November 28, 2014 ~ The timing was perfect as earlier this month Governor Jay Inslee proclaimed November as Washington State Hip Hop History Month; following the lead of Mayor McGinn and the Seattle City Council who in 2010 proclaimed November Hip Hop History Month in Seattle.
Washington Hall celebrated Hip Hop History with an all-star performance line-up of Seattle’s biggest names in rap music; along with some of the nation’s top break-dancers sharing the stage. Musical artists participating in a freestyle open-mic “cypher” included platinum selling artist E-Dawg, along with city favorites Suntonio Bandanaz, B-Ragg, Sammy Tekle, Ernesto Iraheta, and more!
On stage were DJ’s Able Fader, Cues, Sureal, and A.C. who kept the place rocking from start to finish.
There was a delicious potluck buffet and a toy drive to help the B.U.I.L.D. Seattle Christmas giving-tree.
The event was sponsored by 206 Zulu, Seattle City Breakers, Unified Outreach, and Studio Narvaez, in partnership with 4Culture and Rane. It was organized by Nathan (SireOne) Hivick and hosted by the North City Rockers Ernesto Iraheta and Pele’ Ross, along with the fabled Specs Wizard.
The event will be the last break-dance celebration at Washington Hall for the next nine months as the facility begins to undergo renovations to restore the historic building and the install a new elevator; allowing special needs and wheel-chair bound visitors to enjoy the facility without limitations.
The elevator installation will be a blessing to special-needs artists with limited mobility, such as 206 Zulu founder and President Danny (King Khazm) Kogita who has been in a wheelchair since childhood. Also other artists such as Clayton (B-Ragg aka C-Dogg) Bragg who has limited mobility due to cerebral-palsy.
Clayton is a rapper from Lynwood, Washington who as has a video channel on YouTube which provides regular album reviews for NW CD releases. Clayton has been spending time in the studio and is expecting his album out in early 2015. It was after reviewing the E-Dawg CD “How Long” that Clayton was contacted with a special invitation to attend the November 28th performance as E-Dawg was headlining the event.
David Toledo (Unified Outreach) made all arrangements and acted as Clayton’s personal assistant throughout the evening; physically carrying the artist up 3 flights of steps to the performance hall and making sure that Clayton had full access to E-Dawg and the other artists as well as great seating for all performances.
“It was great having B-Ragg attend the event. He’s doing a lot with his video blog and he’s hard at work in the studio. The crowd really enjoyed hearing him rap tonight; and with his own album coming out we believe that one day he’ll be headlining one of the shows.” David Toledo said.
Clayton said he really enjoyed the show and is especially excited about the people he was able to meet in person including E-Dawg, Seattle City Breaker’s founder Carolos (Slam) Barrientes, King Khazm, and most importantly DJ Sire One and Pablo D who occasionally act as guest hosts on Boom Box Radio; a Everett-based rap program that broadcasts on Friday nights at 10pm on station KSER 90.7 Fm. Clayton is looking forward to having his new album break on the show.
The event was also attended by a bevy of local celebrities including Georgio Brown from Coolout Tv and Dave (Pablo D) from Studio Narvaez; the two partnered in October for a Hip Hop Celebration at the Experience Music Project (EMP). Also attending were TYRONE “the Working Class Hero” Dumas, members of the North City Rockers, the Vicious Puppies, Massive Monkees, Seattle City Breakers, Circle of Fire, and other famous groups.
Highlights of the night were an all-girl breakdance cypher which saw the return of Seattle’s old school b-girls Amber Jamieson and Jojo Tabora-Dyckhoff to the dance floor; as well as a “Seniors Classic” which featured “Seattle’s first b-boy” Junior Alefaio.
Judges for the night included the incredible Rigo Jones, Seattle City Breakers founding father Carlos “Slam” Barrientes, and consummate b-boy Rafael Contreras.
Wrapping up the evenings events Sam “Preach” Dumas, founder of the (Masters of the Prep aka Party People in Action dance crew) issued a challenge to 1980’s dance rivals “the Ducky Boys” to meet at the same time next year for a “prep only” dance off; reviving a rivalry that goes back to 1985 and the Seattle Bandstand television show. Will the Ducky Boys accept the challenge? We’ll know in exactly 12 months!
With construction estimated to take 9 months the event organizers hope that everything will be ready in time for the 2015 Hip Hop History Month celebration. Next year’s event promises to be on for the ages!
2015 JP Scratches
Story and photos may be reprinted in their entirety.
There are very special individuals that rise up during a generation with a passion to help the hurting. Saba has demonstrated that she has answered the call, by devoting a large part of her time to encouraging others. Overcoming painful life experiences have equipped Saba with the tools needed to empower people to realize their full potential.
KPB: Who is Saba Tekle? How would you describe yourself to someone who has no idea who you are? What do you think is important that others should know about you?
“Saba Tekle is publisher, bestselling author and mentor. I am someone who is passionate and purposeful. Here to help people, mostly women, heal, find their passion and purpose. The most important thing people should know about me is that I am very approachable and love to see other people succeed by more than one standard of success.”
What motivates you to do what you do, what gets you up every day to go after your dreams?
“What motivates me is the pain that I once felt, that I have healed and overcame, drives me to help others experience the same.”
What advice would you give someone who’s going through a difficult situation such as abuse, divorce, or relationship problems?
“That going to people outside of God, an expert, or someone positive for help is not a good idea. But also whatever you’re going through may feel like it’s drowning you, it may feel like it’s going to happen forever but it won’t. You will get through and on top if you find the right people to keep you not just afloat but lifted.”
What is the one obstacle that seems to keep coming up to discourage you from reaching your goals? How do you deal with it?
“One obstacle is feeling alone or having to work alone to get the work I need to get done. I deal with it by having faith and holding my dream so close to me that is all I see.”
What are your thoughts on religion?
“I believe everyone should have right and respect to believe in whatever they want to believe.”
What are some upcoming projects that you are excited about?
“I am coming out with, “20 Beautiful Women” Volume 2 and possibly, “20 Beautiful Men” and “20 Beautiful Teens”. I also now assisting other with self-publishing and I am looking for more new authors.”
What is something that has really shocked you about today’s society and the direction it is going?
“What is shocking is that there is still racism and sexism.”
Who has been the most influential person in your life? Why?
“My mother. Because she the most hardworking, strong, loving and successful women I know.”
Who is someone famous you would like to collaborate with in the near future on a project? What would be the project?
“Of course Oprah and Life Class.”
What advice would you give the next generation about life?
“Be okay sometimes with walking alone, as an individual in life, if not you will lose yourself in the crowd.
Find what you love, that makes you come alive, make that your career and you never work a day in your life.
Most importantly focus less on looking beautiful and more on being beautiful, because we can change the world that way.”
Nearly 40 years ago hip hop was born. On two coasts it evolved into completely distinct forms of the same base element. Just as both the Diamond and Graphite are both forms of Carbon, the atoms of the base element are simply bonded together in a manner which in the end produce completely different products. By the mid 1980’s both New York and California were both considered hip hop meccas; yet their music, dance style, and fashion bore little resemblance to each other.
It was during these early years that Seattle began to form its own identity within the greater hip hop community. Although there is an argument to be made that there were both California and New York influences it wasn’t too long before Seattle began to stand on its own.
Still, for those of us lucky enough to be around during its conception, the Seattle hip hop scene has evolved in ways that no one could have imagined. In this article I would like to share Seattle hip hop from my perspective. In doing such, I hope that you will forgive me if I saw things differently from you that may have also been there at the time. Please accept this article as a show of love and respect for those that were here from the start.
So around 1982 rap music started getting some air play by legendary DJ Nasty Nes Rodrigues. A Seattle rapper with his own tape (let alone LP) was hard to come by; but K-Fox DJ Nasty Nes did what he could to push the music of local artists such as the Emerald Street Boys and Sir Mixalot. The influence of West Coast “freak-rap” such as Egyptian Lover was very evident in Sir Mixalot’s early recordings, although he alternated from “freak” to “fun” with raps modeled after Brooklyn based rap group Newcleus. Shortly after, groups and individuals such as the Silver Chain Gang, Daddy D, KOC, and Jam Delight begin making names for themselves on the Seattle rap scene.
Of these groups the Emerald Street Boys quickly rose to the top, recognized as a complete performance package, even getting attention from Seattle’s premier music newspaper The Rocket.
Meanwhile… Breakdance is slowly making its way into Seattle with kids popping and locking at the occasional YMCA or Boy’s Club Party. It also begins to make appearances at some of the larger summer parties held in Mt. Baker and Rainier Valley by the Dumas and Wiley families. Iconic breakdancer Junior Alefaio and Carlos (Slamalotte) Barrientes form two legendary groups “the Emerald City Breakers” and “Seattle City Breakers”.
Then came the Motown 25 performance and the Michael Jackson Moonwalk and everyone wanted to learn to breakdance. Undoubtedly 1983 was Seattle’s golden year, as Nathaniel (DJ Paris) Wilson, Jamie Sullivan, and John Meadows lit the fuse and brought down the house with their choreographed dance to the Jonzun Crew’s “Space Cowboy”. The Floor Rockers led by Eric Lamar Johnson and Devon Anderson rocked the Garfield High School homecoming, the Emerald Street Boys, Silver Chain Gang, and MC Andy Hamlin performed at the Black Festival in Judkins Park, and Sir Mixalot’s song “7-Rainier” hits street-gold status selling over 500 copies from the trunk of the Cadillac. Meanwhile… Danny (Scramblin Feet aka DJ Supreme) and Carter (Short Circuit aka FeverOne) from the Seattle Circuit Breakers begin making names for themselves, even as their group performs on Seattle’s Saturday morning variety show “Flash”.
Music videos from Seattle artists were all but unheard of in 1983. But local artist Bobby and Jack Oram (aka Mr. X) released “I pity the man” accompanied by a video shoot at the Blue Moon tavern and featuring the Seattle City Breakers (starring Baby Ray as “Mr. X”). Members of DeRoxy Crew, Grandmaster Breakers, Backstreet Breakers, West Coast B-Boys, and Breaking Mechanism also made brief appearances in the video.
Hot clubs for breakdancers included Lateef’s, Stallions, Club Broadway, Spectrum, Buzzy’s, Skoochies, and oddly enough a little AA joint called Club Fremont. Super groups such as the Circuit Breakers, Paradise, Unlimited Force, Seattle City, West Side, Fresh Force, Breaking Mechanism, 1st Degree, and Deroxy featuring Dave (Pablo D) Narvaez all had a chance to shine in these hip hop friendly clubs. Individuals such as the Mighty Spencer Reed, Dale Lundeen, Reggie Baron, Donald (Ziggy) Zirkle, Gerald Carpio, Flex, Anthony (Mr. Cool) Soriano, Tony Torres, Joe (Dreamer) Baechle, Rubik, Bublz, Chris LaPonsey, Robert Farrell, Wacky & Packy, Ian (Snowboy) Whitmarsh, Sean Holeman, Freaky Lee, and Raphael Contreras quickly became known around town as serious competitors.
1984 Seattle saw its first wax rap album as Sir Mixalot left his job at the video game arcade “Lectric Palace” and teaming with DJ Nasty Nes released “Square Dance Rap”. The following year, Sir Mixalot would continue to build on his fame by releasing a extensive catalog of songs on tape including “On the Map” giving props to fellow NW artists such as Phantom of the Scratch (aka DJ Strange), Vitamix, Wicked Angel, Baron Von Scratch, Glen Boyd, Maharaji, and others.
Seattle also sees its first aerosol mural as DC3 and Kuo (Mr. Clean) Yang paint a block long burner on the side of the Downtown Nordstrom; inspiring other artists such as Musician/Rapper and Graffiti artist Michael (Specs Wizard) Hall, David (Image 8000) Toledo, and Sean (Nemo) Casey to pursue the medium.
Meanwhile.. there was something stirring in Rainier Valley as iconic rapper E-Dawg was beginning to write raps and perform locally as MC Electro Shock…
And just in time for Breakdancing to actually start dying out, Komo television squeezes the last bit of life out of it with Summer Break 84’, featuring a painfully stiff Steve Pool. Despite the decline of breakdancing, dance parties thrown at the YMCA and Boys Club by Sir Mixalot continue to break records with packed attendance. Town hero’s Duck & Shame, Aaron (Kaze) Dixon, Sean (Stax) Moore, and Chris (KE1) Morris are regular attendees, keeping the crowds hyped and the dance floor packed.
1985 Seattle Bandstand aired, just in time for the new dance craze to take-off. The “Prep” was a dance that combined all of the competition that breakdancers craved with the ability to actually dance with your girlfriend. Prep crews such as the Ducky Boys and PPIA (Party People in Action) quickly gained notoriety and neighborhood fame on the program. This year also saw the 40 foot mural on the Garfield High School track by graffiti artist (and Ducky Boy member) David Toledo and Bobby (Vision) Charles, as well as murals by Tony (Skreen) Fleeks, Sean Savage, Merrill (Shylo) Brown, Dorean (Solo Doe) Dinish, Spraycan, Keep & Shame, Bazerk & Faze, Dadone & Spaide, Danny Molino, and others.
The following year we saw increases in Seattle rap presence with Demetrius White, KOC, Frostmaster Chill, Robert (MC Le Rap) Spikes, Bill (Mister Bill) Pleasant, and Big Boss Cross all starting to establish themselves; however, it was the 1987 release from former Seattle Circuit Breaker, Danny (DJ Supreme) Clavesilla that made the nation take notice. Along with Cornel (CMT) Thomas, and Chenelle (Chelly Chell) Marshall they formed Incredicrew. Shortly after Sir Mixalot releases the first full Rap LP from Seattle (SWASS). Sugar Bear (Emerald Street Boys) spins regularly at Club Encore in Renton and has a capacity crowd every weekend.
1987 Nasty Nes returned to his true love and local rap on the KCMU station, along with Music Menu record store owner and rap aficionado “Shockmaster” Glen Boyd. In heavy rotation are Seattle artists Chilly Uptown and Kid Sensation. Local artists Specs Wizard, PD2, Kevin Gardner, Tony O, Redwine, 2Smooth, Dwayne Pitre, Spencer Reed, Nicky F aka MC Ready, Richard & Randy Marley, and Kelly (DJ Zippy K) Peebles are all contributing to a vibrant music scene. A great year for rap, Seattle also saw the emergence of Duracell featuring Derrick (Silver Shadow D) and Bruce (Horton B) Griffith. Barry (DJ B-Mello) Williams also announces he’s arrived with trend setting mix tapes that establish him as a top-shelf DJ.
David (Image 8000) Toledo and Sean (Nemo) Casey complete the seminal aerosol mural “ImageNemo” at Gasworks Park, inspiring the next generation of graffiti writers even as David Toledo himself retires from the art.
By the way, the New York City Breakers came to town and were shut down by the High Performance Breakers, putting a nail in the coffin of breakdancing in the 80’s.
The 1990’s brought some hot new rap acts that not only lit the streets of Seattle on fire but gained nationwide attention. Criminal Nation and High Performance (yes, they rap too!), Brothers Of The Same Mind, and Silly Rabbit featuring Tony Russell all put out quality albums.
Meanwhile…, Tyrone (Cool Rippin’ T aka TYRONE the Working Class Hero) Dumas starts making beats and raps, as his cousin Michael (E-Dawg) Johnson begins mowing Sir Mixalots yard; seeing it as a stepping stone to building a relationship and with future aspirations of a career in the music business.
The nineties also gave us access to our own local video-music station as Public Access Television launched Music Inner City and the Coolout Network featuring Georgio Brown and introducing us to the 206Zulu Queen Kitty Wu, along with Glow Medina and other hosts.
1992 the game changed as Sir Mixalot’s “Baby Got Back” (with B-Side “Can’t Slip” featuring E-Dawg) dominates MTV and the charts, pulling in a Grammy and shining a light on the Mixalot Posse aka the Cosmic Legion featuring Terry “Maharaji” Matthews, Ron “Attitude Adjusta” Brooks, and Steve (Kid Sensation aka Xola) Malik. Glen (Shockmaster) Boyd leaves “Rap Attack” and moves to LA to work for Rick Rubin and Def American Records. Still, local groups such as MurderOne featuring James (King Kels) Kelsey, and PDQ featuring Frankie Wells pushed against the mainstream and produced some of 1992’s best music. 1992 also sees Alison Plumper launch the local music magazine “the Flavor”.
Ps… Did you see how E-Dawg went from mowing the lawn to making platinum albums? Learn from that!
And even as the music scene starts to explode; Seattle graffiti art has also found a new group of heroes including Nathan (SireOne) Hivick, Divine, Hews, Soul Uno, Sneke, Stash, and Rey, while old-school artists Specs and Nemo continue to be major forces in the city.
In 1993 Garfield High basketball star Ishmael (Butterfly) Butler and his group Digable Planets take rap in a whole new direction, E-Dawg and Filthy Rich release “Drop Top” and also appear on the Seattle the Darkside compilation (also featuring Xola, Jay Skee, and 3rd Level), Greg B, Silver Shadow D, Ghetto Children, and Six in the Clip all continue to establish themselves as contenders in the rap game.
The following year Andre Bostic forms Sexy Sounds Management and releases the “Moving Target” album featuring David (Image 8000) Toledo, Dawny (Truck) Toledo and Esera (Easy) Mose (also from the group Nature Boys), with production by DJ Supreme and TYRONE and featuring scratching by DJ B-Mello. Additional artists on the Moving Target album include James (Justice aka Boogie Brow) Stewart and Fred (Just Do It) Stewart. 1994 also saw releases by Greg (Funk Daddy) Buren, DJ Kamikaze, Sinsemilla, DJ Topspin, and Prose And Concepts (formerly Six in the Clip). 1994 also saw the publication and distribution of David Toledo and Michael Owsley’s comic book “Urban” based on their real-life adventures as Seattle graffiti artists.
1995 we saw the stirrings of a rebirth of break dancing, with groups like Circle of Fire, Massive, and Boss crew holding regular cyphers at a number of clubs. Rap-fusion group Silly Rabbit continues to push the boundaries of Seattle music; releasing the ablum “8ball” accompanied by a full length comic book based on the band, written and drawn by David (Image 8000) Toledo and distributed in both the US and Canada. TYRONE release “Middle Man Mojo” to high acclaim and establishes himself as Seattle’s hottest up and coming musician. Source of Labor performs at the Phunky Phat 95 festival at Evergreen State College.
1997 Edward Dumas launches Wet City Records with artists such as Twin G aka Twin Gamer, Harrison (Tino T) Allen, Jerome (Price) Riley, and Jerrit (Incomparable) Calloway. Chuckundi (DJ Kun Luv) Salisbury begins establishing himself as one on Seattle’s movers and shakers by hosting some of Seattle’s biggest night-out events; and launches Seattle’s Seaspot Magazine the following year. Seattle B-boy FeverOne becomes an official member of the Rock Steady Crew, and takes under his wing a young break dancer named Jerome (Jerome Skee) Aparis.
Danny (DJ Supreme) Clavesilla has a big year in 1998 as his company Conception Records (featuring producer Jake One) releases the compilation album “Walkman Rotation” and he teams up with Kutfather to host “Street Sounds” on radio station KCMU. 1998 also sees the formation of what would become the Unified Outreach non-profit arts program as David Toledo and Edward Dumas began self-funding free arts programs for youth in homeless shelters and transitional housing.
The following year Seattle’s break dance community sees the formation of its first “super group” (the Massive Monkees) headed by FeverOne protégé Jerome (Jerome Skeee) Aparis. C.A.V.E.’ is formed by brothers Dumi and Tendai Maraire.
Y2K wreaks havoc as faulty systems and futuristic cyborg assassin’s cause the destruction of both the Rocket newspaper and Music Menu Records store. The bright spot for the year? Sportin’ Life Records is established, and Josh (Joshquest) Purden begins a stellar career as one of Seattle’s hottest club DJ’s.
The new millennium sees a new evolution of rap music in Seattle, as Ben (Macklemore) Haggerty performs live for the first time, D’Maurice and Armageddon launch their weekly music and video program, and Suntonio Bandanaz, C.A.V.E’, and Blue Scholars become the new faces of Seattle rap.
2004 Seattle Hip Hop steps outside the box as Ishmael (Butterfly) Butler stars in the film “Men Without Jobs”, and 206 Zulu is established by Danny (King Khazm) Kogita.
2007 Seattle and the rest of the nation saw Jake One establish himself as an major player by producing music for 50 Cent & Mary J. Blige, Rakim and others, and quickly follows up with his on debut album “White Van Music” featuring Vitamin D. Dave (Pablo D) Narvaez of Foxy DeRoxy crew establishes “Studio Narvaez Photography” aimed at documenting NW Hip Hop. Devin Pittman host’s “What’s Good Seattle? The Shop206” on Public Access Television, focusing on local music and arts. DJ B-Mello takes a spot on KUBE radio.
2009 sees more music evolution as former C.A.V.E’ artist Tendai (Oneder Boy) Maraire and Ishmael (Butterfly) Butler form Shabazz Palaces. Massive Monkees take 3rd place on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew. MC, DJ, and Graffiti artist Michael (Specs Wizard) Hall releases a new line of comic books (Capstan Media). Rappers Sean Soultheinterrogator Danaher, Gerry Jermaine Borromeo, Sonny Bonoho, and Pierre Petty-p Guinchard gain notoriety. Johnie Storm, Nitro Fresh, and Julie C begin basements sessions in what would become the “Saturday Morning Cartoon” project. 2009 also sees the founding of major the major promotion and management company “The Town Entertainment” by Jazmyn Scott (sister of Andre Phillips from the legendary Floor Rockers crew).
2010 David Toledo, Carlos Barrientes, and Dave (Pablo D) Narvaez host the 30-year Seattle City Breakers Reunion featuring the return of Ziggy; bringing together 4 generations of Seattle B-boys. The event also serves as a launching point for Pablo D’s multi-generational group “the North City Rockers” featuring Ernesto Iraheta, Rigo Jones, Nathan (SireOne) Hivick, and Ziggy Zig Zag. 2010 is also a breakout year for Macklemore & Ryan Lewis garnering praise for “Can’t Hold Us’, while Shabazz Palaces signs with Subpop. The same year David Toledo also partnered with TYRONE to produce a composite live-action/cartoon animation video for TYRONE’s song “Coolest Bruva”.
In 2011 we saw Anthony Ladao, the son of old school B-boy Michael (Shogun) Ladao make a name for himself as the front man for fan favorite pop group Midnight Red. 2011 also welcomes E’s Way Radio featuring Michael (E-Dawg) Johnson in a thank-then-rank format that gets high praise from listeners.
Seattle breakdance hits a high point in 2012 as the Vicious Puppies Crew headlines the “STG Dance This!” showcase at the Paramount Theater. The same year the Massive Monkees win the R16 World B-Boy Masters Championship in Seoul, South Korea. Additionally, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis release “The Heist” which will go on to achieve platinum status. Billy the Fridge begins gaining notoriety as one of Seattle’s hottest rappers. Graffiti artist Delton Son also begins to receive major recognition from Seattle’s Office of Arts and Culture culminating in a series of art showings.
Seattle’s hip hop history is very rich and vibrant; with a community as diverse as the city itself. It continues to grow and evolve, but remains connected to its roots thanks to old school icon’s and historians such as DJ Supreme, FeverOne, Pablo D, and others who have stayed active over the past 30 years (30 years???)
I’m going to stop here it you all don’t mind. I’ve shared 1982 – 2012 giving us 30 years of hip hop history in Seattle.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed Seattle’s history from my perspective. Without a doubt there are many crews, individuals, events, and items that have had a profound affect on Seattle, and I hope you forgive me if I forgot to mention them.
Please also take time to visit these other sites for even more history.
Draze, also known as Dumisani Maraire Jr., has an unequalled lineage in the Pacific Northwest: Born in Seattle, he is the son of Dumisani Maraire (1944-1999), the marimba superstar from Zimbabwe who became a University of Washington ethnomusicologist while igniting a musical movement throughout Oregon, Washington and beyond.
His mother, Lora Lue Chiorah, is a multi-talented educator, musician and dancer. His sister Chiwoniso Maraire (1976-2013) was the celebrated mbira artist and singer-songwriter behind the celebrated “Rebel Woman” and “Ancient Voices” recordings — she was called the “Zimbabwe Mbira Queen.” His brother, Tendai “Baba” Maraire, currently tours the globe as half of the Sub Pop experimental hip hop group Shabazz Palaces. Draze’s 12-year-old daughter Nya-J is already making a name for herself with original hip hop music performances and music videos.
This year Draze’s single describing how gentrification hit Seattle’s South Side grew into a video picked up for Seattle Center’s 50 Next project, inspired a major art show at the Experience Music Project Museum and has now touched off a local movement launching a series of community dialogues on community displacement and gentrification that will soon bring local people together in coffee shops across the city.
The Skanner News spoke with Draze – an emerging modern griot — about displacement, race, art, and what it will take to bring all our communities together.
The Skanner News: How did this project come about?
Draze: I’m a rapper, I’m an artist and musician. I was in the central area of Seattle, and I was getting ready to go to the East Side but it was traffic time, and I said you know what? I don’t want to go to the East Side right now. I’m just going to stay right here in the Central Area for a couple hours until traffic dies down, and then I’ll travel across the bridge.
And then I thought maybe I’ll go get something to eat. And I was in the mood for some soul food. I started looking around and the two or three places that I used to go weren’t there.
I can’t even find any soul food in the heart of the Central Area? And then the next was, I’ll go hang out at my friends’ houses. And I was going through my phone, only look to look up and say wow – nobody’s here.
As an artist, there is a moment when the light goes on and this thought came – man the hood ain’t the same.
And that sparked this song, “It Ain’t The Same.” And that was just the song — the actual movement took longer to get to.
So I ended up with 50 Next, which is an organization in combination with SeattleCenter; they were doing a compilation. The concept behind 50 Next is in the spirit of celebrating the space needle turning 50 years old.
So the idea was, let’s create a hip-hop project looking at 50 or 100 years from now, something people can look back on and say this is what was going on in Seattle. I felt this was a great opportunity, to send in this track, I did that. Steve fell in love with it and everyone at SeattleCenter fell love with it.
As that happened, we created a video for it. And in the music video, my idea was I wanted to capture my community as it’s changing, as it’s transitioning. There’s a restaurant in there called the Silver Fork. We actually sat in front of the Silver Fork the day they were closing, and it was amazing to see this place that was once frequented by African Americans but now it’s going to be gone because I think Safeway is going to be building a gas station or something.
My director said, let’s not just shoot the building, let’s shoot people in front of the building. The idea is, when you change these buildings you don’t just change the buildings – you change the people who frequent the buildings, and thus you end up changing a community. So the video was shot and I had this idea, rather just doing a normal video, let’s create something where we can look at gentrification through the eyes of artists. Music, that’s one form of art. You have painters, you have photographers, and then you have spoken word. We pitched it to the EMP, Jonathan over at the EMP fell in love with the idea, and I think the rest was history.
TSN: As you’re looking at what’s going on around you, what do you think it is about it that really resonated with people? Because what we see is that even the people who are doing the gentrification are interested in the gentrification.
Draze: I don’t know if there’s ever been a topic that I’ve ever seen in my lifetime that is so multilayered. All ages, all races are now becoming engaged in it. I think it’s because were in the middle of change, we’re seeing so much change right around us. We want answers. Some people are afraid of it.
We were shooting the video for instance, there was a police officer who was giving us a little hassle, what are you guys doing, what’s going on here? And so we said we’re shooting a video about gentrification. And she said, don’t use that word. I asked why? What’s wrong with the word? I’m a black man, my director’s a white guy; we went to high school together. What’s wrong with the word? And she said, it means to black people that white people are coming to take your community away.
Well, that’s not what it means to me. You know what I’m saying? There’s so much more. There are racial implications – but it’s not just about race. There’s class, there’s economics.
I have a friend, he does real estate. He just saw the video, and said, I want to show you something. And so I went out to his office today and he wanted to show me the zoning in Seattle. I’m seeing gentrification come down to a ton of different things, right? So for this guy in real estate, he’s saying, look: Gentrification is all about zoning. The minute they changed the zoning right here in Central Area, he said it was over, because in layman’s terms, real estate guys are going to look at that and see money. On this one 15,000- foot plot I can build so many houses. You know what I mean? Whereas I go out of that zone, as I leave the Central Area, it’s not the same amount of money because I can’t build that much on the property.
This is through his lens. It’s almost like if you put on red glasses, and I put on glasses, we can look at the same thing but we’re going to see it through different lenses.
Where as in this process my event at the EMP was about looking at gentrification through the eyes of art. So we sat down with 10 painters and photographers from the Northwest and we started with a conversation with them about gentrification. And everyone saw it different. So we are all African-Americans from the central area or the south end of Seattle, but we all saw it very differently.
Some thought it was good, some thought it was bad. Some felt like if you cooked art that represents the people that live there in the community, people are more than likely to stay there, because it’s like home. In artists’ eyes it was a completely different issue.
And so I started to see that with gentrification, there was no one person who really had a tie on it, or a handle on it, but collectively we all were able to see different shades of the same picture. And so the event started where people would show up, and for the first hour they would just look at artwork. And it was amazing. I’m standing in the EMP before the event started, they opened the door and there was a fine wrapped around the building. I couldn’t believe it. And as they open the doors, the place just fills up with people. And we got to capacity and had to turn a couple hundred people away. So that’s how much the community wanted to come out and experiences, and I think people just want to place to talk about it.
They’re talking about it in the coffee shops, they’re talking about it at home, but there’s no place to have this conversation about gentrification. So that’s what we were able to create, we were able to start that conversation.
TSN: How do you personally define gentrification?
Draze: For me it’s the shifting of a — what’s the word? I would say it’s the shifting of the community, like a ripple effect. Does that make sense? Behind the scenes, a shift in the class and the status and the values of the community, via financing – it’s done economically — that inevitably drives people out. So I could no longer afford to live here.
And there are other factors that go with it. That, in the simplest form is how I view it personally.
TSN: What I’ve heard people talking about lately is that it’s more than just a force of displacement, it’s something that drives out the best and brightest people from the entire region. So it amounts to a significant brain drain. The Associated Press wrote a story earlier this month that said part of the reason economic inequality dropped in Seattle is essentially because of ethnic cleansing, pushing people of color to the suburbs outside the city. Did you see that?
Draze: In some ways it sounds good, right? If you’re looking at the numbers I hear you. But like you said the lens is important.
For instance in my community, my daughter cannot go to the bakery that I once went to. That matters, because when you’re talking about leaving a legacy, and passing things one generation to the next, it’s important. That’s what community is.
You have a people displaced from Africa, if you will, here they are in America and they still cannot plant roots. That’s huge. How do you leave a legacy?
Wealth in America is passed down from one generation to the next to the next. We can’t pass wealth down from one generation to another, so in Seattle the numbers might reflect one thing, but realistically, we don’t have our own radio station. We have no way to get our information out. There’s no way to get our story out. There’s no way to connect as a community.
And gentrification divides people. Yeah we’re spread out in all the areas in Seattle. The numbers might look good, now we’re out in Kent, some of us, and we might have a home that might be worth a little bit more, but our community is suffering. And if the community continues to suffer and our people continue to suffer, it’s a problem.
And then in Seattle there were a lot of programs that say, “we took kids off the streets.” Well it’s the way you take kids off the street. You pass a law, you’re coming into our community, you’re taking our kids off the streets and putting them in jail. There’s no care in that. Those are our uncles, our brothers, our sisters, sitting in jail.
So the difference is, if you can take that same amount of resources and financial institutions and give us the money and the resources to aid us, we can rehabilitate a lot of those young people. But that’s not what happens. And that’s the difference. What we are saying is these are still human beings that we love and care for, the problem’s not solved because we put them in jail.
The problem is solved when that young boy gets an opportunity to seek his real potential and goes on to become that.
In the 1990s they had a program called Weed and Seed, and I just remember being a young man from Seattle — and so many people were going to jail. Just out of nowhere, it was like, jail, jail, Joe got locked up, we got a lock this person up. And then you learn about it on the street level, you start hearing about Weed and Seed, what is it?
You have no idea that somebody signed a piece of paper, you know what I’m saying? They passed a law, and they found a way to lock you up so that now, young men are gone. You look at it as a systematic change, right?
If I’m in the army, I might send in the air troops first, and after that I’ll send in the ground troops, right? It’s the same exact thing. We’re going to rezone the area, and then we need to clean it up so that we can actually go in and take it. So when we rezone the area, we’ll pass a law like Weed and Seed, get these kids off of the streets that we don’t think are valuable, get them out of there and slowly change the community.
And then you have things like what’s going on right now in real time. You have these organizations that once served African Americans, and were birthed by African Americans, and were made to serve this community, but we’re not there anymore, so they have this dilemma of how do we serve this community, but we’re not there anymore.
TSN: Do you think are some other hotspots of gentrification right now in Seattle?
Draze: You know to be honest with you I focus so much on the south and the central area. It was mind-blowing for me to sit down with the guy who directed the video, he’s white, we went to high school together at Franklin High School. And we were talking about gentrification, for me I was seeing it through my own lens. And then he just started talking about Green Lake, and Capitol Hill, and I was going hunh? What do you mean?
And he said, gentrification is happening in all our communities. And I said, okay, let me start to look at this through your lens, and if you look at it through mine — I think the journey he and I went on in creating this video was amazing, because I was able to see that, yes, Green Lake and in Capitol Hill, it’s actually being gentrified but maybe not at the same rate, maybe not with the same intensity. But it’s still happening.
TSN: What do you think is the most important thing to get into a story about this amazing project you just did that shook up the whole town of Seattle?
Draze: What I would really like people to take away from this is: Care for one another. I think some people in this country – we tend to be so consumed with what we want that we don’t care who it affects. And so at the end of the day to solve gentrification, were all going to have to sacrifice a little bit.
For example with my music, I have watched people of other cultures – I’m talking about Zimbabwe – I’ve watched people of other cultures want to take it and do whatever they want to do with the music. But it’s hurtful to me, as a person who is from Zimbabwe, to go, hey man, you’re playing “The Little Mermaid” on a marimba. That’s not okay with me. You know what I’m saying?
I love that you love the music, there’s an appreciation there, but there has to be something on this side of the fence where you go, hey man, how do I do this a respectful way?
And I think it’s the same thing with us living together, in community. How do I live in community with you and still be respectful to you? And that comes from conversation. But I’m determined my music is going to make a difference. I’m determined and I’m not going to stop until changes made.
RAP artists who are not African American, like Macklemore and Iggy Azalea, have drawn recent criticism for appropriating a black art form.
Azalea was called out by Nicki Minaj, who is black, at an awards show. Others criticized Macklemore’s Grammy triumph earlier this year.
It is important to remember that appropriation, which is generally defined as taking something for one’s own use without the owner’s permission, was critical in the birth and subsequent explosive growth of hip-hop.
This type of cultural transition is fluid and it happens all the time.
For example, in a larger historical context, consider the cultural beginnings of the United States. On certain levels, early American culture replicated British culture until U.S. culture matured and stood on its own.
Similarly, white rock ’n’ roll was born from black rock ’n’ roll. Eventually, Elvis Presley became known as “The King” of not only the white rock, but all rock culture.
Hip-hop culture was born from African-American culture in the mid-1970s. Now, more than 40 years in, is Macklemore’s success a signal that white hip-hop has begun to stand on its own? Increasingly, the answer appears to be yes.
There have been four major white acts within mainstream rap music over the last 30 years: the Beastie Boys, Vanilla Ice, Eminem and, now, Macklemore.
In 1986, the Beastie Boys were signed by Russell Simmons to Def Jam,hip-hop’s first great record label, and toured with the likes of Run-DMC. This built-in credibility with African Americans allowed the Beastie Boys to initially push the boundaries of white hip-hop with their style of dress, sound and subject matter.
He has been essentially reduced to a caricature over time, but Vanilla Ice’s significance in the evolution of the white hip-hop is often overlooked.
In 1991, Vanilla Ice became the first white sex-symbol the rap genre had ever seen. Even though he was thoroughly mocked as an artist almost from the beginning, white women wanted to date him and white guys wanted to be him.
Eminem came with more credibility because his rhyme skill was immediately apparent and because African-American producer Dr. Dre signed him and produced his 1999 debut album “The Slim Shady LP.” Questions of appropriation surfaced immediately, and Eminem even addressed them in his 2002 song “Without Me”:
“I am the worst thing since Elvis Presley, to do black music so selfishly / And use it to get myself wealthy (Hey) / There’s a concept that works 20 million other white rappers emerge.”
Macklemore has experienced unprecedented levels of popularity and acceptance by embracing his whiteness in a new way.
Two of the songs that he has ridden to massive prop levels, “Thrift Shop” and “Same Love,” go against two of the most well-established norms within traditional hip-hop culture: bling (flashy jewelry worn to show off wealth) and homophobia.
Being white, no doubt, helped facilitate Macklemore’s success in addressing these topics through the lens of hip-hop. His and Ryan Lewis’ four-trophy night at the Grammy Awards in January was the ultimate symbol of mainstream validation, yet perhaps the real surprise was that he didn’t also win the awards for Song of the Year and Album of the Year.
These kinds of racial dynamics are not just about white kids. In his 2013 song “Nothing Is Stopping You,” rapper Big Sean, who is black, tells the story of giving an impromptu audition to an aspiring young African-American rapper.
In one line the kid describes himself as being “like a young black Eminem,” which reminds us that there are new generations of kids of all colors who experience these types of whiteness in rap music as normal.
This kind of racial identity buffet is hardly new in hip-hop. Widely forgotten are the gimmicky Young Black Teenagers who released their self-titled debut album in 1991.
Backed by Public Enemy, Young Black Teenagers had a song titled “Proud to be Black,” even though all the group members were white.
Recently Iggy Azalea has become a hot topic in the discussion about appropriation within the context of hip-hop. Even though she emigrated from Australia, Azalea has become the first white female rapper to make a serious imprint in the United States.
Again, it’s worth remembering that hip-hop itself developed through young people appropriating what was around them. During hip-hop’s formative years, appropriation could be found in rap songs played by DJs at block parties who sampled records by artists like James Brown and the Tom-Tom Club.
Graffiti artists appropriated walls and entire sides of subway cars, and break dancers created a new genre by taking elements from others such as tap, jazz and lindy-hopping.
In 1979, “Rapper’s Delight,” the first internationally distributed rap record, was a prime example of appropriation. Using a sample from the 1979 disco hit “Good Times” by the group Chic, recording executive Sylvia Robinson and three rappers known as The Sugarhill Gang produced “Rapper’s Delight.” None of the members had any standing or credibility within the early hip-hop culture, which had evolved from the South Bronx beginning in the early 1970s.
An early example of white artists appropriating hip-hop was the 1980 song “Rapture” by the group Blondie.
In the late 1980s, African-American rappers from the West Coast appropriated East Coast hip-hop traditions and used lyrical stories of street life in Los Angeles to create the genre known as gangsta rap.
Macklemore and Azalea are only doing what hip-hop artists have been doing for the past 30 years: using inspiration from others to produce something new. However, this does not invalidate the unease some African Americans feel about what appears to be the emergence of white hip-hop culture.
Perhaps sometime soon we’ll see a rapper of color accused of appropriating white style.
Daudi Abe is the author of “6 ‘N the Morning: West Coast Hip-Hop Music 1987-1992 & the Transformation of Mainstream Culture.” Email: email@example.com
In the video David Toledo and his 7-year old daughter Kiki match dance moves in an attempt to one-up each other and win the dance challenge.
The video is a great example of the love shared between a father and daughter and reminds us all to make time to do fun things with our kids, and as David’s Facebook post says, “Make memories with your children.”
David Toledo is from Seattle, Washington and was raised in North Seattle. Due to Seattle Public School’s busing program of the 1980’s David attended Garfield High School in Seattle’s Central District his freshman-Junior year ~ to which David says was a blessing as it allowed him to grow artistically in such a arts-rich environment which was also home to Quincy Jones, Jimi Hendrix, and most recently Macklemore.
“I loved my time at Garfield. I made some life-long friends and really grew as a person. It was while at Garfield that I was introduced to the hip hop culture and most notably for me, the hip hop style of letter and character design. I returned to the north end my senior year and graduated from Ingraham High School, but I am so thankful that I was able to attend Garfield for those crucial years.” David said.
The style of lettering and character design has played a large part in David’s adult life as he has become well known for his cartoon animation and comic book design classes. A published artist, writer, and director, David splits his time between his professional career and volunteer services working with low income and at-risk youth through the Unified Outreach youth arts program. (www.UnifiedOutreach.com)
“My mother was a great example of a giving heart. She actually started a food bank and emergency services hub from our home in North Seattle back in the early 1980’s. She would prepare and deliver care packages, volunteer at soup kitchens, take in families that needed temporary housing…. She poured her heart into our neighborhood. She showed us that love is an action word.”
David’s mother (Alice) food bank article 1984.
“I try to live up to that. God has blessed me with some artistic ability, and I try to use that to the best of my ability to inspire kids. I came from a single mother household so I know some of the struggles they are going through. Drawing, painting, music, acting… all of these things help to break down barriers and build self esteem that is so crucial in healthy emotional development.”
David and daughter (Kiki)
David says that he and his daughter have been dancing together (and against each other) for years and that it was actually his daughter’s idea to post the video which is actually a few years old. When they came across it on an old computer disc they thought it was so funny that they just had to post it. They never expected that the video would go viral.
“We’re glad that it has touched so many people. The feedback has been so positive and it’s wonderful to see how it has inspired others to get a little silly with their kids. The window for making lasting memories is so short, we have to cherish that time with our children.”