Portland 90's Rap Classics - Mixed by DJ Ian Head
Below is Ian Head's description of the March installment of his monthly mixtape series.
This month I’m violating my vinyl-only rules, but for good reason. I’m still digging in the archives - cassettes and CD-only releases (plus a couple pieces of wax) make up this mixtape of some of my favorite hip-hop to come out of my hometown, the City of Thorns: Portland, Oregon. A lot of people who receive these emails and listen to my tapes believe I’m from New York, since I’ve been here for almost half my life now. But I’m a Trailblazers fan - I grew up in Portland, and keep a strong connection to the Northwest despite my years out east.
Despite what one would think, the hip-hop scene when I was growing up in Portland wasn’t just a bunch of skinny white nerds like me. There were - and are - some very passionate, incredible, original artists, and many of them continue on today, whether in PDX or elsewhere. In high school, as much as I waited for NYC or LA artists to visit the town and perform, I attended countless local shows and was inspired by these artists often more than those who passed through.
Before I ever owned a turntable, I was a dedicated fan. This tape is a dedication to the artists and music that I grew up on. I’m going to delve into some random stories and details in the liner notes below, but I just want to shout out all the artists on this tape who not only made the scene what it was, but also were often just down-to-earth, coolass people that I’ve had a chance to build with over the years. I know I wasn’t able to include all the amazing talent on this tape - names like Maniak Lok, Starchile, MyG, and Mackin Rob don’t make appearances here, but not because I’m purposely leaving anyone out. It was hard to track down some of these tapes! Big shout to Alex Stange and Dan Morris for helpin out with a couple parts of this tape, and my dude Littlewood for taping that Berbati’s show off KBOO. And shouts to the homies Mic Crenshaw, Good Sista Bad Sista, Pete Miser, Toni Hill, Vursatyl and Rev Shinez. And big shout and thanks to Jumbo the Garbageman, who patiently humored my nerdy hip-hop questions while schooling me on record digging and beats during his janitorial night-shifts years ago.
Hope everyone enjoys,
Bosko "Cool Nutz"
Off Bosko’s “Bombay” 12inch. You know it’s the 90s because there’s no caller-ID: Bosko has to ask who it is. (But you shouldn’t have to ask who Bosko is - a West Coast legendary producer, vocalist and emcee, he just produced several tracks on Big Boi’s latest album).
Cool Nutz ft. DJ Wicked "My Grip"
Cool Nutz is basically the godfather of Portland rap. Albums, shows, freestyles, radio - not to mention some of the most vintage promotional posters the Rose City has ever seen. He has a slew of aliases and even campaigned for mayor. This is one of my favorite songs - he’s telling the story of coming up in the game, bullshit jobs and all. I love the Portland references throughout - Grant Highschool, the 10 bus, Safeway, and even the little delimart that used to be at NE 15th and Brazee, not too far from where several of my friends grew up.
This song first came out on the Portland double-CD compilation "Western Conference All-Stars," which got a write-up in the Source magazine and was an essential PDX hip-hop release. Even if the quality of the tracks was kind of all over the place, it showcased the variety of style in the town from a grip of hungry artists.
Cool Nutz has released a grip of albums, most of them through his own Jus Family label. For the latest product, definitely check http://www.jusfamilyrecords.com/.
Pete Miser ft. Guaran-T "What It Be"
This is the title track off Pete’s first solo CD, in-between two CDs from his band the Five Fingers of Funk (more on them later). Dope beat, Pete comes off, and then he brings in Guaran-T from Vancouver, WA, right across the Columbia River. Vancouver (not to be mistaken for Vancouver, BC) is kinda like Portland’s version of New Jersey. Anyway, Guaran-T displays that ultra-smooth fresh-coast flow, and the track is topped off by DJ Chill Blend’s cuts. Filthy.
The opening cut from one of the city’s legendary releases, the Bomb Threat compilation cassette, showcasing the Misfit Massive and Jumbo the Garbageman’s production. I remember Jumbo hit me with two copies, and we were talking about putting together a webpage for it like way back in ‘96. The whole tape was heat, and it was hard to choose a couple cuts to feature for this mix, but "Phenomenon" was an obvious selection. Bleek has that relaxed, smoothed-out flow, and the beat is sick - I remember playing this for NYC heads and they were loving the drums.
Lifesavas "Grand Larceny" (+ original)
Jumbo the Garbageman, janitor at my high school, and his crew the Lifesavas are not just local legends and hometown heroes - these cats are some of the most ridiculously talented and original artists out there. Too many times I saw them - long before they signed to Quannum - open for a touring act and out-perform the headliner. To watch them pay dues for years and then finally get signed, tour the world, have their music in commericials - they earned that shit ten-fold.
There’s a bunch of early Lifesavas cuts but I figured this was a fairly rare one, I believe only available on the cassette single with Vurs and Jumbo playing chess on the cover (designed by Pete Miser).
Jumbo hosted a late-night show for a few years called ‘Beat Jeopardy,’ where he and DJ Rev Shinez played original breaks from their collections and asked listeners to call in and name the song that sampled it. Not to mention various freestyle sessions, guests and exclusives that rolled through the show. Anyway - since I wasn’t able to digitize any of my Beat Jeopardy tapes, I thought I’d blend in the classic sample Jumbo used for ‘Grand Larceny’ here. The world rotates in reverse - and you can check that brand new Lifesavas cut right here!
Mic Crenshaw vs. ??? (KBOO freestyle battle)
Admittedly, I don’t own any of the early Hungry Mob (Mic’s crew at the time) cassettes, and wasn’t able to track any down. But I always loved how he served cats at this KBOO freestyle battle with the most intense, creative barrage of rhymes that just had the hosts completely speechless (or cracking up). Big shout to Mic - a really humble, amazing dude - go support his latest album.
G-Ism ft. Cool Nutz "Funk Mode"
You can’t have a Portland tape without including G-Ism. The Jus Family crew had a lot of talented, dope artists but Ray Ray and Young Randall (RIP) just had that stage presence and hunger on the mic. Once again, you get the feeling if they were somewhere besides Portland, they might have blown up. My friend reminded me how Cool Nutz would open shows with this song. Classic stuff.
Liberetto "Playin Your Game"
Jumbo made a point of telling me to listen to this cut when he gave me the Bomb Threat tape. Definitely a classic storytelling cut over a haunting beat. Another extraordinary emcee talent. Everyone should check Liberetto’s later releases, specifically his 2004 “Ill’Oet” EP.
Cool Nutz ft. Lifesavas "Yes Y'all"
I was chilling with Jumbo in the back of the Lincoln Highschool cafeteria - like where they cook the food, near the ovens. He paused from work to play me some new beats, and he was telling me about Cool Nutz’s album “Harsh Game for the People” that was about to drop, and the beats he’d placed on the album. I think it was very close to the album release show. He told me about this track, and how he couldn’t believe the beat. I remember going to the show soon after, buying the album, and playing this track on loop in my headphones like 10 times before going to bed. Ridiculously dope. Not to mention that "Harsh Game" is a great album all the way through.
Kind of a forgotten PDX classic in my opinion, Grassroots released one album of dope beats and rhymes, and put on some great live shows as well. I’ll always remember them coming out to this song at Poh-Hop waving flashlights around as the spacey-beat came in. Don’t sleep.
151 "151 (Remix)"
I remember seeing 151 perform a couple times, but never copped her tape. Luckily, my fellow Portland hip-hop head Alex did. He digitized what is a really dope album. This is the remix of the title track.
Five Fingers of Funk "360"
In high school, I spent a lot of late nights at Fingers shows, especially when they were playing at the now shuttered La Luna venue. A funk band with a full horn section plus DJ-emcee Chill Blend and emcee / front-man / visual artist / b-boy / mastermind Pete Miser, the Fingers sold out shows throughout the Northwest during the mid-90s, especially in Portland. Their shows were just like crazy, hip-hop parties - marathon freestyles, guest appearances, b-boy ciphers, instrumental jam sessions - you’d just be bobbing your head or dancing for at least two hours straight, and the vibe was always classic.
This song is off their second album, and hasn’t ever sounded old to me over the past 14 years. There’s not a lot of music I can say that about.
Five Fingers of Funk ft. Jumbo and Al-C "Live at Berbati's Pan 1995 Freestyle" (KBOO Radio)
Had to close the tape with this, and sadly it also is a reminder that Berbati’s Pan, another great Portland venue, closed earlier this year. But it’s also a reminder of the shows I just mentioned, and how amazing the Fingers were live. It features Jumbo of the Lifesavas and the indelible Al-C of Soul Rhythm Soliders kicking ridiculous flows back and forth with Pete.
-- DJ Ian Head