reading the tributes to him on my Facebook feed made me feel a void for not having had the pleasure of his company. Below, several of his music-biz friends reminisce about what made Higashi so special.
Blendiana Jones (DJ Topspin): Soul One was a major factor, never an actor. Always on the scene with a phenomenal attitude, energy, and a deeply dug joint that'll flip ya wig. As a DJ, he traversed through hip-hop, soul, boogie, crazy psych-rock, deep, early R&B, and was most potent in his reggae and dancehall bag. He was even more so a proud father intensely passionate about his twin daughters.
Many folks can't remember actually meeting him; he just was kinda perpetually around adding the crisp B-Boy energy to the jam de jour; but his importance to the scene was apparent after a couple encounters, especially if you have the chance to be in a room to observe how far-reaching his influence was with the various types of patrons and friends he had positive interactions and history with. He was truly genuine and generous with his honesty. He'd tell you you were wack, if that's what he truly thought, but would also follow it with pointed encouragement on how to go about improving the situation. He wasn't malicious or negative, just real AF. He was the walking embodiment of the hip-hop spirit and ethos of being fresh and original in all of the disciplines: graffiti, DJing, breaking, and even rhyming early on. From the mid-'90s through last weekend. Gone entirely too soon...
Shane Hunt (aka Sureshot): People often describe the passing of a loved one as someone who was one in a million. Screw that; Jeff Higashi was one of a kind! Very few in the hip-hop world can claim legendary status in one aspect of the culture; Jeff was a master of every aspect. Whether you are talking graffiti spray-can art, breakdancing, DJing, or beatmaking... he was nice, really nice!
Making him even more unique was the fact that he was Irish and Japanese in a scene that was birthed by and once dominated by African Americans and Latinos. This goes back to a time when you created your own style and it wasn’t just something you could buy online. Taking something and making it hip-hop. Before every hotel had walls of records as props and every bar in town had so-called DJs who show up with a laptop. Murals on the sides of buildings weren’t commissioned and tech companies didn’t have lobbies with graffiti art wanting something categorized as "urban."
My journey with Soul One began as a teenager in the late 1980s when I moved to Seattle from Portland with just $50 in my wallet. Jeff and I both worked in the Pike Place Market where he was selling clothes at Zebra Club and I was a barista at Stewart Brothers coffee. I had seen many of Soul’s intricate spray-can murals painted around town and knew his reputation. He had heard I was a deep record collector and an aspiring DJ and producer, so we began trading homemade mixtapes and became friends through our mutual love of music, art, and street style. Like they say, “Real Recognizes Real."
The first song we bonded over was "I Believe in Miracles" by the Jackson Sisters. To this day it’s still a record that stays in my DJ crates. Seattle at that time had much more of a small-town vibe, and while grunge music was starting to bubble, the hip-hop scene was growing simultaneously. Jeff Higashi was a key part of those formative years and his drive kept the party rockin’ throughout his entire life. I doubt there’s a venue in town that he didn’t DJ at during his career, even if the names changed over the decades.
One time I went with Jeff to paint under the I-5 freeway on a long stretch of wall that was a popular place for artists to get up on. There was no room left on the wall, so I decided to paint over a piece that was pretty terrible. As I was finishing my lame attempt at spelling "SURESHOT" in big bubble letters, the kid whose art I was painting over showed up with his crew! This situation could have ended up real bad had they not been starstruck by meeting the legendary Soul One! We laughed, went on our separate ways and I decided that day to never try graffiti again.
Truthfully, I often struggle with current nightlife spots because they simply don’t put in the work like we used to. The bar was set very high. When Jeff and I ran our infamous "Wicked and Wild" reggae night, we would purchase imported 45s straight from Jamaica on a weekly basis! That wasn’t cheap or easy.
For years during the 1990s, the Art Bar downtown was rammed every week. Never any drama, just good vibes and great music. I have only witnessed a few reggae parties since that were as legit. Some years later, Soul and his DVS Crew started a "Breaks and Beats" night on Capitol Hill at the space where Neumos now stands. Real old-school style disco and funk on a big system in a big venue nurtured a whole new generation of breakdancers who would practice their moves religiously in a club turned classroom setting. Seattle’s finest DJs spun for the Massive Monkees crew who went on to win the 2004 World B-Boy Championships in London!
Jeff’s passing is truly a passing in the sense that he passed the torch to all those around him. You will not find a person who knew him whose life course wasn’t directly impacted by his spirit. The stories may be different, but the results are the same. His passion was contagious and we all were schooled by him as he led by example. Respect was very important to Soul and knowing your history was something that you had to learn and could never be faked. If your mural was wack or your DJ mix was a train wreck, he would tell you straight up. That kind of competitive nature is what drove him and also is what made the Seattle hip-hop scene special. You could call it tough love, just don’t be wack!
Danny Clavesilla (aka DJ Supreme La Rock): Soul One was a friend to everyone. He treated you the same no matter what your social status was, would always tell it like it is, and give praise when due. He was an amazing creative that climbed to the top of the ladder in street art, dance, and DJing; a pillar in the city, giving us 30 years of his infectious energy. He will be deeply missed; this is a tragic loss for us.
Michael Hall (Specswizard): I first met Soul at a time when I was rediscovering Seattle graff culture. There had been a slight pause in activity around the late '80s. I was walking around downtown looking for graffiti, and I eventually found names like Biz Love, Cezer, Bruno, Severe, Stack and CON (Crime Over Night). When I finally met most of these writers, Soul stood out as someone who was closer to my age and obviously celebrated the culture as intensely as I did at the time.
A year or so later, CON became DVS. By then, I was rolling with 2ZC. But, I started hanging with DVS, too. I always got along great with them. We did a lot of chilling and drawing in each other's piece books and whatnot. When 2ZC and DVS started battling, I stayed out of it. They were all my peoples.
Soul was extremely talented. He practiced letters constantly. His drive inspired me to stay at it. I was living a block away from Soul when he started DJing seriously. I would go to his house and bring things to play for him and he would drop mixes for me live. I could already tell this was something that would take off for him.
We traded music once or twice over the years. I always tried to stay in touch by catching him spinning. Recently at Cursed Oak, I sat and watched him and Supreme get down. Soul was spinning the most hilarious set I've ever heard. I love when DJs have humor and can be conceptual on the spot. He was spinning all of this corny '80s music and every song was the joint—as if he was trying to say, "Yo, some of this corny shit is heat, though!" I'm going to miss him terribly. This [death] is entirely too soon.
Steven Severin (Neumos, Life on Mars): My heart and many others are broken with the news of the loss of Soul One. I had the privilege to get to watch him drop bangers at Wicked & Wild and keep the dance floor shaking at the Art Bar. A couple years later I got to work with him on shows with him DJing at RKCNDY. After Art Bar closed down, he called me up and asked about moving his night to Nation above I Spy. I was a new head talent buyer and to have someone like Soul One entrusting his night at my spot was everything. Luckily, I got to work with him for a couple of decades and no matter how many times I saw him and got a hug and a snap, it’ll never have been enough. Seattle lost a legendary artist and human in Jeff Higashi.
Jason Justice: I first knew of Soul One from Wicked & Wild, the dancehall night that started at Art Bar and moved to the Baltic Room. Catching it at Baltic was really my first exposure to dancehall and I was always blown away by the crowds it would draw. Later as I became a more experienced DJ and met others in the community, I got to know Soul as a really hilarious guy, just a really great person. He would always give me props if he was diggin' one of my sets. Sometimes I wouldn't even know he was there and he'd come up to me later at a different event to let me know he was into what I do.
I eventually got to play alongside him a bunch of times and he was killer DJ, across so many styles. He played for Atlee Treasure and me at an event we did a few summers ago. The party was a bust, but Soul didn't care. He still had a blast, playing an all-vinyl boogie set that had us taking notes.
Last November, Soul booked me to guest with him at one of his residencies. I got in a really bad accident the week before and had to cancel. He texted me a few times to check in on me, but we never got around to rescheduling the gig and it sucks that I'll never get the chance to play with him again. I'll never get another pound and a back slap. I know there are a lot of DJs and friends in town feeling the exact same way.
A GoFundMe campaign has been started to help Higashi's two daughters.