In recognition of Governor Jay Inslee’s recent decree proclaiming November hip-hop history month in Washington, check out our list of the 10 most significant moments of the past 30 (or so) years of Seattle hip-hop culture.
CORRECTION An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the founders of Sportn’ Life Records. We regret the error.
1980: DJ Nasty Nes launches “Fresh Tracks,” the first hip-hop radio show on the West Coast, on KFOX 1250, well before other urban regions like L.A. and the Bay Area.
1985: NastyMix, the Northwest’s first independent hip-hop label, puts Seattle rap in the international spotlight. Sir Mix-A-Lot’s 1988 single “Posse on Broadway” took listeners on a cruise around the 206. The label’s greatest success came after it shuttered: Mix’s 1993 Grammy Award for “Baby Got Back.”
1991: KUBE 93 switches to a “rhythmic contemporary” format and becomes the area’s leading hip-hop radio station. Its annual Summer Jam concerts evolve into a Pacific Northwest hip-hop destination.
1999: Seattle’s best known break-dance crew, Massive Monkees, is established. The group has performed with the likes of Jay Z, 50 Cent, and Alicia Keys, provided entertainment at Sonics games, and won awards at national and international dance competitions.
2002: DeVon Manier, Emery “Slim” Buford, and Jamal Henderson launch Sportn’ Life Records with a roster that will grow to include Fatal Lucciauno, Fly Moon Royalty, Spac3man, and Buford's son, D Black (now known as Nissim).
2002: Blue Scholars set themselves the task of reviving hip-hop in rock-heavy Seattle. The duo uses music as a tool for grassroots organization, raising awareness of struggles faced by the Filipino community in particular.
Early to mid-2000s: Minneapolis-based label Rhymesayers Entertainment, one of the pre-eminent names in underground rap, mines Seattle for talent. The spotlight gives instant clout to underground Seattle rap artists and producers like The Boom Bap Project, Grayskul, Grieves, Jake One, and Vitamin D.
2012: The Moor Gang, featuring Nacho Picasso, Jarv Dee, Gifted Gab, and Avatar Darko, among many others, forms and forges a new sound for Seattle rap—one whose dark trap beats and who-gives-a-fuck lyrics position the rapper as antihero.
2012: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis release “Same Love,” composed in support of Washington’s same-sex-marriage referendum. The song goes viral, catapulting the duo into the mainstream, and their success has many wondering who will be the “next big thing” from Seattle.
2013: Ishmael Butler joins the A&R team at Sub Pop Records. The label boasts a roster of boundary-breaking rap artists, including Butler’s Shabazz Palaces, THEESatisfaction, and Butler’s most recent signee, Porter Ray—all of whom are introducing a new sound of Seattle rap to the world.