It's been a hot minute since Seattle got to sit back and celebrate the unique, as-yet-mostly-undiscovered hiphop universe that we've made for ourselves here. Of course, there's always Shabazz Palaces and Black Constellation—but look a little closer and you'll find an even deeper, exponentially expanding universe, with unconventionally creative hiphop scenes flourishing in Tacoma, Everett, South Seattle, the Central District, and Ballard. How do you keep track of it all?
Seattle transplant and avid hiphop fan Gary Campbell formed the label Crane City Music as a way to do just that. He's releasing Solar Power, a 14-track compilation of local hiphop artists, including Guayaba, JusMoni, Raven Matthews, and ZELLi (set to drop Saturday, June 17, at Block Party at the Station, where many of the artists on the comp are performing). You can also find the album at Spin Cycle on Capitol Hill and from the artists themselves, who will be selling the album at their upcoming shows.
You started doing short reviews of albums on Instagram—almost 150 by now—focusing on Pacific Northwest hiphop, everything from Macklemore and Sir Mix-A-Lot to the latest releases from relatively undiscovered artists like Crockett King from Tacoma. How did you get into it?
I moved to Seattle from Toronto in 2013, and I went to see a show... it was THEESatisfaction, OCnotes, Kingdom Crumbs, and Sax G at Neumos. And it was just mind-opening to be exposed to this music that was going on in Seattle that I had just never seen anywhere else.
So I thought it would be fun to start posting album reviews on Instagram, just sort of putting it out into the world. What I find in Seattle hiphop is that it's a hugely fragmented scene—like there are lots of artists out there making music, but they all sort of exist in their own little pockets. I would find as I went to shows that there was a completely different group of people at a DoNormaal show, for example, then there was at, say, a Gifted Gab show.
But as I was writing about these records on Instagram, I would see people commenting from those different groups and using Instagram as a way to discover what was going on in Seattle hiphop. And I think it's a great way to try to democratize the scene and talk about all the amazing music that's happening here in the city.
How did you go from super fan to label maker? And why a comp?
People would often read my Instagram and say they wanted to hear what some of this music sounded like, because they would see the album covers and they would read my descriptions. And it seemed like this was an opportunity to put together kind of a mixtape, like a love letter to the city.
There's also been a long tradition of Seattle hiphop compilations. There was a whole bunch of them in the 1990s—Do the Math, 14 Fathoms Deep, and Classic Elements, but there hasn't been any Seattle hiphop compilations in a while. So part of it was trying to play into that legacy.
I feel like this record traps a moment in time in Seattle music, like a time capsule. This is music preserved for the future. I picture it in the way that we go through a thrift-store record bin, and we find that great jazz record from the 1960s. Maybe some kid in 2050 will dig this record out of a thrift-store bin and think it's as amazing as I do.
What is it about this moment in Seattle hiphop that you want to capture in Solar Power?
There's a really deep level of experimentation in Seattle music. You can see a lot of this music gestating, and a lot of it is a little bit weird, but it's also extremely authentic and honest. And there's an intensity and an intimacy to seeing these musicians live. I think part of that is because we're up here in the upper-left-hand corner of the country, and we have an opportunity to experiment without necessarily having the same pressures that maybe New York or Los Angeles do.
What unites these artists on Solar Power for you, besides the fact that they are all hiphop artists in and around Seattle?
When I approached artists to ask them to be on this compilation, my question was this: "How would you define what you love about Seattle?" So some of the songs are original and exclusive to the album, like Remember Face, Sendai Era, DoNormaal, and Taylar Elizza Beth. The Dave B. track was a single to be released online only, and some of the songs are also just greatest hits, like the [one from] Jarv Dee, who gave me a track of his from 2012, which is his famous town classic. Just because, well, it's a Seattle hiphop record, so it needs a pot song. A good weed anthem, you know?