Seattle Music Community Celebrates 50 Years of Hip-Hop and Welcomes the Next 50
Updated: Oct 18
By Marian Mohamed
Edited by Kenneth Tran
An attendee of ‘The Next 50 of Hip-Hop’ cleans up the edges of a graffiti piece commemorating the genre’s longevity on Aug. 19, 2023. (Photo/GZR Photography)
A steady bass from the loudspeaker and the unforgettable lyricism of local and prominent artists drew in an exhilarated crowd at the outdoor KEXP stage on Aug. 19. Each person in the crowd or on stage, an artist or a listener, young or old, is here because of one thing, Hip-Hop.
The Creative Justice, an art-based support program for youth, and The Residency, a holistic arts and music educational program that supports young Hip-Hop artists, collaborated this year for a two-day extensive celebration and educational opportunity for community members to participate at the Washington Hall. Support from other local organizations like The Good Foot Arts Collective, Hip Hop Is Green, Converge Media, MK PR, The Vida Agency, KEXP, and the community added to the enlightened intention of that weekends event. The organizing teams acknowledged that the landmark occasion needed more than just a performance, but a weekend dedicated to creating an inclusive space for all who’ve contributed and been affected by Hip-Hop one way or another.
The famous story of Hip-Hop’s origins begins in 1973, when DJ Kool Herc, who would play multiple block parties throughout the Bronx, mixed a fast-paced flow of lyrics to a track. The music that flowed through DJ Kool Herc’s sound system would go on to define pop culture here in the U.S and worldwide.
The local two-day event occurred between Aug. 19 and Aug. 20 with each day divided into two parts. In the morning, panels and workshops such as breakdancing basics, community graffiti, and the art of collaboration took place at Washington Hall throughout the afternoon before ending at the Seattle Center for performances for the first day. On the second day, a youth Hip-Hop town hall took place with more workshops that followed. The workshop topics relate to the five elements of Hip-Hop, which include MCing, DJing, breakdance, graffiti, and knowledge.
The graffiti workshop taught participants graffiti painting as they took turns adding to a large gray plywood canvas. The city of Seattle considers graffiti a gross misdemeanor. Even Seattle Mayor, Bruce Harrell, introduced the One Seattle Graffiti Plan program in October 2022 to reprimand the efforts of graffiti artists. Yet, moments like this at Washington Hall in commemorating the history and beauty of graffiti retell its story as an admirable form of artwork rather than disruption.
Although this weekend's event covered the ins and outs of Hip-Hop, the central theme for the event focused on knowledge, according to Nikkita Oliver, the executive director of Creative Justice. The opportunity to educate oneself prepares the opportunity for an individual to take action in their community.
Staff from The Good Foot Arts Collective teach a breakdancing class on Aug. 20, 2023. (Photo/GZR Photography)
“[It’s important] to be building the community that we want to see in the future and spaces that cultivate art, creativity, and care for each other because we know that at the center of Hip-Hop is how we take care of each other and our community,” said Oliver.
These workshops took place throughout the historical Washington Hall building. Down the hallway, Gabriel Teodros, a DJ and remarkable Seattle artist, led the ‘The Art of Collaboration’ workshop which invited participants to ask questions, share their experiences as artists or as music lovers, and facilitate an overall discussion around collaboration in Hip-Hop and community. Teodros began the workshop by asking ‘Which collaborative project is your favorite.’
One person brought up the Wu-Tang Clan, another stepped out of music and brought up two comedian actors, Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder, and another individual brought up her relationship with her partner as her favorite collaboration. Teodros was joined by duo partner, Khalil ‘Khingz’, who both make up the two-member group, Abyssinian Creole, to amplify the many ways collaboration functions on a musical and personal level. For Teodros, working within a group reaffirmed the necessary attributes for a collaboration to perform successfully.
Gabriel Teodros and Khingz lead a workshop centered on how collaborations in art and community flourish on Aug. 19, 2023. (Photo/GZR Photography)
“It was the first time I had been a part of a small group of people that operated and organized consensus as a model. Even if we disagreed on certain things, if one person felt strongly about it, they were like ‘nah, this isn’t it.’ It didn’t go on the album that was fine because the thing that came out was something we were all equally proud and excited to hear,” said Teodros.
Khingz reaffirms the need for open-mindedness, listening to one another, and learning how the person you’ll be working with consistently communicates. So that in any scenario where a conversation, idea session, or event occurs, there’s an understanding of what your partner actually means. As the workshop continued, Teodros asked participants to brainstorm a list of how a collaboration thrives in any space. As each individual in the room shared their ideas, the list added excitement, energy, and flexibility. and respecting the backgrounds of each person within that group or collaboration. By the end, the list grew to the point where it was nearly two pages long.
“Let me be real; humanity as a whole is based on collaboration. You don’t have armor [and] you don’t have claws. What we have is the ability to project an idea to the future and communicate it to each other. That has been the foundation of our ability to survive since the very beginning,” said Khingz.
“The Future of Hip-Hop” panel took place right after workshops were completed and included young artists from local youth music programs like The Residency and Totem Star. Panelists such as Kid Cobb, Rell Be Free, Kween Kaysh, and Oblé Reed all took part in providing their perspectives on their goals and aspirations for the next 50 years of Hip-Hop. They all agreed on wanting to see solidarity between different cultures and backgrounds. Rell Be Free expressed curiosity over how much will be accessible to people in the future.
Kween Kaysh speaks about her aspiration for what the next 50 years of Hip-Hop will look like in Seattle. (Photo/GZR Photography)
Kween Kaysh described her excitement in witnessing the growth of the Seattle Hip-Hop scene in the next 50 years. Overall, there was a sense of acceptance for the unforeseeable changes that would come within the next 50 years of the genre. The panel expressed genuine acknowledgment of those changes that would better the genre and music community, especially for the youth artists sitting on the panel who are defining what those next decades will look and sound like.
“All these agencies that are out here working with young people, we need to bring them together. We need to continue to have these conversations so that we can build comradery,” said Jace ECAj, Artist Engagement Coordinator for The Residency and member of the hip-hop group Black Stax. “When things happen, we all know about it, we support it naturally, and not where we have to force each other to be there or how do I benefit from it. But, how do we all benefit from it.”
As folks migrated from Washington Hall to the KEXP outdoor stage at Seattle Center, that comradery appeared in the eclectic performances of artists, including some of the young artists on the panel, such as Rell Be Free, Oblé Reed, and Kid Cobb. Amongst that lineup included other youth performers from the Creative Justice, Totem Star, and The Residency. I AM CHAMEL, Gifted Gab, Yirim Seck, Abyssinian Creole, Black Stax, and headliner Sa-Roc and Sol-Messiah took the stage leaving the crowd with an unforgettable memory of the night.
Rose’ Prosecco sings to a mellow beat as the crowd begins to grow. (Photo/Kaitlyn Nyangate)
The blend of artists from all walks of life took the stage to bring a distinctive characteristic in their performances, putting into practice the unity, solidarity, and collaboration discussed earlier in the day within the Seattle Hip-Hop community. Despite someone's age, gender, sexuality, or background, everyone who stepped on that stage was recognized for their talent in storytelling, musical prowess, and connection with their audience.
Rose’ Prosecco, a youth R&B artist from The Residency, shares that there is a lack of variety in the female experience in Hip-Hop and that diversity within the industry is what can inspire multiple young girls to want to share their music with the world
“I just keep the mindset [that] I’m supposed to be here,” said Rose’ Prosecco. “I’m doing what I was meant to do [and] I feel like this is my calling.”
The event also recognized those who supported the artists, rappers, producers, and DJs of the current and future generations of Hip Hop artists. In between performances, Oliver presented three significant awards for leaders within the multiple communities throughout Seattle. The first was named the ‘Spirit of Hip-Hop’ award, and the second and third awards were named after the late Elijah Lewis and D’Vonne Pickett Jr., two-spirited leaders within each of their communities who’ve touched the hearts of the many individuals present at the event. Recognizing those community leaders, like Lewis and Pickett Jr., was an appreciation for their consistent work with or without the awards.
A young attendee takes the stage as Jace, a member of Black Stax, hypes the young kid to continue dancing. (Photo/Kaitlyn Nyangate)
“We [should] also remember the people in our communities who are still carrying on that work, carrying on that legacy and have been doing that work. Rather than simply giving people their flowers once they're gone. We wanted to have a space where we give people their flowers now because this work is hard,” said Oliver.
The festivities and community-building aspects of the event didn’t stop that night. The next day, on the 20th, participants filled Washington Hall once again for a multitude of workshops like the open cypher, a graffiti project, and an opportunity to learn more about the 10 elements of Hip-Hop. Before those workshops, a town hall discussion around young people’s involvement with Hip-Hop kicked off the day with performances by youth artists from The Residency, KPX, Tah-Jae, and Tazz Enrico, setting the mood for that day's conversation.
The discussion unexpectedly turned to the adults in the room to explore how they could support young artists and creatives trying to distinguish themselves in an unforgiving field. Gifted Gabi got up to the microphone to explain the way to connect with youth in bringing their most authentic selves to genuinely take the time to ask about their needs, listen to their affirmations for their lives, and act on supporting them to reach that goal. At the end of the town hall, there was an acknowledgement and intent that for the next 50 years of Hip-Hop to flourish in Seattle; there needed to be a legitimate plan in consistently keeping space for youth artists to find and strengthen their voices.