The emergence of a viable rap scene in Seattle didn’t happen overnight. Even as Macklemore & Ryan Lewis briefly took over the pop airwaves with “Thrift Shop” in 2012, less-celebrated artists were determining the future of the Northwest city’s sound. In fact, much of the Seattle rap underground resembles other U.S. homegrown scenes that formed in the wake of indie rap icons like Lil B and Odd Future: The music is amorphous and electronic, the lyrics tend toward chemically enhanced streams-of-consciousness, and there are enough sonic quirks to make you want to crawl down a SoundCloud wormhole.
Shabazz Palaces’ surreal, Afrocentric-inspired treatises are a touchstone, as are Blue Sky Black Death’s cloud rap symphonies. The latter worked with Nacho Picasso, who then formed the Moor Gang collective with Jarv Dee and Gifted Gab. Shabazz Palaces’ Black Constellation crew attracted THEESatisfaction and Chimurenga Renaissance—who coined the popular event and meme “Black Weirdo” before disbanding in 2016—and influenced avant-rap artists like Porter Ray and Tay Sean. Then there’s Thraxxhouse, a crew formed by Mackned and Key Nyata who take inspiration from internet oddities like Florida’s Raider Klan.
Unfairly or not, there’s some lingering resentment in the city toward Macklemore, whose huge successes have overshadowed the city much as Sir Mix-A-Lot did with “Baby Got Back” in the ‘90s. (We declined to include all the diss songs aimed at the rapper on this playlist.) No one seems capable of ascending to the same commercial heights, although Eighty4 Fly has earned over 1 million streams on SoundCloud with his 2012 trippy smoker tune “Kush High.” But maybe that’s the status quo the Emerald City prefers: a micro-scene dictated by industrious talents instead of pop novelty.