Local Product: Jake One & Mike Clark (Seattle, WA) Pt. 1
Back again with round two in this series on localized hip hop scenes. This time we’re off to Seattle with producer Jake One, who possesses one of the dopest and most eclectic discographies in hip hop right now (50 Cent, MF Doom, E-40) and Mike Clark, former radio co-host of KCMU’s Rap Attack and writer for The Flavor, the city’s preeminent hip hop publication in the 90s. After the jump the two break down their city’s history to the very last compound. It’s bigger than just Mix-A-Lot.
Nasty Nes & Sir Mix-A-Lot – In The Mix (Excerpt)
live on 1250 KFOX, 9/21/85
Noz: What were your earliest memories of Seattle hip hop?
Jake: The first time I was even aware of local rap in Seattle, there used to be this station called KFOX and Nasty Nes had a show and he always used to play songs by this guy Mix-A-Lot. I think he used to have a show every week on a show called Freshtracks, so that was the first thing I was even knowing about that was local to Seattle. And I don’t even know what year that was, maybe ’84, ’85
Mike: Yeah KFOX used to be a station called KYAC, it was the same frequency. And then in ’82 new ownership came in and changed it to KFOX and around that same time is when Nes came on board. And, like Jake said, they had the Freshtracks show and Mix would debut a new song every single week. Every single week it was something brand new, whether it was one of his original tracks or somebody was taking some pot shots at him or he had to come out with a diss track or whatever.
Jake: So by the time he came out [nationally] he was almost kind of old to the people here. He was everywhere. He had songs that were big that never even came out. He had a song called “Let’s G” it was an Egyptian Lover kind of song. That was his thing back then.
Sir Mix-A-Lot – “Let’s G“
from I Just Love My Beat 12″ (Nastymix, 1985)
Mike: They actually did shows together sometimes. Either Mix would go down [to LA] or Egyptian Lover would come up here and they would do parties and things like that. There was “Let’s G” and then there was a hood anthem he had back in the day called “The 7 Rainier” [Laughs] The 7 Rainier is an infamous bus route in Seattle. It goes through Rainier and that song was kind of a hood classic back then. It was never released, he used to just put them on tape and he would slang his tapes back in the day. But for a lot of heads here that’s still one of Mix’s biggest songs to never be released on a national basis.
Emerald City Boys – “Nasty Nes Intro“
live on 1250 KFOX, 1984
Noz: So then Mix was one of the first Seattle rappers then?
Jake: He wasn’t the first, but he was the first that I knew of. He didn’t do the first record… was Emerald Street Boys the first record?
Mike: Yeah, Emerald Street Boys. There was three members in the group – Captain Crunch, Sweet J and Sugar Bear. Sugar Bear is actually [producer] Vitamin D’s cousin.
Jake: Yeah he taught him how to DJ, make beats and everything.
Mike: So they were the first real group out of this area. Man, they would do shows at all these little clubs around here like Club Broadway, Encore, The Spectrum. And all these places that I mention are now defunct and gone, but these cats were like the super group. It was around the time of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five so they were like the real super group of Seattle. And whenever they did a show everybody would flock out to see them perform. The three of them are still [around]. Sugar Bear is DJing a little bit from what he told me. Sweet J is actually a singer now. I think his group is called Soul Station and they do a lot of shows in the area. And Captain Crunch is a pastor now.
Noz: Did Mix’s underground stuff inspire a lot of other acts to start doing things locally?
Mike: I think it did. He was pretty much the launching pad of it because here in Seattle we don’t have a lot of outlets as far as radio goes. So on that KFOX back in the day Nes was the only game in town. It would be mostly Mix that you heard on the radio because I think he was the only one that really came correct in regards to trying to do it professionally as far as the studio work goes and the whole packaging. But it did inspire people to start picking up the mic and making home grown studios and people actually going to the studio and doing stuff. They opened the doors for like Daddy Rich and Frostmaster Chill and Silver Chain Gang. Those were some of the groups in the early to mid 80s that were doing their thing.
Noz: So where did it go from there? How did Mix getting his deal affect the community?
Jake: I was really a kid, so I wasn’t in the position Mike was. Mike was like 30 back then [laughs]. You saw Mix come in and he brought out Kid Sensation. And from what I’ve heard Kid Sensation did pretty big. His first album Rollin With Number One…
Kid Sensation – “Prisoner Of Ignorance”
from Rollin’ With Number One (Nastymix, 1990)
Mike: That actually sold [well]. At the time Nastymix had closed I think it had sold like 200,000 units. They moved a lot of units, that was a lot of records back then. But yeah, [Mix] opened up the doors for Kid, he opened up the doors for a lot of people. But I think where the problem lies with a lot of people here was that they felt as if he should do more. I didn’t necessarily agree with that because I felt like Mix really grinded it out and had to pay a lot of dues to get where he was at. So people just had their hand extended like “Man, do that same thing for me” without putting in the work.
Jake: And he definitely put people on, he just might not have put on the people that might have been the most talented. And that happens in any situation, you’re gonna put on your friends, like High Performance and Criminal Nation, which is a good record too.
MC Kid P With Incredicrew – “High Powered Hip-Hop”
from High Powered Hip Hop 12″ (Gemini, 1989)
Jake: But around that same time Danny [Mr. Supreme] did his first record, right?
Mike: Yeah Supreme had the Incredicrew record that came out in like ’87 or ’88.
Jake: I just found a tape of his from back then where they’re doing McDonalds commercials and all kind of crazy stuff. But yeah he’s probably the closest link from then to now out of anybody. He’s the one that has been the most active out of everybody.
Mike: Without a doubt. When I met Supreme he was a kid, he used to come to the record store I used to work at. I was impressed because I think he was 17 years old when he had put out the Incredicrew record, putting out an actual vinyl record out on his own financial backing. That was really unheard of out here because everybody had major label aspirations, I don’t think a lot of people thought about going the independent route here. So you didn’t see a whole lot of people taking the initiative and putting out the music on their own.
Ice Cold Mode – “Union St. Hustlers“
from Union St. Hustlers Cassingle (Self Released, 199?)
Jake: If anything it was just tapes. I think the first non-Mix-A-Lot thing I ever bought was Ice Cold Mode’s “Union Street Hustlers” and that was just a tape with a hand drawn cover, but that was a big song.
Mike: That was a huge song.
Jake: That song, that was on the radio, right?
Mike: That actually got some spins on KFOX, that got some spins on a lower frequency station KRIZ and it was definitely in heavy rotation on KTMU here. They were doing it for a while there but I don’t think they had the business savvy to really know how to take it to that next level.
Jake: They were in high school.
LSR – “Hold Tight 2 The Rhythm“
from Hold Tight 2 The Rhythm Cassingle (Blakstyle, 1991)
Jake: I’m trying to think of the other groups from that time. LSR, they had the one song “Hold Tight To The Rhythm”
Mike: Yeah, LSR, Love Sick Rhymers. They put out a record, I think, in ’91 and that was a decent song too. That did really well around here. It wasn’t quite as big as “Union Street Hustler,” but it was a good song. And I think that is what spearheaded a lot of what you started to see in the ’90s. People finally understood that the only way they were really gonna make it was to just kinda grind it out as much as they can here, then take it outside of this area. I don’t ever think there’s been a shortage of talent in Seattle, that’s never been the problem. It’s just that people have a tendency to do music and then it just kind of stays in the bedroom or stays in the studio. There’s people that don’t do a lot of shows, there’s people who think that they should be able to charge three grand a show just coming out. They maybe never even did a show before. So I think a lot of people have a hard time paying dues which may result in not doing some shows for nothing, not getting outside of Seattle, hitting the college radio circuit.
Jake: It’s funny you say that because I’m part of that ’90s generation and it seemed like the guys from our era were just trying to perform any and everywhere. ’93, ’94 there was a flurry of shows. And nobody there, really! It wasn’t like there was a ton of support for it, but they were going hard.
Mike: And you segued into something really important. There’s this mentality that “I’m better than the next person, so why should I go out and support that person?”
Jake: “Wait ’til my album comes out!” If I had a dollar for everytime I heard that in the last 15 years…
Mike: I don’t if you were at that DJ Summit thing that the cat from Nock On Wood had done a few years ago, but Daddy O from Stetsasonic was here for it. Daddy O was just listening to all of the bickering going on and he stood up and said “I’m Brooklyn where we invented hating, but y’all in Seattle have taken it to an entirely different level.” And it was so true. I think one of the hardest thing for people here is being able to accept criticism.
Click here for part II, where we look at Sea-Town rap in the 90s and beyond…
Related: The Beat Of The Fox! KFOX Audio Archive @ Facebook
Related: Incredicrew Demos
Related: The Corner, 23rd and Union