Rest In Peace: Taj Abdul Randall of Narcotik

Taj Abdul Randall aka Tizzy T was 1/2 of Seattle group Narcotik, along with MC C-Note aka The Note. Narcotik, part of the Tribal Productions family, released their debut album "Intro 2 The Central" in 1995. Taj died in a house fire on October 16th 2011. He was 36.

Life isn't supposed to end like this. 

The last time that I saw my Uncle Dennis was at my Grandparents house, where he was living temporarily. I clearly remember walking in the door and seeing my Uncle Dennis standing at the end of the hallway. I think I said hi to him. I don't remember. What I do remember is that he didn't stop. Didn't say anything to me, just turned and started down the stairs. Gone was the Uncle Dennis that I knew as a child, built like a tree trunk, visibly strong in a natural way that seems to not exist anymore. Barrel chested with a full beard, in my child's mind my Uncle Dennis may as well have been Paul Bunyan. Gone too were the hours spent wrestling as a child with all of my uncles, Ben, Greg, Dennis, Steve, in the living room of the same house as where I last saw him. My Uncle Dennis was 40 when he died.

Life isn't supposed to end like this.

The "Intro 2 The Central" album is one of the most complete Seattle releases ever, in a way that most albums are no longer. With no distraction from spin-a-wheel-find-a-rapper feature appearances (other than Tribal mainstay and legendary God emcee Infinite) and a consistent vibe provided by Vitamin D and Topspin "Intro 2 The Central" packed 9 concise tracks worth of dope into it's cassette tape only format. With even a casual listen you can tell that Tizzy-T and C-Note knew exactly what they were doing in capturing a high density snapshot of what Central District living in the 90's was like. It is a fantastic goddamn album. Their collective talent and ability is staggering.

While commercial sales outside of the general 206 area may have eluded Narcotik along with any number of other groundbreaking Seattle groups, once again the lack of sales is not indicative of lack of impact. Trails were blazed. Methods were invented. C-Note and Tizzy T's vision in the early 90's resonated in the minds of men and women that have since continued to carve out a space for local Hip-Hop to flourish, spawning more artists who have stayed true to a particular Seattle style and aesthetic that the world at large is now paying attention to. 

I never got a chance to meet Tizzy T and tell him how much his music meant to me as a fan. I never got a chance to ask him what he thought about the lasting impact of Narcotik's debut album. I never got a chance to ask him if he still wrote rhymes - or if he even wanted to record music anymore. Maybe what he laid down in the 90's was all he wanted to say, but I doubt it. 

Contrary to popular belief, life is not like a movie. Sometimes you miss opportunities and can't get them back. Sometimes you don't get a chance to say goodbye. It's cruel, it's unfair, but it's true. As Tizzy T's friend since kindergarten and partner in rhyme C-Note said in the wake of this tragedy "Morale of the story...Always check on your folks. We can get back anything but time".

Taj Abdul Randall was an artist. He was a son, a brother and a friend. He will be sorely missed. My condolences to his family and loved ones.

Black Stax - Spell On You

I typically feel kind of weird about using this blog to promote my own work, but not this time. One of the cooler things that has happened this year is that I've been working with and assisting my brother The Notework aka The Note aka C-Note from Narcotik, part of the legendary Tribal Productions crew, with his video productions. In the last six months we've put together three different visuals for dope musicians here in Seattle.

Tilla V - Up, Up and Away

Fly Moon Royalty - In The Woods (Live at KEXP)

and our most recent project, Black Stax - Spell On You

Because of my particular focus on the era of Seattle hip-hop that spawned groups like Tribal Productions, this Black Stax project was a dream come true for me. Comprised of MC's Jace ECAj, Silas Black and songstress Felicia Loud, all three members have been putting in work in our scene here for a while now. I think the first music I heard from Jace and Black was likely a freestyle on a B-Mello tape that I'll have to dig up, then later through different incarnations in groups such as Blind Council, Jace & the 4th Party, Jasiri Media Group and the Silent Lambs Project.

Gene Dexter touches on this a bit, but I don't think the suggestion that Jace and Black are Shabazz Palaces before Shabazz Palaces is altogether inaccurate - an amusing comparison considering that Ish and Tendai of Shabazz were active in the scene at the exact same time that Jace and Black were.

Silas Black / Felicia Loud / Jace ECAj - Black Stax

To the particulars of the song, it is typical of the kind of magic that Jace, Black and Felicia Loud manifest when they combine forces. Over a crunchy, haunting musical backdrop provided by Amp Fire, all three members have the space to induce and summon verifiable spine tingling moments of their own. The songs semi unconventional arrangement of verse, sung verse, half verse and closing verse fits the overall vibe perfectly. This is not music made to conform or adapt to any perceived notion of what is likely to be accepted for pop consumption, and the truth of that unconformity is what you hear over the songs tidy 3:01 length.

Personally, I'm am beyond proud to have any role at all in being able to produce a visual representation of what I think is a fantastic song. The feeling of community, ancestry and kinship that we captured that day I think comes across perfectly in the video, which says a lot about my man The Note's direction.

For myself...I know the experience of shooting the video that day it is something that will stay in my mind and heart for the rest of my life.

Black Stax. 100% Townbiz.

Townbiz, Et Al

"Got so much pride in them three numbers" - Stalley

"Gotta be true to yourself individuality always secures your fate" - Vitamin D

By means of an introduction to the topic of Townbiz, allow me to direct you an interview recently done at the Coolout Network's 20 year anniversary party held at the Crocodile Cafe. Conducted by local promotions guru Gene "Mr. Miyagi" Dexter and Sacha Starr, among others they spoke to J. Moore (who I was introduced to back in 1995 as Wordsayer from the group Source of Labor) and my man Larry Mizell Jr about the significance of the evenings festivities. While Mr. Dexter initially downplays his ability to form a "groundbreaking" question, he smartly opens up the door for J. Moore to drop some serious science about the history and journey our Northwest scene has taken these last two decades, making reference to a time where it was difficult to get hip-hop shows booked in and around Seattle.

When it comes to defining the difference between making music now and how it used to be, this fact is as similarly significant as are the finite increased costs of producing your own music 20 ish years ago compared to now. Stumbling blocks such as these, alternatively known at the time as "paying dues" are largely unknown in the current media climate. Imagine if you will the frustration of trying to carve out a career as a hip-hop artist where exists a teeming pool of people desperate to drink in just about any aspect of hip-hop culture, but held back from that audience by promoters and venue owners who were skeptical about putting on hip-hop shows, regardless of content, audience or the actual factual dollars that could have been made.

To that point, here are J. Moore's comments (you can watch the whole thing if you like, or fast forward to the 2:25 mark to get right to the healthy spoonful of knowledge):

"...All of the things that I may have done, It's not I, it was always done with the collective sense of we and for something and a purpose beyond just myself. So, it's always been my city first, my community, my crew, and anything that follows that.

...Seattle you know, 20 years later, it's still kind of pushing along and everybody is always waiting for something to break through, but I don't think it's a breakthrough thing. It's a thing about growth and just evolution and natural maturation. We're like a self sustaining ecosystem in our own environment here. We can do shows like this and events and have our own clubs and everything and be respected on an international level.

...We've gotta continue to recognize that Seattle is world class, and as long as you treat it that way from your own perspective and mind state then rest of the world will follow."

The man's MC name is Wordsayer for a fucking reason.

I've recently thought often about J. Moore's words, both with regard to our "scene" but also considering my own musical habits. As of late I have enveloped myself fully (save for the above referenced Salley mixtape and Big KRIT's new one - both excellent) in the a never ending torrent of quality Seattle music, and I have not wanted for quantity, quality or variation. For whatever direction my ears and id desire to take, I can find an artist from the 206 (no shots 425, 360, 253 - you get love too) to satisfy that particular desire. What does this mean? Should I impart some special significance to the music I listen to because it originated from the same area code as I did ? Yes as a matter of fact I should - and I do.

Maybe this is how it feels to be a New Yorker. Not like the gentrified, post Giuliani / Bloomberg faux New Yorker that J-Zone so eloquently rails against. I'm taking about the super obnoxious stereotypical loud and mouthy New Yawker - who's tunnel vision extends no farther than their precious five boroughs as a hard boundary for anything significant and worthy of recognition. You know, the assholes.

As much as I have an unhealthy amount of contempt for the New Yawker (mostly because of the Yankees), I am coming around to the idea of respecting their nearly delusional affection toward New York. I mean, without that kind of blind worship, how does someone like Papoose carve out even the most meager of careers, not to mention being lumped in with a bakers dozen of other artists who were going to "bring New York back" - whatever the fuck that meant. It's that kind of allegiance and affiliation, sometimes blind and sometimes not, that I am beginning to understand and appreciate.

Specific to our own situation, I think that right now within Seattle exists a large number of people who have a heartfelt yearning to embrace something that is unquestionably ours. Perhaps this is more emotional shrapnel from the theft of our Sonics, and for more on that particular issue I defer to the good people at Sonicsgate. Either way, I do believe that among other factors, within the crater of that void you will find a significant reason for why people seem to search for something, anything to bring us together, and right now that thing is music.

I thought that in part explains Macklemore's success, culminating with the recent three sold shows at the Showbox. Undoubtedly, his career has been one long in the making and born from tireless amounts of shows, music, media, etc., but I still believe that the particular emotional climate of our city plays a part. Consider the fact that that he and Ryan Lewis are able to get a predominantly 21 and under crowd to respond frantically to a song who's dualing subjects are a recently deceased baseball announcer (The Great Dave Niehaus) (not exactly Sexyback) and a 1995 Mariner team who's artfully recapped expoits are from a time when the average audience member was less than 5 years old. Why is that (c) KRS-One?

I also suspect some of reason for that response is a natural blowback from how disingenuous most popular music is currently. For a teenager looking for anything that resonates with even a hint of emotion, a song about cough syrup and pill addiction, or a song about the beauty of baseball and what Dave Niehaus meant to to us stands out as a beacon of light in comparison. Past those macroeconomic truths however, I still believe that what J. Moore says rings true. We are our own ecosystem.

The Seattle hip-hop scene is now in generational in it's longevity, and there are clear linear lines linking artists of our past to artists of our present. Certainly this occurs because artists who broke ground, broke moulds and paid dues in their past continue to be relevant. I'm not talking about relevant in the sense of putting in half hearted feature appearances and robotic repetition. I'm talking about relevance through progression of the craft. Perfection of the art form. Fearless innovation. Artists who continue to etch in stone their legacy by putting hard fought talent and abilities - again, acquired in a time period where there were existentially more costs to do so - on display for you and I to enjoy.

To that point, this whole post about the thriving ecosystem that is the Seattle music scene would be nothing more than sycophantic bullshit were the actual music not absolutely excellent. It is. And without a doubt I have railed against the sea change that has taken place with regard to music in the last two decades - the decreasing importance of a physical and purchased music product and the increased priority on free music, viral and social network marketing, blah blah blah - but without these breakthroughs there is simply not the freedom of access that allows this music to be heard and be spread.

Maybe I'm wrong, and my theory about some sort of city or region-wide yearning for togetherness vis a vie music is just some writer bullshit. Fine, but then let me then speak for myself. I have a fairly large music collection, and recently I've seriously contemplated dumping all of it, save for Seattle music, just so I can that much more easily keep this Townbiz shit at the forefront of my mind. I'm not saying that I would. But I'm saying that I could.

I feel legitimate pride in the successes and the progress of our Northwest musicians, and I could care less whether the rest of the world notices. Within this thing of ours, there now exist means for the artists to be successful and recognized simply on the strength of their resonation within our own region.

We don't need your approval or recognition. I am *invested* in this. Motherfucking Townbiz.

Courtesy of some kind words by my Internet Friend and fellow Franklin High School alumni Larry Mizell Jr, I'm finally going to get around to explaining my perhaps overcooked affinity for local Seattle rap collective, Tribal Productions.

A quick disclaimer, which also should serve as part of the reason I'm writing this. We're talking about music created and released locally before the advent of The Internet, so good luck finding an exhaustive compilation of material about any of the groups or the people involved anywhere else (I'm working on it). Furthermore, and this has more to do with a later part of the story, but at the time of the release of  Tribal's most complete effort, Do The Math, Seattle's major media outlets were still giving a collective Moon Man shoulder shrug towards Hip-Hop in general and Seattle Hip-Hop in particular.

For example, in 1994 you had a torrent of releases of modern Hip-Hop classics that may not ever be equaled, and I highly doubt there were more than 2 songs played from any of these albums during the prime time drive time audience hours. As such, you relied on trusted sources like local magazine The Flavor, KCMU's Rap Attack show on Sunday nights and basic word of mouth and independent record stores to get an idea of what was out locally.

That being said, don't excuse me if I get any of the details wrong. Let me know. I'm all for making this the most complete and accurate history of this specific period of Seattle Hip-Hop there is, which means this will be a work in progress that is likely going to require more information that what I presently have.

Tribal Productions was comprised, Wu-Tang esque, of a multitude of other acts: Ghetto Chilldren (emphasis on chill with two L's), Sinsemillia, Narcotik, Phat Mob, Infinite, Sho Nuff, T.H.C., Union of Opposites, The Crew Clockwise, and probable more individual associations and groups that I'm not even aware of.

The first Tribal Productions album release (that I'm aware of) was the tape only Untranslated Perscriptions, put out in 1995, my senior year of high school. I was loaned a copy of the Untranslated tape from a friend, who passed it along as being "put out from some guys down at Garfield. It's dope". Shortly thereafter, I purchased my own copy down at Music Menu.

Previous to my introduction to Tribal Productions, I was still forehead deep in Hip-Hop culture - I absolutely consumed all of it I could get my hands on. The Source Magazine, Flavor Magazine, 4080 Magazine, Rap Pages, Rap City, YO! MTV Raps, KCMU's Rap Attack show. I mean everything. Hip-hop music was my life. That being said, nothing had previously come into my orbit that was from *here*. Obviously, Sir Mix-A-Lot was already a local and national force with the emergence of Posse on Broadway, prior to selling a bajillion copies of Baby Got Back, but this was different. Tribal Productions was compromised of guys my age, going to school just blocks away from where I was, and were putting out music that was actually really fucking good.

The one overriding quality that has always been at the forefront for me of that first Untranslated Prescriptions tape was just how fucking earnest it is, which is a quality that you still rarely find today in Hip-Hop. I'm not sure any other place could have produced songs like this. These are Seattle stories. In terms of the music as much as there is a Tribe Called Quest / Boot Camp Clik influence, there are elements of funk and deep soul that are undeniably West Coast textured. Genre definition notwithstanding, this is classic Hip-Hop production - timeless samples and fantastically chopped up drum breaks.

Pertaining to the lyrics, the Untranslated tape is an audio document of a group of young men's collective experiences living in a corner of the nation that was (and occasionally remains) largely ignored by the masses. While some consumers are unable to rationalize something that isn't East Coast, West Coast or Down South, this classic Seattle Hip-Hop stands outside these contrived definitions, proudly representing The Other.

I suppose the moment that I went from being a fan to being an advocate was in the aftermath of the 1998 release of "Do The Math". To my 21 year old brain, the idea that an album chock full of songs whose immense quality was so goddamn self evident (Who's Listening, Traffic, Equlibrium being the most towering examples) to me could not take the next step and become more than a regional release meant something was broken, because otherwise the math did not add up (pun definitely intended).

For a bit of perspective on the musical landscape in 1998, consider the state of affairs with A Tribe Called Quest. Regardless of what Jay Dee fanatics slash history re-writers may tell you, their 1998 release "The Love Movement" was mostly crap. I understand subjective evaluation of music is never black and white, but I cannot in good conscience declare that the post Midnight Marauders era of Tribe came close to equaling their first three albums. I respect them that much. 

Amidst this period of decline, there was Tribal's Do The Math, producing music that contained the same spirit but with an even more varied amount of perspectives and voices.

Perhaps that variation that I find appealing, coming from a collective that represented a true kaleidoscope of perspectives, is was led to Do the Math not taking the next step outside of our region. Perhaps it was simply an economic problem of trying to distribute and manufacture music in a time when there were substantial costs to do so independently. I'm not the person best equipped to posit as to the why or how of it, and I'm not sure that it matters that much.

What does matter is that time marches on, and what was for a time the hot new release is no longer. The impression however remains, which is why I think it's important that this particular time of our city's Hip Hop history needs proper documentation. Tribal Productions, among a number of other groups that came out of this city that I'm not as personally familiar with, is a keystone piece of the foundation of what Seattle Hip Hop was and is to this day. While you can listen to any number of the excellent voices that are currently coming out of this city and hear the reverberations of what Tribal put out - here and here and more individual examples than I can link to in one sentences in good conscious - I wholeheartedly believe that proper acknowledgement is deserved and necessary. Hence, my advocacy.

By and large I don't know exactly how the various members of Tribal remember this time or their legacy. I think the fact that Vitamin D, Topspin, C-Note and others of the original Tribal members continue to be involved in making music is not only fantastic in and of itself, but also stands as a testament to the quality of the collective that these men have managed to make music a Job in 2010, which is not an easy road to travel.

The truth of it is that a significant part of the reason why I feel that acknowledgement is necessary for the guys in Tribal is actually about me. What continues to turn me from fan to advocate, here at the age of 33, is that I remember.

I remember the first time I hear the Untranslated tape, and wrapped up within the beauty of that music is the pride, naivete, ignorance and innocence of being 17 years old and comparatively untarnished by the press of adulthood. I wouldn't trade my place in life now for anything in the world, but that doesn't mean that I can't acknowledge the joy of being young.

I remember Tribal Productions because I remember myself.


All the photos here courtesy of DJ Topspin's facebook page. Topspin was gracious enough to sit down with me for a couple hours this summer and talk history. As both a fan and as a person trying to document this work, it provided invaluable insight into some of the history of Tribal Productions that I didn't know and is incredibly appreciated.

A final reiteration that if I've gotten a detail wrong in the above post, let me know. 

Also, an aside to mention that there are plenty of groups that existed in and around Seattle that someone could argue laid the foundation for Tribal Productions to exist. I'm just not that person. I don't have the knowledge or the connection. This is a story I feel compelled to tell because it's music I know and love. Do you feel like there is another story to be told? Then tell it! Or send me what you have and the music that was made and I'll tell it.

Special shout out goes to Jake One, who continues to keep Tribal Productions music in our collective consciousness. Not only in the form of his excellent two part interview with Mike Clark, former co-host of the KCMU Rap Attack show, that appeared on the Cocaine Blunts blog here, but also in the form of his excellent Town Biz Mixtape released earlier this year. Jake clearly knows this music and this history better than I do, and the fact that someone with his national and international reach still keeps it 206 like that definitely means something.

Couple reference links. Here is a short piece published by the Seattle Times in 1993 about the Ghetto Chilldren, along with 6 In The Clip, E-Dawg and Greg B.

Another Seattle Times piece, this one from 1994 and has the interviewer doing some of the worst transcription work I've ever seen. Sincimilla? C'mon son.