Underground, Overshadowed -- Seattle Rappers Hope Sir Mix-A-Lot Does For Them What Nirvana Did For Grunge
Into local music? Well then, name three local rap groups.
Don't stress, most other Seattle-area residents can't either.
In a city known for its rock, rap music has long been overshadowed. For years, area rappers found outlets in amateur talent shows like those at the Langston Hughes Center and Franklin High School. But few outsiders paid attention, least of all major record companies.
Then there was Sir Mix-A-Lot. He too performed at talent shows. But after years selling rap records, Mix-A-Lot struck platinum in 1992 with "Baby Got Back." The much ballyhooed single sold 2.3 million copies. Mix-A-Lot's album, "Mack Daddy," also went platinum, selling a million-plus copies. On a national level, the achievement raised the awareness that there was more to Seattle music than grunge.
And there is.
In 1992, The Flavor magazine began to chronicle - and foment - the area's growing hip-hop scene. More groups than ever are seeking record contracts. Some work the local club circuit, sharing the bill with grunge or alternative rock groups. And this month, Sir Mix-A-Lot will release "Seattle, The Dark Side," a compilation put out by his own label and Def American records that he hopes will finally land the Emerald City on the national rap map.
First dismissed by critics as a fad, rap music has endured. Though many think of rap as the soundtrack of inner city youth, its fans include suburbanites, too. Listeners of all colors and ages tap into its spirit. One local rapper put it simply: "Rap is the new R&B. We are giving you the rhythm and telling you the blues." And, it seems, rap is here to stay.
Here meet some of its local voices.
The basement is dark and slightly funky. Grafitti are scribbled on the walls in black spray paint.
There is more decoration: a poster of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. grinning and shaking hands, a California license plate, ads from past rap shows and a one dollar food stamp.
The only light is pointed over by far the room's most valuable objects: two turntables, a mixer and a dub machine.
Welcome to the world of the Ghetto Chilldren, with two "l"s please, to emphasize chill. The basement lair - one member's bedroom - doubles as a studio and hangout central.
Claiming influences from John Coltrane, Jimmy McGriff, Donny Hathaway, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and early Seattle rappers The Emerald Street Boyz and the Silver Chain Gang among others, their music is dense and well thought out.
But they try to have fun with it, too.
"A lot of people in hip-hop try to be the hardest. They come with a lot of anguish. And that may be real. But why bring those vibes to tape?" asked B-Self.
Ghetto Chilldren rhymes propel not so much forward as outward. Beats pump slowly, over ever-widening terrain, like a Mississippi River flood.
Hailing from the Central District, they claim Seattle is full of unrecognized rap talent. But recording industry contacts are scarce, few groups attain a wide following, and Seattle hip-hop suffers as a whole.
"A lot of people don't know what's out there," said rapper Capabilities, a sales clerk at a Capitol Hill record store. He pauses, then makes his real point.
"People can't buy what they don't know."
Ghetto Chilldren are: Bill Rider, (B-Self), 19; Dan Turner (Capabilities), 20; Derrick Brown (Vitamin D), 18; and Parish Cockett (Culture), 16. They live in the Central District.
SIX IN THE CLIP
"When you hear a beat that just makes you go `damn,' that's the kind of music we want to make," said Ron Hudson, Clip rapper and synthesizer programmer.
Bored with subtlety, Six in the Clip is explosive and adrenaline-pumped. Rhymes rush out like bullets; four, sometimes five, rappers barrage listeners at once like snipers firing over a bass-heavy thud.
But the name refers only to the number of group members, not the clip of a gun.
They may, in fact, have the distinction of being the first rap sextet. Not to mention being unusually diverse.
Hailing from points as dissimilar as North Seattle, an Eastern Washington commune, and a small town in New Mexico, they met at Garfield High School and were united in their love for rap.
"I listened to a lot of rock coming up, but it never moved me to pick up a guitar," said rapper Rawi, adding that his stage name refers to Arabic poets who wrote verses about the speed of their camels and the size of their harems.
"That's kind of what we do in hip-hop," joked rapper Shark E.
Six in the Clip has been eating up the local club scene, averaging six to eight shows a month. The Clip has taken something of a grunge plunge, opening for rock bands at Re-Bar and the Off Ramp, as well as doing all hip-hop shows at RKCNDY.
It all started when they opened for alternative rock band Green Apple Quick Cart last October, a move that raised eyebrows among some rap purists, but sent the audience into a dance frenzy.
Despite considerable local hype, Six in the Clip is like every other rap group in town in one respect: They are looking for a recording contract. The title of their latest demo says it all: "Where Do We Sign, G?"
Six in the Clip are: Giovanni Taylor (DJ Ace), 22; Eli Page (Shark E.), 21; Damon Grady (MC Dope, The Urban Nomad) 22; Ron Hudson, (Beatnik) 21; Payton Carter, (Rawi) 21; Mike Weltmann (John E. Hempseed), 21. They live on Capitol Hill.
Some might say little Mike Johnson, E-Dawg, has come a long way from the time when he drove a different car to high school every day and peddled drugs during class. Local addicts supplied the cars. "Clucks," the kids called them, because they would do anything for money for their habits.
Today his neat Federal Way subdivision, with its speed bumps and child curfews, reflects little of East Horton Street in South Seattle.
The street he grew up on provides inspiration for his music, gangsta rap, but E-Dawg has moved onto another playing field altogether.
"You're supposed to rap about your past, what you've been through, what you've seen," is his philosophy.
To the consternation of the music's critics, what E-Dawg has seen fits a formula that in the past has translated into stellar sales.
Expletives roll as easily off his tongue as multi-syllabic adjectives from the mouth of a college professor. But E-Dawg said his music is a description of real people, not a mindless advertisement for crime.
He has plenty of real stories to write about. Like the time he took a bullet in his shoulder - intended for his head - from a passing car. Or the time he was greeted at his kitchen door by six gun-toting members of an enemy gang while his infant son slept in the next room. Or the clucks.
Back then meeting Sir Mix-A-Lot was nothing but a "dream thing." E-Dawg pursued the dream, attending parties given by Mix-A-Lot, and eventually being introduced. Endless badgering led to joining Mix-A-Lot on the B-side to the hit "Baby Got Back." Then E-Dawg joined Mix-A-Lot on his 1992 "Mack Daddy" national tour.
"I got really motivated when I went on tour" and fans were screaming his name, E-Dawg said.
E-Dawg's new single is the first release from an upcoming compilation of Seattle rap brought together by Mix-A-Lot called "The Dark Side." "Drop Top" is a bouncy paean to convertible cars, flashy rims, and cruising Rainier Avenue South. A second song talks about 12- and 13-year-olds with guns.
"Rap ain't going nowhere," said E-Dawg. "Ain't nothing going to die as long as you are telling it like it is."
Mike Johnson (E-Dawg), 21, lives in Federal Way.
The first show was nearly a bust.
The year was 1989. The place Sunnyside, Yakima County.
"The promoter told us we were opening up for Salt N' Peppa, but had just lied about the headline acts. He kept telling the crowd Salt N' Peppa just landed! They'll be here soon!' "
The rap duo from New York never landed. But after Greg B. and his then partner, Owen McAnts, took the stage the crowd got over it.
"Afterwards, we started signing autographs and people just kept coming up," he said.
Four years later, Greg B. is still around, with a reputation as solid as any in the local hip-hop community.
Most recently he's been a DJ for his new partner, Jay Skee, on "The Dark Side." Also in the works is "Coast to Coast" on Ichiban Records, which will feature his skills as DJ and beat maker.
Making the music behind a rapper is his first love. He started to take rap seriously after he bought an old drum machine from Sir Mix-A-Lot, a friend of a friend.
Since his early days competing at Franklin High School talent shows, he has tried to expand his inventory of DJ "tricks."
The tricks have won him numerous local DJ awards. In 1989, he wowed a Moore Theatre audience, separating the guitar and vocal tracks of LL Cool J's "Rock the Bells," then scratching them together, his own new creation.
Scratching and mixing records with your mouth or elbow is played out now, he said matter of factly.
God knows what's next. - Greg Buren (Greg B.), 24, lives in Belltown.
------------------- RAPPERS ON INFOLINE ------------------- To hear music by Seattle rappers, call The Seattle Times InfoLine. Call 464-2000 from any touch-tone phone and enter 6879. This is a free call in the local Seattle calling area.
Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.