There are certain things that do not need to be reviewed, and this is not a review, rather an explanation. No amount of critical praise nor scorn will validate it’s worth. In the base state this music - this thing - remains: special, rare, singular. Original.

Consider that The Tribal Productions - Freestyle Demo Tape is something that quite frankly should not be. Within recorded hip-hop exists (existed?) the fantastic juxtaposition between the MC’s / DJ's constantly reiterated desire for realness, authenticity and superiority, and the unseen countless hours of repetition and exercise that allows these declarations to be made. The curtain is rarely pulled back, and the casual listener is often suggested to believe that less practice and less repetition somehow equals more, as if skills displayed that are seemingly innate are more valuable that those that are honed like steel at a forge.

What you hear in the first 31 minutes of this tape however is nothing but completely uncensored, unfiltered real freestyle rhyming. No breaks. No pauses. Crack yourself up with a punch line? Run out of rhymes? Move to the side and let the next man get busy on the mic. These are not the jokes that a stand up comedian might obsessively craft, these are the kind of in-jokes that (usually) solely resonate with people inside a tight circle.

What makes this tape so significant is the emotion of the environment that is encoded within it. Buried in the jokes that flow from one “song” to the next is a feeling of brotherhood, camaraderie, love, and basic honesty that is absolutely palpable. Young men reveling in a time and space when it is perfectly acceptable to be silly and ridiculous around your brothers, an emotional freedom – and surely vulnerability – that is waiting to be crushed by the stark realties of adulthood. The memories of my own time in that space are distant, but listen – just listen – to this tape and you can hear the audio evidence of that time for these young men.

What makes the title of the “Tribal Productions Freestyle Demo Tape” a touch deceiving are it’s last two songs which appear after the abrupt end to the last freestyle track “Metro Flows”: a solo effort by DJ Topspin – aka Blendianna Jones – called “The TOP”, and a previously unearthed song from Topspin and H-Bomb’s group Sensimilla which is simply called “Untranslated”.

Regarding “Untranslated” I will just say that it’s omission from the actual “Untranslated Prescriptions” tape is positively criminal. I can only assume that it’s not being on that album was either a financial or tape length dictated issue, but my god man – that massive bass line, that piano loop, those Topspin cuts, the relentless H-Bomb verses. Sensimilla never missed, never put out a single substandard song (at least that I’ve ever heard), and “Untranslated” continues that tradition.

And as far as the solo Topspin song “The TOP” is concerned, listen to it just once - just once - and tell me how you are not drawn to run it back again, and again, and again. This is one of the most sublime scratched choruses I have ever heard in my life, and that it would come from Topspin of all people is no surprise. There is a harmony in that chorus that speaks to me, to that part of my mind that is somehow hard to define, somewhere underneath it all. That Topspin was able to harness that harmony at the young age he must have been when this was recorded is no surprise. Listen to any of his recent mixtapes, remixes, or just hear him spinning live and you can witness those same qualities. For me though, I like to imagine this song as the genesis of that harmonic understanding.

- -

The story of how this tape originally came into my life is probably not interesting for anyone other than me. Suffice to say that I was separated from it for a period of nearly 15 years, and revisiting it now it brings me the same joy while listening as when I first encountered it. 

Quite frankly, I’m hesitant to put this out in the public domain. Obviously that isn’t really a disposition I should own, as this isn’t my music and I am solely acting in the capacity here of a caretaker or a tour guide.  The idea of my being protective of this music – as silly and as irreverent as it is – is ridiculous. However, by virtue of the fact that I have over the last 15ish years had this tape, lost it, and now have it again, I very seriously don’t want you to have it for fear that you will not appreciate it correctly, which is to say in the same manner that I do.

All I can ask is that you remember when music meant something to you. When it wasn’t disposable, but rather was part of the kaleidoscope of objects and ideas that defined you as a human being. Remember what fun sounds like, because that is exactly what you are hearing.

Click here to download the album

Tribal Productions - Do The Math

From Geo of Blue Scholar's twitter:

2 yrs ago in the same hip hop class at UW I asked the students what Seattle rap they listened to, and few responded., asked same question and they responded hella quick     etc. on the other hand only one student had ever heard Do The Math, Classic Elements or 14 Fathoms Deep etc. 

Guess I'm sayin it's dope that ppl paying more attention to the present but wack that they forgetting the past. And I'm getting old.

Tribal Productions @ Bumbershoot 1996 - Left to right:
T.H.C., Sho Nuff, C-Note, Tizzy-T, Infinite, Vitamin D, E-Wreck & DJ Topspin on the tables. 
I share this sentiment exactly, in both a linear sense relating to my age and an emotional one. For the record I am not in favor of releasing something as monumental as Do The Math for free. However, when the alternatives are used copies of the album for sale at a staggering $90 dollars, or simple ignorance due to lack of availability, my own position on the devaluing of music needs to fall back.

I cannot in good conscious belittle our town's lack of acknowledgement of this master work and at the same time not provide the means with which in our current media climate for anyone unknowing to experience the very thing that I treasure.

Do The Math is an album. Not a mixtape (MIXTAPE (c) Random DJ screaming). It is a physical thing to treasure, which sits on my shelf next to a small but precious collection of music that was created and gestated and born in the 206. It's value to me is irreplaceable.

Vitamin D, Capabilities, Culture Born, B-Self
Do The Math is not - like so much other tripe and haphazard bastardizations released these days - a random collection of ones and zeroes, nothingness that is frantically promoted for a day, perhaps a week, before withering away in a sea of broken links and expired download locations. This is a product of labor, a thing crafted into physical essence by the hard work of a crew collective moving forward toward a single shared objective. 

Please appreciate that Do The Math is a snapshot of a million instances of a multitude of lifetimes, traveling from an era that is distinctly different than our present one, culminating in songs. Songs of joy, sorrow, whimsy, boastfulness, agression, obstacles...but always songs of triumph, because the very act of their creation was in truth a righteous victory.

Vitamin D, C-Note, Topspin
As always the priority and the goal of this archive is to accurately record and acknowledge this time period of our Seattle music scene, the men and women involved and the legacies that they have left. Do The Math is a particularly substantial piece of that legacy.

A towering piece of work, it's songs span the entire breadth of voice, tone and texture that Tribal Productions featured at it's apex. I would respectfully submit that since it's release there has not been a single Seattle album that compares to it - even simply at an economic level by containing this much quality music over the course of 25 tracks (24 if your cd is like mine). 

Since it's release, some of the members of the Tribal Productions camp have continued to remain active in and or around music, so for them this release is but a genealogical footnote in their varied careers. Some members have moved in other directions, which positions their participation in this album as a kind of high school varsity team photo. A future past, a glimpse of what might was in a previous life and time.

For me Do The Math is such an outstanding piece of work as it includes appearances from some of the Town's least appreciated Kings and Queens of microphone technique. As an example, do you understand the value of having no less than four appearance from Infinite, one of which is a solo song? Infinite! You might as well find 24 carat gold pouring from your headphones directly into your brain.

H-Bomb, Infinite, Topspin
Clearly, I'm in no position to objectively *review* Do The Math, and I have no desire to do so. What I do want is to acknowledge this piece of work as an artifact of tremendous value, a document of what was then, which clearly continues to informs what is now. 

Seattle, this is one of the best things you've ever been witness to being created. I do so very much hope that you know it.


Album Cover & Postcard Photos (c) Diana Adams :

Notes: I've replicated the credits for Do The Math as exactly as I can. If you see an error, please let me know and I'll have it corrected.

Also, as bonus material the download link above includes scans of the cover, inner artwork, a postcard and a show flyer from the album's release.

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.

Kanye West - The Power of Humility

I'm not sure you properly and fully appreciate the statement that is being made by Kanye West's "Runaway" video movie, but don't fear, I'm going to help you.

At it's fundamental core, Hip-Hop has always been about skills. Historically this transcended all of the core elements of the culture - graffiti, DJing, MCing and break dancing. Over time, the role of the MC rose, the role of the DJ fell back, and as far as popular culture is concerned, breaking and graf are the strangers at the family reunion that no one acknowledges or cares to recognize as being part of our bloodline.

As far as MC's are concerned, this hard coded focus on ability translated itself into a constantly improving quality of music. However, along the way to the widespread acceptance of Hip-Hop as a viable genre to be programmed for on your FM dial, some of our tools and tenets were forgotten. Certain historical parts of the greater canon were rejected and definitions of vast importance were obscured. Not even in a technical sense (the absence of scratched hooks being my personal least favorite change), but in terms of sentiment. The superiority of skills gave way to the superiority of bank roll, superiority of car collection, as if this was an equal substitution.

Once skills stopped being the final determinate of importance, the door was opened for any number of trash ass "rappers" to come to prominence. Why bother working really really hard on making a really really good song when you can simply don the persona of Lil Swaggy Swag and posit that any arguments opposed to your status are rendered moot based on the size of the fleet of rental cars in  your video?

Whenever I dip my toes into commercial radio these days and I hear what's being consumed by the masses at large, I often wonder what would happen if you Marty McFly'd any of the great icons of Hip-Hop from the golden years to now if they would even identify what is being labeled as "rap" currently as being something that descended from their lineage.

And we can't go backwards. As much as I appreciate what it means for someone of Buckwild's stature to release a vault full of "vintage" beats to a current artist like Celph Titled for a full length album who's sole purpose is to serve as an audio time machine, efforts like this (which definitely deserve to be applauded) are a blip on the national consciousness. Once there is rapping in a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial, you can't take it back.

Which brings us to around to Kanye West's new long form video, "Runaway", and the music contain herein.

Prior to this, I honestly can't recall a Hip-Hop artist of his scale and import doing something that was so vastly unique. Kanye has always had a gift for introspection and self analysis, but listening to the lyrics of "Runaway" makes me think that he's not only speaking about himself any longer, but also the specific genus of male figure our excesses have spawned.

Think about this within the context of someone like Kanye West, who's previous crossover hit "Gold Digger" had suburban mom's and teens playing a happy little dance with the N word to the tune of 16,947,912 views on YouTube as of this afternoon and who knows how many actual record sales. When have we previously seen someone become mega famous to the level that Kanye reached, where people actively hate you without even knowing you, but love you enough to keep buying and keep talking, then turn around and eviscerate all the same boorish behavior that took you from artist to trending topic?

Perhaps you can look at Kanye's twitter feed and suggest that he's still as much of a megalomaniac as he ever was, but I would in turn suggest that obsessing over Napoleon's couch, or Queen Elizabeth's fine china, if done in the name of *art*, is EXACTLY what I want a super successful, super rich artist to do.

Consider on the other hand someone like Jay-Z, who continues to pump out anesthetized song after song, parceling out personal records like the exact opposite of Hansel and Gretel. As far as I know, has Jay even acknowledged that he's even married to Beyonce? Not simply on record, but in real life? Maybe Jay-Z doesn't want to be "artsy" and I suppose that's fine. But at a certain point, don't you start to question someone's desire to even be an artist when they don't reach for something more than? Especially, when they have all the access, the money, and the ability to make it happen?

Obviously, I loved the "Runaway" long form video and I accept that not everyone will. But even if you're not as inspired by it as I am, I would hope people recognize the value in the fact that Kanye is reaching for something. Something more than what Hip-Hop has even produced previously. I certainly wouldn't suggest that Kanye West was the one that turned the Phoenix to stone. That charge should be levied against much greater offenders possessing a great deal less talent. But I think he's trying to give rise to something truly new. Something singular. And for that we should say thank you.