Matson on Music
Seattle's first rap group Emerald Street Boys reunites at the Crocodile Saturday, 04/03/10
"KFOX Nasty Nes intro" by Emerald Street Boys
Widely considered Seattle's first rap group, Emerald Street Boys will temporarily re-form and play a set at the Crocodile Saturday. The last time Sugar Bear, Captain Crunch, and Sweet J rocked a stage together was over 20 years ago at Judkins Park.
The Crocodile concert is a fundraiser for local media man Georgio Brown and his currently in-production and as yet untitled documentary about Seattle hiphop history. Brown's show Coolout TV is in its 19th year and airs Tuesday nights from 7-8 p.m. on ITVNW.com, where the Crocodile concert will be streamed live.
In addition to kickstarting first-generation Seattle rap with its "Rapper's Delight" inspired style, the men of the Emerald Street Boys are all biologically related to several active members of today's scene: Sugar Bear (Edward Wells) is Vitamin D's cousin; Captain Crunch (James Croone) is RC Tha Trackaholiq's brother and D. Black's dad; Sweet J (Rcurtis Jamerson) is Ishmael Butler's cousin (Digable Planets and Shabazz Palaces).
I talked to Sweet J about Seattle rap past and present and what to expect from Emerald Street Boys at the Crocodile.
Is it true what people say, that Emerald Street Boys was Seattle's first rap crew?
It is true. We pioneered it for everyone else.
How do you know that's true?
Well, if anyone else was rapping they were rapping at home and not outside. We played concerts. We opened up for The Gap Band and The Treacherous Three. We opened up for Bow Wow Wow. We traveled to Canada. It was fun, being a kid and just doing it.
What do you consider the group's active era? 1982-1986?
Yeah, that's about right. I was 16. It was when "Rapper's Delight" first came out. It was that era. It was back when everyone thought that rap was just going to be a phase. Like flare legs. Out of style. Now the rappers are pretty much running the industry: the Jay-Zs, the J.D.s...
Do you remember the last time you played a show, and where that was?
The last performance was at Judkins Parks for the Black Community Festival. That was in '86 or '87, back when there was only one festival in town.
You mean one black festival?
Yeah, there was only one big black festival back then. But white people were there too, man.
Do you remember what your crowds were like back then?
We had a very diverse crowd. But, you know, we had management. We were guided. They made sure there was some ink. We had write ups in the Rocket magazine. We played Bumbershoot and the TV news came to check us out.
Did Emerald Street Boys ever release music on vinyl or cassette?
It was a 33?
Yes. It's up at the EMP. The amazing thing is that we did that in an eight-hour period. It was one take, one day, and that was the single. And we used the same music for both sides. Making the record was pretty exciting for us. We actually recorded in in one session. We made a record and for 16 and 17-year-old kids, that's pretty serious experience.
A lot of hiphop collaborating is done on email now, and rappers write rhymes on their phones. How did you construct songs back in the day?
Good old pencil, number 2. And paper, college ruled. And sometimes a paper bag, if we didn't have paper. We were a lot more organized than rappers now. Now they're just coming off the top of the head. Off the top is what's really hot right now. That's not a bad thing, just a thing.
Why did you, Sugar Bear, and Captain Crunch start the group? Was the goal to become huge rap stars?
We started the group because we were intrigued by that style. Croone's dad played the bass, and his uncle Toby played an instrument. Ed played the sax. His mom and dad were heavily into the local happenings. Myself, my dad used to have a bunch of bands. It was always intriguing.
Were your families supportive of Emerald Street Boys?
I think they didn't take it seriously. First of all it was brand new, rapping. It was like, "What the hell is rapping?" The ignorance didn't allow them to take it seriously. After a while they started to support it.
It's my opinion that your cousin, Ishmael Butler, is making the best hiphop in Seattle right now. Have you heard his Shabazz Palaces material?
Yes, I saw it YouTube. I like it. It's another unique way of making music. His uniqueness has been with him throughout his years. I'm not at all surprised at his success. His show is nice. I like the live percussionist on stage, it adds that much more flavor to the already standalone style.
He sets up his equipment on a table and stands behind it. I heard that's what the situation was back in the day at the Boys and Girls Club in the Central District, back when Mix-A-Lot was starting out.
It came from New York. The MCs in the front, and the DJ in the back. We used the same set up. It was just West Coast. [Shouts] West Coast!
We used the whole stage, though. We had a show. We tried to make it look big. There were only three cats on stage, but if we danced around a little and moved our arms around up high, it looked dynamic.
I know you went on KEXP's Street Sounds and KUBE's Sunday Night Sound Sessions. How was that?
Those were tremendous. Silver Shadow D and D. Black, who's major right now...to have him talk about what we did in the past was...man. We had three different generations of rappers in there. It feels good to be appreciated. KUBE gave us an hour. KEXP did the same. None of this would have been possible if Georgio didn't have that vision. He wants to let everyone know that there was hiphop in Seattle. It allows the youngsters to see that there was a past.
Are you going to play the old Emerald Street Boys songs at the Crocodile?
How can we bring old men with old songs? We're still the same old Emerald Street Boys, but we're working with RC Tha Trackaholiq. But it's going be the old style, the back and forth like we used to. The amazing thing will be when you see James Croone who's 45, 46 years old breakdance.