Why hasn't the rest of the country caught on to the Seattle hip-hop scene? I mean, like, beyond the Blue Scholars? This is something I've been thinking about since I moved here from Las Vegas in late 2007 and started going to shows and witnessing such first-rate talent that I figured one of these folks would land a major deal and get the scene some notice. There was a moment last year when the odds-on favorite to make it were The Saturday Knights. It didn't happen, of course, though not for a lack of skills. I still bump Mingle.
The temptation to pump the Go! Machine shows tonight and tomorrow at The Croc in much the same way The Saturday Knights were is strong. And unless half the acts evanesce into a cloud of toxic substances (a strong possibility for some of them, actually), then chances are both shows are going to be good--really good. That's one thing I'd bet on. A bet I won't make, however, is that the rest of the country is going to catch on. Not yet anyway.
Seattle is a lot like Vegas in one--and only one--regard: The rest of the country doesn't consider either city a part of America. They just don't. Ask 'em. When they think about American cities, they think about Chicago, Detroit, Atlanta, Baltimore, and New York. Shit, even frickin' San Francisco, loathed by so many right-wing red meat hogs, gets name-checked.
Although Vegas may be the most American city around, it's basically considered a neon-spangled island floating within our borders. People are surprised to hear that people even live there. Seattle doesn't have it that bad, but unless we're talking the Seahawks or the Mariners or a bunch of dead cops, nobody really pays attention. Herein lies the problem for the hip-hop scene, I think: There's no national interest in Seattle, and, thus, no one here to care.
This bothered me for a while, until I re-read art critic Dave Hickey's Air Guitar. In an essay titled "Romancing the Looky-Loos," he writes the following about the phenomenon of local tribes of artists expanding into national movements:
At this bedrock level, the process through which works of art are socialized looks less like a conspiracy than a slumber party. The whole process, however, presumes the existence of artists who are comfortable with this tiny, local, social activity, who are at ease with the gradual, lateral acquisition of constituencies and understand that the process can take place anywhere and, if successful, command attention everywhere. The musical vogue of Prince and his entourage, of The Allman Brothers Band and their compatriots, and of Seattle grunge testify to the efficacy of this process. It only requires artists who would rather socialize their work among their peers, horizontally, at the risk of Daddy's ire, than institutionalize it, vertically, in hopes of Daddy's largesse. These, I fear, are fewer and farther between.
In other words: If you build it, they will come. The name of the Go! Machine organizers is Out for Stardom. As their name suggests, they want the national attention. And, frankly, all the acts on the bill deserve it. But it's also clear that these artists are of the type Hickey fears "are fewer and farther between." They're socializing their work horizontally, among themselves, and we, the local constituency, are helping to grow it gradually, laterally by showing up tonight and tomorrow. If Hickey is to be believed--and I want to believe--all that's left is for everyone else to notice.