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A Review of Hip-Hop in Seattle

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Seattle is not considered as cosmopolitan as other large American cities like New York City or Los Angeles. Therefore, it is surprising that such a large portion of current hip-hop music and culture originates from Seattle. While I knew of artists out of Washington state and the Seattle area, I was not aware of the immense amount of hip-hop culture within the city.

It is very interesting to see some of today’s mainstream rap artists from Seattle referencing some common Seattle hip-hop symbols. For example, Sir Mix-A-Lot and the KFOX radio station seem to be a common influence on Seattle’s rap artists. Probably the most notable current Seattle hip-hop artist is Macklemore. His nation and worldwide presence has distanced him from his roots in Seattle, at least in the themes of his lyrics. This is a trend that is common among hip-hop artists that originated in Seattle. However, artists like Macklemore and Blue Scholars have dedicated rap songs to their home.

Seattle hip-hop is different from hip-hop culture in New York or Los Angeles. Those cities have a unique style of hip-hop. For example, Los Angeles hip-hop is associated with gangsta rap. Also, “New York City hip-hop culture has always been much more multiracial than mainstream media gave it credit for.” (Abe) Seattle does not have an easily identifiable style like New York City or Los Angeles rap. However, it seems to have a much more relaxed and funny feeling, which is especially prominent in an artist like Sir Mix-A-Lot. Seattle rap artists pay tribute to their home in a song. Some common themes include the Native American background of the Pacific Northwest. There seems to be an underlying love for their city as they rap about Seattle.

Sir Mix-A-Lot was the first major Seattle hip-hop artists that gained fame beyond the local level. Because of this, he is also a hip-hop symbol of the city. He rose as, “someone wasn’t rapping about being shot, or shooting a nigga, or returning to Africa, or being proud about the color of their skin. ‘This,’ Rollins explained to me, ‘was Seattle’s big gift to black America. People remembered it was good to have fun now and then. And it could only happen in Seattle because we were so isolated. We were free to do whatever we wanted.’” (Mudede) Seattle became important in hip-hop as a fun, less serious type of hip-hop. This has not changed much, as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ rap, Thrift Shop was the biggest rap song out of Seattle after Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Baby Got Back. Also, as I have lived in and near Seattle during my life, it has become apparent that blocks and streets of the city have their own unique culture. Hip-hop has become one of these cultures, and there are certain streets in Seattle that are symbolic of the city’s hip-hop.

While perhaps not as large as Los Angeles or New York City, Seattle has become a center of hip-hop culture since the 1980s.

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