If you were in the Emerald City on May 2nd and weren’t at Chop Suey for Swagger Fest, I extend my regrets to you, because you missed some of the most dynamic, energy-packed performances Seattle has to offer. With Vitamin D on the ones and twos, Neema of Unexpected Arrival hosting, and an arsenal of emcees from Soul Guerilla, Sportn’ Life Records, and Union Block Teamsters, Swagger Fest did much more than live up to its name.
Setting it all off was J. Pinder, from Sportn’ Life, who warmed up the young crowd at this all-ages event with tracks from his up-coming album “Back Pack Theory.” J. Pinder was followed by a short guest appearance from Live Wire (NYC) of the Hip Hop Project. (If you haven’t yet checked a screening of the Hip Hop Project, you can catch it next Tuesday, the 8th at AMC Uptown Cinemas in Seattle). However, things really lit up when Sportn’ Life’s Fatal Lucciauno hit the spotlight. With his plain hoodie concealing a neck full of chains, and his shouts out to his mama and sister in the crowd, Fatal boasted an irresistible charisma on the stage that was amplified by his power-packed performance. Fatal Lucciauno’s debut album “The Only Forgotten Son” hits the stores this summer.
As the crowd grew, so did energy in the building, and by the time Parker Brothaz from the Union Block Teamsters took their spot in the limelight, it was officially on and cracking. So deliciously hood with it, the duo puts a 206 twist on crunk and hyphie, redefining what you thought was Northwest flavor. The Parkers’ tracks are laced with style, wit, and contagious braggadocio. One my favorites from the set was “Hoodoptalistic,” a freshcoast remake of the Outkast classic that had the crowd wildin’. If you don’t pick up a copy of “Play Your Position 6″ featuring the Parker Brothaz at www.myspace.com/therealparkerbr
The evening reached a peak with Dyme Def, a group of young emcees from Soul Guerilla who are rapidly becoming Seattle Hip Hop favorites across the board. With their vitality, spitfire delivery, and banging production from Bean One, the trio boasts the kind of stage show that keeps an audience wildin’. Tracks from their new album “Space Music” are a marriage of audacity and mic mastery, broad-based commercial appeal met with the undeniable skills of authentic emceeing. Check ’em for yourselves at www.myspace.com/defdyme.
Although younger folks at the show began trickling off around midnight, undoubtedly because of school the next morning, the hundred-some people who remained were blessed with an impressive finale by Sportn’ Life’s crown jewel and Co-CEO, D. Black. Before the beat even dropped, the “Teflon Don,” had the crowd chanting his name and throwing up Sportn’ Life “L’s.” But it isn’t the lights, the dramatic intro music, the fog machine, or the slick ‘fit (dark sunglasses and a black shirt adorned with golden marijuana leaves) that makes Black’s stage presence so demanding. The aura of confident superstardom D. Black emanates commands the attention of the crowd, and his rock-solid stage show full of favorites from his album “The Cause and Effect,” seals the deal. Plus he wrote a whole hook about how you can’t f*** wit him. For more information on D. Black and other Sportn’ Life artists and releases, visit www.sportnlife.net.
In a time where the Don Imus incident has hood-fabulous Hip Hop facing an all-out assault from both mainstream media and old-guard Hip Hop cultural preservationists, and even Russell Simmons is recommending censorship of the “misogynistic words ‘bitch’ and ‘ho,'” as well as the N-bomb, Swagger Fest was a reminder that it’s not all about controlling content when it comes to mitigating the impact of artistic expression in pop culture. Yes, there was some glorified materialism, arrogance, some unflattering commentary on promiscuous young women, and some harsh realities of Seattle’s hoods, plagued by drugs, guns, and gang violence reflected in the music, but the undeniable positive energy and sense of pride and community in the building that night trumps all claims that artists that speak on such are irresponsible and unaccountable to their audience. For example, Sportn’ Life Record’s notable success with connecting to their audiences through not just shows but events like community barbeques and smaller gatherings, are not solely marketing devices but rather are very deliberate efforts to cultivate a sense of family in the scene. Spearhead of Union Block Teamsters, the Ghetto Prez serves on the Public Defender’s Association board, is a volunteer firefighter, and routinely speaks to youth in classrooms.
In the words of Fearce Villain from Dyme Def, “Hip Hop can only be done one way, and that’s from the heart.” We don’t need voices censored in Hip Hop, we need the commercial corporations’ waning chokehold on the game fully squashed and replaced with a thriving, diverse, independent music industry that authentically stems from the source of Hip Hop, the community. We need Northwest artists to sell thirty-plus thousand records on the regular in their own backyards. We need the media to stop reacting to words used by mainstream artists, and start creating local celebrities that have both the power and accessibility to influence our youth in a positive way, even if their content is controversial. So Seattle, damn what they sayin’, and get cha swagger on…..