Monday, June 15, 2020

AN INTERVIEW WITH GRANDMIXER GMS ABOUT PACIFIC NORTHWEST RAP IN THE 80'S



I went to college in the Pacific Northwest, and I went to a Dilated Peoples concert and one "Hip-Hop Congress" meeting there, but I never really learned anything about Pacific Northwest rap until my first senior year, when I read a Cocaine Blunts post about it. Before then, the only Pacific Northwest rappers I could name were Phil Harmonic, Sir Mix-A-Lot and Blue Scholars. Isn't that lame? I was a rap nerd in college! The sad truth is, many people who have lived in the Pacific Northwest their entire lives would be hard-pressed to name five rappers from there. Many people not from the Pacific Northwest would be hard-pressed to name one. Try to name one I haven't mentioned yet. Ahhh I forgot about Macklemore. In any event, I'm not here to roast Pacific Northwest rap. I'm here to do the opposite.
Listen: it's easy and maybe even fun to paint Oregon and Washington as two big coffee shops full of hippie punk rockers who smoke DMT all day and listen to shitty electronic music but you know in your heart there's more to these places than that. If I can get serious for a second, you need to stop treating the world like a damn cartoon. That's the type of anti-intellectual horseshit that is ruining this country. It's time for you to learn and accept that some creative, high quality rap has been made in that corner of America, especially in the 80's. There was movement in those ferns.
Enter your teacher, {********HORNHORNHORN***********} GrandMixer GMS. He's the man who taught me everything I know about Pacific Northwest rap that I didn't learn from that Cocaine Blunts post, and today he is going to teach you. He hosts a show on KFOX's Nightbeat that you can hear here, and I know you're tired of this intro by now but let me just tell you this is one of the best possible people I could get to teach you about the subject of the rap scene in Seattle, Portland Tacoma and Spokane in the 80's. Are you ready?

NODF: Who is the first Pacific Northwest rapper you remember hearing?

GMS: The first Pacific Northwest rapper I remember hearing, aside from the people I knew around the neighborhood and in my network of friends, was Sir Mix-A-Lot. I first heard him on Seattle’s 1250 KFOX. DJ Nasty Nes played one of his songs on his show, KFOX Fresh Tracks. I believe the song was called “Why Do The Rappers Lie.” Over time I heard more songs from Sir Mix-A-Lot, but I also remember the Emerald Street Boys who did the intro for Fresh Tracks. However, the first Hip-Hop DJ’s I remember hearing were Nasty Nes (KFOX), Sir Mix-A-Lot (KFOX & mix tapes), Arnell Smith (KTOY – Tacoma), Reggie Reg Taylor (KTOY), and Spokane’s original mixtape King was a guy named Skeet (Paul Bradley, Jr.) (R.I.P.). Skeet was a very talented musician and DJ and I always heard his mixtapes from everyone. I had the honor of working with him in the late 80s. Sadly, he died in, I believe, the late 90’s while saving his daughter from drowning.

Were you guys listening to any Bay Area rappers in the 80s?

I didn’t really hear any Bay Area rappers until the mid-80s. The first one I remember hearing was Too Short.  However, I heard many mixes from the Bay Area back then from KSOL and then KMEL. The DJ mixing was the legendary Cameron Paul (R.I.P.). I was very impressed with the recordings I heard from Bay Area radio.

How did you get your music information? Were there any cool record stores or magazines you remember?

I received my music and Hip-Hop info from any source possible: MTV (back when they showed music videos), though they didn’t have Yo MTV Raps until much later, but I remember seeing Herbie Hancock perform with Grandmixer D.X.T. (D.S.T.) and that was incredible. Recordings of other cities' radio stations were a major source of info, and simply word of mouth from family and friends. There was a really good record store in Spokane at the time called “Strawberry Jams” and it was by far the best record store in Spokane at the time! They had every Hip-Hop record back then, including records I had never heard – I spent all my allowance money on records there! I don’t remember any magazines in the early days, but eventually came The Source, Vibe, and the lesser known The Bomb (from the Bay Area), and Canada’s PROP$ Magazine.

What makes Pacific Northwest rap unique?

I think what may make it unique is its distance and semi-seclusion from the other major cities, which allowed many different genres to influence the style of music. The early music, at least from Sir Mix-A-Lot, was heavily influenced by early electro. Some people described Mix-A-Lot as a blend between Newcleus and Egyptian Lover. Then, you had a group of people who were huge fans of East Coast music, so their sound seemed to be an adaptation of that style of Hip-Hop.

What equipment did you start DJing with?

The equipment I started out with was a make-shift set up of standard home and portable stereo equipment. I bought turntables from yard sales that I would modify. Some would skip, so I made some adjustments to where they were nearly impossible to make skip; I modified “line switches” with tape so I could just press a button instead of moving a fader (similar to the “Flash Former” that came out years later, which I eventually bought); I bought an echo chamber and a mixer from Radio Shack, I bought another mixer from a pawnshop. My step-brother, Stevie, had a portable radio (boombox) that was perfect for doing “pause” mixes. My boombox also had a keyboard on it. So all of my early mixes were made from this type of equipment.

How did Nasty Nes discover Sir Mix A Lot?

As far as I know – and Nes would be the better authority on this – but Nes was the radio “jock” and Mix was the “street jock” (quoting what Mix-A-Lot told me years ago), and they actually didn’t like each other. Eventually, they decided to hook up (probably not the correct term to use now, but back then that’s how we would say people decided to work together), and Nes started playing Mix-A-Lot on his radio show. I also remember something about Ed Locke convincing Nes to go with him to a place where Mix-A-Lot was performing, and I think Nes initially resisted but reluctantly agreed – good thing he did! Ultimately, the three of them formed NastyMix Records (the name was taken from “Nasty” Nes and Sir “Mix”-A-Lot), and that was the label that launched Mix-A-Lot’s career. Again, Nes can provide more complete info on this subject. I also know that they went to the same high school, but I don’t think they really knew each other then.


Why do you think Portland never really developed a rap scene?

Portland actually had a good Hip-Hop scene. The first rap artist from Portland that I remember was DJ Vitamix. Vitamix recently pointed out to me that he was the first white rapper ever signed to a major record label. I’m not sure why his music never blew up. It was really good music. I used to mix his records back then and people would always ask me who it was. Portland had a radio station called KBOO that played mixes. Not Hip-Hop – but influential, nonetheless – was the group Nu Shooz (“I Can’t Wait”). The later artists I remember coming out of Portland were Cool Nutz and another guy named Bosco (E-40 producer and inventer of the ElectroSpit ESX-1 mobilephone-enabled talk box). (Whoa, Bosco's from Portland? -ed.) There are several very talented Portland-based rappers out now. One thing I noticed was the Portland scene seemed to be a bit more unification and the idea of simply creating good music, whereas in other parts of the PNW back in the 80’s and 90’s there was a lot of back-biting and smack talk (not with everyone, but with some of the artists). Of course, I wasn’t from Portland and have limited experience with that scene, but that’s what it seemed like back then.

Who is an unsung hero of PNW rap?

Who is an unsung here of PNW rap? Overall, I would say DJ Nasty Nes. While he is not a rapper, his efforts and connections in the music industry outside of Seattle played a big part in the career of Sir Mix-A-Lot. But if you’re asking about rappers or maybe rappers who were underrated and not-so-well-known, I would say either EDawg or Wojack (formerly MC Deff from Criminal Nation). They were/are incredibly talented and original, but they didn’t achieve the ultimate success I think they should have. This is not to take away what they were able to accomplish, but I think they should have went multi-platinum. Personally, I think they still could.

Where did you see you first rap show and what was it?

Aside from the rappers I had seen at early breakdancing competitions, the first major rap concert I attended was the Spring Rap Fest in Seattle in 1987. Sir Mix-A-Lot opened the show, followed by Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Kool Moe D, and then the 2 Live Crew (Grandmaster Flash was supposed to perform, but for whatever reason he didn’t). Nasty Nes was the host and this was the first time I actually saw him in person. This show had a major impact on me as a DJ because watching DJ Jazzy Jeff (and Mr.  Mixx) showed me how at that time I was nowhere near the level I should be as a DJ, but it was inspiring because it caused me to go home and practice! They were absolutely incredible on turntables and I am so thankful I was able to attend the show! Also, being able to see all of those artists perform was quite a treat because they were all great showmen, in their own right.

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Don't forget to check out Grandmixer GMS's show on DJ Nasty Nes' own Nightbeat, on Rainier Avenue Radio.


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