THE TIMELESS HIP-HOP phrase ". . . and ya don't stop," has special meaning for Seattle's hip-hop elders, Source of Labor. This year alone they have played countless live shows, helped to book Folklife's hip-hop showcase, exhibited professional-quality paintings, created an ongoing series of weekly all-ages hip-hop events, run an independent record label (Jasiri Media Group) that releases music from a variety of local artists, worked on the Experience Music Project's Northwest hip-hop gallery, cosponsored the Seattle Poetry Festival, and taught creative writing every day at Franklin High School. Oh yeah, and they've just produced a full-length album entitled Stolen Lives.
Source of Labor
EMP Grand Opening weekend, Flag Plaza, Sunday, June 25
"We're in a unique position" reflects Wordsayer, the MC. "We're in a position where we're looked to as being a resource for the community as well as for people outside the community who are looking to get in touch with the community. So when we're given opportunities, we deliver."
While they intended the name Source of Labor to evoke the socio-economic history of enslaved Africans, it just as easily calls to mind the challenges of being an independent artist in contemporary Seattle. "We don't lead a conventional life," Wordsayer acknowledges. "We don't work from nine to five—we work from the time we rise until the time we go to bed. I have 18-hour days, seven days a week. And 10 to 12 hours of those days are definitely spent on music or business."
And the effort shows on Stolen Lives, a self-proclaimed "musical journey and audiovisual listening experience," whose unity of theme and purpose sets its apart from most contemporary hip-hop releases. Negus I, who produced the majority of the album's cuts (several others were produced by Vitamin D of Tribal Productions), set out to create a consistent sound, characterized by smooth electric pianos and complex drum patterns. "A lot of times, when people talk about their albums, they'll be like, 'Yeah, we have a little bit of jazz flavor, a little this flavor, a little that flavor,'" he says. "Like it's a big compilation of every style in the world. For me, personally, when I put a CD in, sometimes I just want to hear one train of thought. You wanna kind of vibe on that. That's why people have different CDs. So I kind of wanted to have the album be more on a single musical path instead of trying to go off on a lot of different tangents that don't really connect to each other."
When Wordsayer discusses the album's poetic content, it's clear that the lyrical path is equally focused. Virtually every song concerns the value of strong relationships, whether they may be professional, artistic, familial, or intimate. "The song to my son, 'Upendo Selassie' is probably my favorite one," Wordsayer explains. "His being born was inspiring to me, and I was able to utilize that inspiration in a creative way to give back to him again. Then the track with my wife Kylea, 'Wonder Twins,' that's probably one of my favorites. And then the piece that one of my students did, 'Invaded Lands.' Just being able to be in a position to provide that opportunity for somebody. I mean, I couldn't imagine if I was in high school and I had a teacher and that teacher was also a recording artist and respected my work enough to ask me to be a part of their project."
Source of Labor take their role in the community seriously. Whether that role is manifested through the collective social action of the Jasiri Media Group, through performing with live instrumentation instead of samples (provided by keyboardist Darrius Willrich, drummer Allen Matthews, and bassist Kevin Hudson), or simply by making a dope album, Source of Labor works for Seattle. And when it comes to Seattle hip-hop, there's only one question left to ask: "Now that the government is breaking up Microsoft, do you have any stock tips?"
"Invest in Jasiri!" advises Wordsayer.
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