So these shows were actually a few nights ago. But I gotta ring in: Fuck yes Seattle, coming together to support hometown heroes with more true affection and enthusiasm than I’ve seen at a hiphop show in a long, long time.
Props must be given to Black Anger, one of the Northwest’s first underground hiphop crews and possibly still the best. These guys—two MCs and a DJ—might’ve laid the original template for the sound that’s increasingly becoming the signature of this region: Breaks-driven, hard-swinging funk, soul samples, and a progressive type of lyricism that would never be mistaken for either gangster or backpacker. Political but not preachy, pissed-off but playful, these guys radiated something all too rare in the Seattle scene—true authority gleaned from life experience. The sold-out crowd responded with due respect, showing recognition for the NW vets by diligently waving hands, pumping fists, etc.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with second-gen MCs, as proven by Blue Scholars’ masterful headlining set. In fact, with the Scholars, just about everything’s right. Starting off with just MC Geologic on the mike and Sabzi behind turntables, the pair dipped into older tracks, showing how tight the “one MC, one DJ” set-up can be. After about 20 minutes they went offstage for—really—a costume change that also brought out a huge, nine-piece band, horn section, rhythm section and all.
It’s not as “pure” a format as traditional turntable-driven hiphop, but live-band-backed shit can occassionally be totally thrilling. It’s also liable to fall into gimmickry, which the Scholars did on occasion. They banged out song after song from Bayani, the soon-to-be-released album celebrated by this weekend’s shows, and it was obvious the band was skin-tight and well-rehearsed. Again, the capacity crowd was dutiful in responding as told, thoroughly absorbed in the music, more so than I’ve seen in ages. The all-ages audience was mostly kids, and Blue Scholars are just old enough, just political enough, and just accessible enough to hit all the right buttons. A live cover of “Float On” was a bit of a reach—that gimmickry I mentioned—but did get the crowd even further caught up in the music, while Geo and Sabzi—now bouncing behind keyboards and running laps across the stage—ran shit like conductors.
Also heartening was seeing Mass Line compatriots RA Scion and Gabriel Teodros join the scholars on stage towards the end of the set. These guys share a common outlook in their ultra-positive lyricism, not to mention Sabzi’s heavy, heavy soul production in their music.
Which brings up the issue of the “Northwest sound.” The massive crowd and the musical common threads at these shows proved there might be hope for one yet. But it’s not coming from MCs, necessarily. What unites this region—Seattle and increasingly Portland, too—is the mighty production talents that reign here. Sabzi, Vitamin D, Jake One, Bean One, and Jumbo the Garbageman seem to share a common style, heavy on the breaks and the big beats but swimming with horns and live instruments. It’s a killer sound, hard and funky as hell, bouncy but not light, and it blends perfectly with the semi-militant, semi-intellectual lyricism of the Mass Line guys as well as Black Anger, Lifesavas, and Libretto. What I’d love to see is those cats getting together with Dyme Def, whose Space Music is still the bangin’est local hiphop album this year, to really represent the cross-section of the Northwest scene.