In 2004, I managed to land an internship at the Grammys. More specifically, the Seattle branch of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS), the professional organization responsible for the Grammys. Four or five internships later, it’s still one of my top two favorites, because I felt like I was making a difference (I did a lot of research for the proof of need for the Hawaiian Music category, which was added a year later). It also changed the way I listen to hip-hop.
Though the average person associates Seattle with rock ‘n’ roll – grunge, Sub Pop and that ilk – Seattle has an impressive hip-hop scene, particularly from a production standpoint. Our most famous name is Sir Mix A Lot (who I drove past one day in Capitol Hill), but hip-hop aficionados might recognize the names Jake One, Bean One and Vitamin D, producers who’ve worked on albums from big names like 50 Cent, Jurassic 5 and Mary J. Blige.
While I was interning at NARAS, they hosted an event spotlighting the Seattle hip-hop production scene. As the intern, I helped set up, then got to stay for the event. It wasn’t exactly what I expected. I went into it thinking it would be more or less like any other rap show. Instead, it was the producers highlighting beats they created, and every once and awhile, someone would come up and rap to them.
As a writer, I’m a sucker for a good lyric, so it’s often easy for me to get distracted by what someone is saying and thus pay less attention to what’s going on musically. I love a lot of instrumentals, post-rock and classical music because I can really focus on the music and not be trying to juggle my attention. So, when I attended the event and heard just the beats, it was taking the genre and kind of flipping it on its head for me, particularly because at that time, much of the focus in hip-hop discussion was still on what rappers were saying, how they were rhyming or who they were insulting, though that’s certainly changed since.
The beat that really got to me was when Jake One played his beat from De La Soul’s “Rock Co. Kane Flow,” off of the Grind Date (which, incidentally, was the beat that put him on the map). After years of listening to mostly mainstream rap, it was just so unlike like any beat I’d ever heard. To this day, I cannot listen to that song without focusing on that beat, because it’s just so majestic and unusual. No matter how hard I concentrate on what they’re rapping, my ears always focus on the production.
De La Soul: “Rock Co. Kane Flow (Feat. MF Doom)” (download)