This is the first of a two-part series featuring The Legacy of Seattle Hip-Hop exhibit at the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI).
While most people have heard of Macklemore because of his mainstream success, he’s just one act to come out of the Seattle hip-hop scene. Jazmyn Scott (The Town Entertainment) and Aaron Walker-Loud (Big World Breaks) have curated an exhibition called “The Legacy of Seattle Hip-Hop” in collaboration with the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) to let people see a the bigger picture of hip-hop in the Emerald City. The exhibition aims to educate visitors about the history of the vibrant Seattle hip-hop scene and shine the spotlight on overlooked talents in the community.
A community united by a passion for creation
At its heart, the story of hip-hop is the story of society and community. Originating from the African American community in New York City, hip-hop is far more than just rap music. It is a transmedia art form that has transformative impacts on culture, arts, fashion, and activism.
Since the 1970s, the Seattle hip-hop scene, which began in the predominantly black communities of the Central District, has grown to be one of the most unique and dynamic communities in the country. The distinctive characteristic of 206 hip-hop (the term coined from Seattle’s area code), which sets it apart from other cities, is the pride in representing Seattle.
“The thing that makes Seattle hip-hop unique is our love for our community and the love for our culture here. We are more authentic and try our best to not emulate what other groups are doing outside of Seattle.” – James D. Croone, Sr. AKA “The Captain,” Emerald Street Boys
The vibe of the exhibit is colorful, vibrant, and fun. The very first thing you’ll see is a wall of bright graffiti created by Specswizard, a local hip-hop/graffiti artist. Walking around, you get a sense of the dynamism and richness of Seattle’s hip-hop scene through exhibits that include the chronological history, artifacts, clothing items, photography, breakdancing and graffiti. You might recognize the fur coat worn by Macklemore in his megahit “Thrift Shop” music video. There’s also a bomber jacket belonging to the godfather of Seattle hip-hop, DJ Nasty Nes.
The exhibit wouldn’t be complete without the songs that inspired it. Upbeat and invigorating music from the Northwest accompanies the displays. The music is even livelier from 1 to 4 p.m. on every second Saturday, when local DJs spin vinyl in the exhibit gallery. If you want a more hands-on experience, the exhibit offers an interactive deejaying booth with two sound mixing stations, and headphone-equipped music stations where you can listen to a playlist of Seattle hip-hop music.
“Top Left” and the Coolout Network
To showcase local talents in the Seattle hip-hop community, the exhibit also displays a 19-minute preview of “Top Left,” a hip-hop documentary. The film is a collaboration between Georgio Brown, an artist, filmmaker and the founder of the Coolout Network, and Scott Macklin, the associate director of the University of Washington’s Communication Leadership program.
The Coolout Network is a music channel that documents and showcases the Seattle hip-hop scene. It began airing in Seattle Public Access Television in 1991, well before the boon of the Internet era and social networks. Coolout featured local hip-hop artists in the Pacific Northwest, giving them an outlet to showcase their talents by performing on live television. Seattle natives Sir Mix-A-lot and Macklemore both performed on Coolout even before their breakthrough success.
“For hella years, the Coolout Network has visually been the pulse through the body of Northwest Hip Hop, recording and presenting the area’s coolest moments through the eyes of director Georgio Brown. It has been quite the honor to help bring this story to the screen and for the rest of the world to discover what we already know – The Top Left is feel-thy!” – Scott Macklin
The film is a compilation of footage of live performances and interviews with Seattle hip-hop artists, including Silver Shadow D, E-Dawg, Silent Lamb Project and Gabriel Teodros. The artists credited Coolout for the recognition they received after performing on the network, and praised Brown for the encouragement he gave them throughout their music career.
Today, the network and Brown continue to support the hip-hop community in Seattle. The network has now moved from public television to social media outlets, maintaining a strong presence in the music scene. You can see the episodes on YouTube, Vimeo, and Facebook.
The Legacy of Seattle Hip-Hop will be open until May 1, 2016.