Make a Scene: Artists weigh in on the state of hip-hop in Tacoma

Seattle hip-hop act Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' new album “The Heist” is perched at No. 8 on the Billboard 200. More people are paying attention to Seattle hip-hop than at any time since Sir Mix-A-Lot declared his love of gluteus extra-maximus.

At the same time, we wondered what the potential was for some of Tacoma's buzzworthy hip-hop acts to get swept up in Macklemore-mania, and what our local hip-hop scene needed to build synergy. We asked a few local insiders to share their thoughts:

Eddie Sumlin (executive director, Fab 5): There is incredible talent that is right in your own back yard, and I think people choose to ignore it. Once people stop letting MTV, BET, KUBE 93 set what's in their iPod, that's when I think this area will be known for its music.

It's not a matter of us being a smaller market. If you go into Oakland or San Francisco, there are artists who are living off of their work who make decent money just by performing in the Bay Area, because that community is very supportive. (In Washington) we don't really love and take care of our own. People would rather hit such and such up to get on the guest list than to pay 5 bucks or 10 bucks to see their friend perform.

Quincy “Q Dot” Henry (hip-hop artist): You've got the School of the Arts, you've got the colleges down here; you've got UPS, you've got UW Tacoma, you've got PLU. So there's a whole youth center that could be exploited if done right. (In Seattle) a lot of youth involvement helps propel them to where they're at. And that's something I think Tacoma might be missing.

Louie G's does some all-ages stuff, but that's really it. There's not really a venue dedicated to break in all-ages acts. And we don't get too many of the B level touring acts that always go through Seattle and Portland coming to Tacoma for guys to kind of open up for and maybe get exposed to a bigger audience.

John McCrae (hip-hop artist, a member of the Breaklites): In Tacoma, there's a big all-ages problem, which is really important for hip-hop. We don't really have dedicated all-ages venues that are down to do that regularly at prime time slots. It seems like there's just a lack of venues with the right capacity and the right quality of sound gear and the dedication to run it as a music venue, not just like a bar with a stage.

In Seattle, obviously, there's tons. The Crocodile, Neumo's, all those places are down to do all-ages shows if they think it's going to be possible; and they have it set up to where you can have an all-ages show and still have a bar with ID, so it doesn't hit 'em too hard.

Zach Powers, a.k.a. Rockwell Powers (hip-hop artist): For the first time since I've moved here, in the Breaklites and Illfightyou we have two groups that are really rapidly building fan bases in Tacoma and all over the country. Then Writers Block is doing what they're doing. I think that if you take those three groups, it sort of puts us in a different place than we've been in quite some time in terms of the quality of the music.

The biggest thing that we fight is that so many fans of independent music in Tacoma are so used to just going to Seattle that people don't necessarily look for it here. Even when I was at PLU, so many people were going up to shows on Capitol Hill or the U-District and weren't even thinking about if there were shows in downtown Tacoma. I've often said that Tacoma would have a better music scene if we were farther away from Seattle.

HIP-HOP’S TOP FIVE

Here are five Tacoma hip-hop acts worth checking out this summer:

IllFightYou: This swaggering Tacoma super-group unites Ugly Frank and Khris P from the Sandlot and City Hall's EvergreenOne. The trio has been generating big buzz with a grimy, swaggering, self-titled debut album, which you can download for free at http://www.illfightyou.com. Or catch the trio live next during Seattle's Capitol Hill Block Party; they'll be on the Barboza stage at 4:45 p.m. on July 28, with more details available at CapitolHillBlockParty.com.

The Breaklites: Many of you saw this crew tear it up at the Mix's Tacoma Pride block party last weekend. The follow up to last year's rowdy “In the Trunk” album is in the works. Meanwhile, you can download a free, new protest track, called “I ♥ America,” at http://www.thebreaklites.com.

The Writers Block: The Tacoma writing team comprised of Clemm Rishad and Will Jordan already has a big hit under its belt, having co-written the Nicki Minaj/Rihanna collaboration, “Fly.” With the release of Rishad's new mix tape, “Supaflyness” and Jordan's debut EP, “In Case It Rains,” the two are emerging from behind the scenes to showcase their own sounds this year.

Bruce LeRoy: With a name inspired by Barry Gordy's campy cult kung-fu flick, “The Last Dragon,” you know the music's got to be fun, right? His new summer jam “Coolin'” recalls Ice Cube's laid back classic “It Was a Good Day,” and you can download it free at http://www.bruceleroymusic.bandcamp.com.

Todd Sykes: Between City Hall – his group with EvergreenOne and DJ Hanibal – his solo beat CDs and production work he does for other local hip-hop groups, he's easily one of Tacoma's most prolific hip-hop artists. Find tons of free tunes by searching Bandcamp.com for all of the above.

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