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November 16, 2020

Daudi Abe's Playlist for His Book "Emerald Street"

Emerald Street by Daudi Abe

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Daudi Abe's book Emerald Street is an engaging history of Seattle's hip-hop scene.

Kevin Powell wrote of the book:

"A vital and long overdue survey of how this great city in the Pacific Northwest sampled and remixed an art form born on the East Coast and made it their own. Abe has crafted a work that not only presents hip hop in Seattle, but also is the biography of a community that learned how to win on its own terms."

In his words, here is Daudi Abe's Book Notes music playlist for his book Emerald Street:

1. Emerald Street Boys – “The Move”
The Emerald Street Boys, Captain Crunch, Sugar Bear, and Sweet J, were among the first hip hop acts to receive extended media attention in Seattle. Not just rappers, they incorporated intricate and synchronized dance routines that wowed audiences at their live performances. In fact, the Emerald Street Boys’ dancing stole the show when they opened for the Treacherous Three, who were on tour following their iconic appearance in the 1984 film Beat Street. The Emerald Street Boys made racial and cultural inroads locally on behalf of hip-hop as they played a variety of venues that catered to diverse audiences. Released in 1983, “The Move” was the B side of Christmas Rap, Seattle’s first rap record.

2. Sir Mix-A-Lot – “Posse On Broadway”
“Posse On Broadway” was Seattle’s version of “South Bronx” by Boogie Down Productions – even if you had never been here, the song gave you a sense of what it was like at that time. When this video ran on “Yo! MTV Raps” in the fall of 1988, there was a sense among some that Seattle hip hop had made it. Mix-A-Lot had people all over the world wondering what Broadway was like and whether the burgers at Dick’s Drive-In were tasty. All this free publicity for one of the city’s oldest fast food institutions, which did not allow a single shot of the music video to be filmed on their property. Although, this exception would be made 25 years later for the video “White Walls,” in which Macklemore was literally standing on top of the building.

3. E-Dawg featuring Filthy Rich – “Drop Top”
Following his departure from NastyMix Records, Sir Mix-A-Lot signed a deal with Rick Rubin’s newly formed Def American Records in 1991. As part of the agreement, Mix-A-Lot launched his own label, Rhyme Cartel Records. One of the first non-Mix-A-Lot releases on Rhyme Cartel, this summer time anthem by E-Dawg flowed in the vein of more traditional “hardcore” West Coast hip-hop music most commonly associated with southern California. Convertible old school cars, Jheri curls, 9 millimeters, basketball at the park, dancing women and sunshine.

4. Ice Cold Mode – “Union Street Hustlers”
In this song, the duo of Kenyatto “Ice Cold” Amen and DJ Ronnu McThomas speak to a street that makes up one half of the signature intersection in the Central District, Seattle’s original Black neighborhood, 23rd Avenue and East Union Street. The title reflects time and context - late 1980s in the midst of the crack epidemic, of which 23rd & Union saw substantial collateral damage from the swelling cocaine economy. Whereas “Posse On Broadway” was a more lighthearted look at different parts of Seattle, “Union Street Hustlers” presented a much grittier portrayal of a specific place.

5. Sharpshooters – “Pork Pie Stride”
One strength of hip hop has always been its ability to sample from and adapt to nearly every other genre of music. One of the reasons “Rapper’s Delight” was so accessible to the mainstream was the song’s visionary sample of the 1970s disco smash “Good Times” by Chic. In the 1990s, hip hop’s connection to jazz was one of the defining characteristics of “the golden era of rap.” Sharpshooters, made up of Supreme and Sure Shot, illustrated this connection with “Pork Pie Stride,” an upbeat acid jazz instrumental. After playing the song over the phone for a record company executive, Sharpshooters received a check and contract in the mail the next day.

6. Digable Planets – “La Femme Fetal”
After graduating from Seattle’s Garfield High School, Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler made his way to New York City where he eventually connected with Marianne “Lady Bug” Viera and Craig “Doodlebug” Irving to form Digable Planets in 1991. Their first album Reachin: A New Refutation of Time and Space featured the Grammy winning single “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” in addition to “La Femme Fetal.” The album broke new ground in hip hop, speaking of Karl Marx and socialism as well as casting the group members as insects. This song, a pro-choice anthem, name checks Roe v Wade and confronts violent fascists who claim to be pro-life.

7. DMS – “Sunshine”
Long before Referendum 74, which legalized recreational marijuana, was passed by Washington voters in 2012, cannabis culture was well established locally. The trio of DMS (Dee.ale, Moe-B, and Sheriff), with help from a sample of the Alexander O’Neal classic “My Sunshine,” share tales of munchies, Visine, foggy car windows, Olde English 800, and police bike patrols.

8. Ghetto Children – “Equilibrium”
This duo, made up of Vitamin D and B-Self, was a part of the Tribal Productions collective, based in Vitamin D’s legendary Central District basement studio, “The Pharmacy.” The song itself, from the 1996 compilation album Do The Math, is a reference to the constant struggle to find balance among relationships between art and one’s partner (B-Self: “I do no fornication, just a Roland work station”). When that balance is not maintained on one side, it comes at the expense of the other. After learning his girlfriend is pregnant, Vitamin D puts it this way: “I can’t believe I spawned a kid, now I gotta tell my music I been cheatin on her.”

9. Laura “Piece” Kelly – “Central District”
This spoken word piece and its title reference Seattle’s neighborhood of record, the Central District, or CD. Performed on the Russell Simmons produced HBO series “Def Poetry,” Kelly discusses specific details of local history, such as the city’s decision to change the name of the major arterial connecting the CD and the city’s South End from Empire Way to Martin Luther King Way in the early 1980s.

10. Blue Scholars – “Joe Metro”
Most cities have artists who have created musical tributes to their hometowns, in one form or another. While Mix-A-Lot told his story of Seattle in “Posse On Broadway” from the comfort of a Mercedes Benz limousine, Blue Scholars, DJ Sabzi & Geologic aka Prometheus Brown, chose to ride public transportation – a King County Metro bus to be exact. Among other things, this song touches upon the diverse cast of characters boarding and leaving the bus, including a Native American elder who bids his fellow passengers farewell by telling them, “Have a good day, you foreigners!”

11. Jake One – “Home”
This lush and flavorful ode to Seattle comes from Jake One, a local native and multiple Grammy-nominated super producer who has worked with the likes of 50 Cent, Drake, De La Soul, Snoop Dogg, Fun, Tupac Shakur, and others. Jake recruited Vitamin D, Note Work, Maineak B, and Ishmael “Butterfly” Butler to deliver their vocals under the grayish mosaic of Seattle skies in the video, which begins with a humorous tribute to Sir Mix-A-Lot and the legacy of “Posse On Broadway,” including the reprisal of some roles from the original video.

12. THEESatisfaction – “Queens”
Signed to Sub Pop Records, THEESatisfaction (Cat and Stas Tha Boss) continued the tradition of Seattle hip hop bucking traditional norms as LGBT identifying artists signed to a major label. The song “Queens” and its accompanying video is a celebration of Black women of all shades and sizes. This type of normalizing of diverse Black women as simply women being together celebrating Blackness is something that is rare enough to make it stand out.

13. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – “The Town”
Although not the most well-known of Macklemore’s songs, “The Town” represents another in a long line of Seattle artists penning hip-hop love letters to their home. One distinguishing feature of this particular song is that it is less about Seattle the city, and more the hip hop found within over time that influenced Macklemore. The lyrics are a virtual roll call of various past and present elements of hip hop in the 206, from artists, to events, to albums, to newspaper columns and more.

14. Draze – “The Hood Ain’t The Same”
Seattle’s booming economy brought with it numerous high paying jobs and an influx of newcomers with the income to pay top dollar for real estate. Enter gentrification, as numerous white, upwardly mobile transplants began to settle in places like the Central District and the South End, home to the nation’s most diverse ZIP code, 98118. Rapidly rising home prices and the accompanying surge in property taxes, along with increasing rents have displaced scores of businesses and longtime residents, including many retirees living on fixed incomes.

15. Gifted Gab & Blimes Brixton – “Come Correct”
Aside from Gifted Gab (Seattle) and Blimes Brixton (Bay Area) masterfully playing off of each other’s vocals and spitting increasingly complex and syncopated rhymes, this video was shot in front of the doomed Red Apple Market. The cultural symbolism of this site, which traditionally served the surrounding Black community, being torn down shortly after this video was filmed speaks to the same thing Draze was talking about. An added layer to this story was the fact that the land, on the corner of 23rd Avenue and South Jackson Street, was purchased for development in 2016 by Paul Allen (who died in 2018), co-founder of Microsoft and owner of the Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trailblazers. In that spot now stands a shiny expensive multistory apartment building with retail on ground level.

Daudi Abe is professor of humanities at Seattle Central College and author of 6 'N the Morning: West Coast Hip-Hop Music 1987-1992 and the Transformation of Mainstream Culture.

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