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.
2014 JP Scratches Mobile DJ