Mash Hall's Larry Mizell, Jr.: Seattle Hip-Hop Isn't the New Grunge, But There's Been a Polarity Shift

Mash Hall is among the 70+ local bands playing SW's Reverb Festival on Oct. 8. They play the Sunset at 11 p.m.
This post is a part of special Reverb Questionnaire series in which we ask local bands to discuss the legacy of the Seattle music explosion of 1991, as well as the class of 2011.

SW: What do you think the legacy of the 1991 grunge explosion is for the Seattle scene?

Larry Mizell, Jr.: The music scene here has flipped so many times since those days. There's been so much reaction to that huge specter that hangs over everything, so it's kind of omnipresent but still, for me, impossible to really trace in most of the music I hear coming out of here now. What I do know is that a lot of us grew up hearing that music, and have strong feelings about it. I know I do. I love Northwest music period. So there's a lot of nostalgia that folks share about that period, but as far as I can tell, it doesn't always creep into the music. It's still, like, corny to the younger heads (the indie-rock identified kids at least); it's probably like cats felt about Motley Crue when Nevermind dropped.

Still, it's not lost on me that I discovered local hip-hop because Loosegroove Records, a label founded by Stone Gossard, put out a compilation called 14 Fathoms Deep. The first full-length album of local hip-hop I bought was Maxed Out Singles by Black Anger, and it came out on K Records. I think a lot of folks around my age, including some of our biggest local artists, found out that there was even hip-hop from here because of those releases and others. Now, Sub Pop--a label that was founded on the g-word--put out Shabazz Palaces' Black Up, my personal album of the year, and will be putting out THEESatisfaction's Awe Naturale. The OK Hotel, where "Teen Spirit" was first played, is now artist spaces where The Physics and others make music. In my eyes, that speaks to a certain polarity shift that's happened.

That doesn't mean hip-hop is the new grunge here--that's a lazy writer thing I hate. The way they mean is that Seattle hip-hop could become this huge MTV phenomenon that becomes emulated and everything; I don't think music even moves like that anymore.

Do you hear many influences of the sound in today's bands?

Maybe. There's heavy bands for sure that I love (Helms Alee and Akimbo come to mind) but I don't know if it's really that sludgey, grungy, loud-quiet-loud thing. There was a band called The Valley that kind of gave me that feel, but they aren't together anymore.

In what ways is your band influenced by the 1991 sound?

'91 is a bedrock year for me and Bles personally sound-wise. The dual glories of New Jack Swing and hard, crunchy, sample-heavy rap, classic West Coast swagger. That's what we were trying to evoke on They LA Soul for sure.

How do you describe the Seattle sound today?

It's everything. There's so many folks here from literally everywhere else that you have an incredible amount of styles and vibes out here, and I think that's a strength. Diversity is essential in any strong system. People in the hip-hop scene out here have long complained that our not having some codified sound has been a liability, but I think that's bullshit. The sound of Seattle now is a bunch of different parties cross-pollinating, and that's way more accurate to the spirit of the city as I see it today.

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