Courtesy Gary Campbell

‘Solar Power’ Gives Seattle Hip-Hop Its Place in the Sun

The vinyl-only compilation documents 14 artists from the city’s stacked scene.

As we prepare for the Block Party at The Station this Saturday, Gary Campbell, founder of Crane City Music and writer of excellent Instagram mini-music reviews, has put together a compilation record highlighting contemporary local hip-hop. Described by Campbell as “a piece of the DNA of Seattle hip-hop, preserved in a translucent orange vinyl like prehistoric fossils embedded in amber,” the record, titled Solar Power, was created in conjunction with KEXP’s Street Sounds host Stas THEE Boss and City Arts’ senior editor, Jonathan Zwickel. The 14-track record was initially set to release in conjunction with the Upstream Music Fest + Summit (where all the artists featured on Solar Power performed), but due to factory delays, it’s now slated to be an official merch item at the Block Party at The Station—a festival that itself has become one of the city’s premier hip-hop showcases.

Delays aside, the record couldn’t have been released at a better time. After all of the conversations swirling around Upstream, dissecting the ethics and morals of Vulcan, putting the record out alongside the community-organized Block Party at The Station refocuses attention on the element that brought us here in the first place—the music.

Campbell and company did a great job selecting tracks for this compilation. Even before listening, the tracklist is impressive. While show bills still may not reflect the massive amount of talented women in our city, Solar Power captures the sound of Seattle’s new (and old) queens of hip-hop. With tracks by DoNormaal, Stas THEE Boss, Jusmoni, Taylar Elizza Beth, Gifted Gab, Guayaba, and Zelli, women’s voices of the city are well represented.

Regardless of gender, Solar Power is packed full of PNW bangers. Jarv Dee’s “I Just Wanna” remix is one of my favorites (Macklemore called the original a “town classic”). Dave B’s track “Kandi,” from Soulection’s Promise Once More compilation, is a smooth, lusty song that finds Dave singing to a partner that’s sweet enough to eat. On the other side of the dating spectrum is Taylar Elizza Beth’s breakup tune “Stop Calling My Phone,” where her wonderfully raspy vocals shut down an ex-lover with a tone that still manages to come off as sensual. Gifted Gab adds “Show You Right,” from her 2016 record Gab the Most High, to the tracklist, where she masterfully crafts an R&B joint laced with silky harmonies, sharp lyrics, and a touch of ’90s flavor.

Even with the vast mixture of sounds and the 14 individual artists represented, Solar Power still manages to feel like a cohesive record. “I feel like there’s a narrative arc from the beginning of the record to the end,” Campbell says. “The Sendai Era song that this record ends with is very much a tropical-island-breeze feel. The flip side is the DoNormaal song that opens the record. It’s a nocturnal feel. That first emerging from the winter darkness.”

When piecing these tracks together, Campbell was aware of the power the sun has on Seattleites after the overcast winter—an effect that became one of the key conceptual inspirations behind the curation. Like the sun in Seattle after that unrelenting gray, Solar Power brings artists together from the city’s typically siloed scenes. Artist like Jarv Dee and Raven Mathews, who Campbell jokes “may not have ever been in a room together,” are featured on back-to-back tracks on this record.

With the Block Party at The Station just around the corner (where seven Solar Power artists are set to perform), this record is the perfect primer for the event. And after all of the Upstreams and Block Parties of this summer conclude, and the sun goes back into hibernation for the winter, we will still have Solar Power. Solar Power, Out June 17 (vinyl only).

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