Line Out Music & the City at Night

Monday, December 2, 2013

Rest In Power, Byrdie (1978-2013)

Posted by on Mon, Dec 2, 2013 at 2:54 PM

This weekend we lost a real one. Seattle hiphop artist Jesse "Byrdie" Watson succumbed to complications from a long bout of cancer. If you were checking out what was shaking and baking in the Seattle scene in the early 2000s, there was no missing Pretty Byrdie, a big brother with a smile and a heart to match. Byrdie came into prominence via the Street Level Records group Full Time Soldiers; FTS and SLR's brand of g-rap, including acts that hailed from the Soufend to the North End, sold out of local shops and kept mail orders ringing throughout the country—they were unquestionably some of the most popular local product in the late '90s to early 2000s, and Byrdie was probably the most popular voice among them.

He broke out on his own with 2000's Poetic Epidemic, which featured everybody from his northend FTS comrades to Source of Labor's Wordsayer. Byrdie's "Player's Policy Pt.2" was one of the first local cuts I knew of that got regular rotation on KUBE93—this was a big deal, just listen to astonishment of the hosts of KUBE's old Sunday night show 'Future Flavors' before they play it. (The other ones I remember: Mobb Tyght Hustlers' "Let's Get Toasted" and Unexpected Arrival's "Take Control (Remix)", which featured Byrdie.)

All this feels like fucking ages ago—I know it wasn't, but just listen to the intro of "Dirty Politics," where he spat:

Man I'm so sick and tired of these rappers in Seattle, these so-called emcees. Everybody wants to be divided! There is no rap scene in Seattle! There is no hiphop community! I built a bridge but y'all built it down.

At the time, nobody I knew would've argued with this. I shouldn't have to tell you, this is about 10 country miles from where we are today.

A couple years later, Byrdie would release his N Flight album, his most polished work yet, and that radio love just increased, and he was on big stages rocking. I remember the joint video release party for his "B.Y.R.D.I.E." and the Blue Scholars' first video ("Freewheelin") at the old Vera in 2004.

Last night I happened to catch IFC's Comedy Bang Bang, with one Reggie Watts. Funny, as I had just been watching Byrdie's "Wanted" video, featuring Watts:

Byrdie was born the same year I was, and was one of the first bright lights I knew of from what I identify as my particular generation of this town's hiphop artists. I would see the dude around my old neighborhood, not far from the Canterbury on 15th, maybe smoke, but always we'd have a good chop. He was unfailingly cool, quick with a smile or a good word—just massively supportive and genuine. This was simply not the default mode of Seattle hiphop back then.

Look, a lot of people I know are fucked up over this one. We'll miss you, Byrd. I know your spirit is in flight.


Comments (5) RSS

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God bless you Byrdie!!! You were one of a kind and will be missed!! #salute
Posted by Livio on December 2, 2013 at 11:44 PM · Report this
Thx for all of the love & support you've shown; Seattleites, radio, & fans, it has meant alot to us, his family & friends! He was a true lyricist ahead of his time...when I listen to N Flight & I remember him in the studio creating it, I can't help but think back to that time & telling him how advanced it sounded! Nobody was rappin & singing back then but Byrdie, (he was a force to be reckoned with) now you got cats like Drake out! The beats also selected carefully & hand picked by Byrdie...he worked hard for 2years on that CD! It's always going to be a classic in my collection! For those that only knew him as Byrdie, you've lost a true visionary & pioneer in Hip Hop, a legend before his time! For those that knew & loved him personally will remember him as J-Bird or Jesse; just an outstanding man, husband, son, brother, uncle & one of my very best friends & godfather to my only babygirl....Knesha're! The only father figure she could count on in life & he took his role very seriously! Always there on 1st days of school, he helped her ride her 1st bike, & she told me she'll always remember the airplane rides! My heart is broken for her loss & mine! "Simply a one of a kind" I'll never meet anyone like him again in life! However, we will meet again someday & I take comfort in that, & knowing that this long journey is over for you & you're now at peace! We love you with all of our hearts... Fly high my friend & when you pick out your wings, pick the biggest & brightest; so that way we will not miss you when you come to visit us in our dreams! ~MUAH~ Knesha're & Kelly aka Cheesy Knesha'reshi & Slow to you .... Hee hee!
Posted by Slow on December 3, 2013 at 12:53 AM · Report this
R.I.P. The Enormous Gorgeous, the Bilingual Baritone, Pretty Byrdie, J Byrd, Jess, so on....

You're missed and loved brother. Tell Tone-Tone "What's up" for me and I'll see you when my time comes my one Oliver
Posted by Oliver from Atlanta on December 3, 2013 at 8:22 AM · Report this
Per Bernstein 4
I didn't know Byrdie, but he was the little brother of my friend Mike. Mike was so proud of him and his accomplishments. They and their little brother Tony had a rough time growing up and I never understood how Mike could go through such hardship and stay so confident in himself, maybe more confident in himself than anyone I've ever known. The Watson boys are soldiers, they soldiered on, kept keeping on in a positive way. They are a great example to their friends. This is incredibly sad.
Posted by Per Bernstein on December 3, 2013 at 8:41 AM · Report this
Such a shock. I didn't know Pretty Byrdie was battling cancer. Damn! He truly was a genuinely nice human being. When I was the imaging director at KUBE 93, he was always willing to lay his vocals down on promos and show intros (Saturday Night Hot Mix, 5 o'clock Traffic Jam, etc...). He was incredibly talented & one of the good guys in this world. Rest in peace, friend!

Posted by Keith Rhoades on December 4, 2013 at 9:10 PM · Report this

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