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Originally published July 27, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 27, 2007 at 2:02 AM

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Night Watch

Hip-hop scene in the headlines

Just when it was heating up, in a good way, with a few artists trying to push through on the national level, Seattle hip-hop started heating...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Just when it was heating up, in a good way, with a few artists trying to push through on the national level, Seattle hip-hop started heating up in a bad way ...

The Seattle hip-hop scene's most notorious:

Tabella Lounge & Bar: On the mayor's hit list.

Fatal Lucciauno: Behind bars.

Saturday night at Tabella, the lower Belltown club that Mayor Greg Nickels called "a risk to public safety," there were a lot of G's.

Guys.

And many in the crowd were packing.

Cellphones.

The mayor recently wrote a letter to the Liquor Control Board, citing "a history of violent incidents" (some involving guns) and requesting the immediate suspension of Tabella's liquor license. After reading that letter, you might expect the place to be filled with thugs, gangsters, hard-core criminals and rogues various.

Looked more like an average Belltown crowd, actually.

And you might expect the place to be crawling with cops — but if there were any police officers on hand, they were deep undercover. Tabella did have plenty of well-identified security personnel, though. The security force says the Seattle Police Department has complimented them for their handlings of a few recent incidents, including the July 2 shooting down the street from the club. (The gunman who injured a woman had been ejected from the club earlier in the night.)

Tabella is one of Seattle's most attractive clubs, with an industrial design softened by warm, Mediterranean colors. It's somewhere in between classy and flashy, with the obligatory disco balls, concrete floor with raised dance areas and a computerized light system. The mini-waterfall behind the bar started flowing shortly after 10 p.m., followed directly by red mood lights around the dance floor. After some light scratching from a TPD (Team Party Down) DJ, one of the night's first songs was "My Neck, My Back," which has female rapper Khia demanding assorted services.

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The medium-sized club opened in October 2005, on a stretch of Western Avenue just north of Pike Place Market on the west edge of Belltown — down the hill from the hopping First Avenue. Tabella came here just as condos were sprouting in a neighborhood long populated by day laborers and street people.

In recent years the liquor board went along with the mayor's urgings, pulling licenses from two hip-hop clubs that had shootings inside or nearby: Mr. Lucky in Lower Queen Anne and Larry's in Pioneer Square. But last Friday, the liquor board rejected the mayor's request regarding Tabella. According to an LCB press release, "Investigators concluded that there were no grounds for an emergency suspension."

Business was down over the weekend, and Tabella personnel fear patrons think they've already been closed.

Will the club close down on its own, or try to ride out the storm of controversy?

"We're going to stick it out and change the format," said Lucas Leander, the bar manager. He said DJs may soon be spinning KISS 106.1-style dance music (Fergie, Justin Timberlake, Maroon 5 and so on).

Leander, who previously worked at Cafe Arizona in Federal Way, paused when asked what he is most proud of, during his year-plus at Tabella. Then, without a hint of irony, he said: "Keeping our crowds safe."

Sport'n Life Records, Seattle's small but vibrant hip-hop label, celebrates its fifth anniversary at Chop Suey on Aug. 18.

Unfortunately, one of its rising stars probably won't be able to attend. Rahneece (aka Rahmeece) Howell, the real name of rapper Fatal Lucciauno, is currently in jail, awaiting a court date for a drive-by shooting charge.

On June 14, two days after the release of his "The Only Forgotten Son" CD, Howell was arrested and charged with shooting from a car near Ninth Avenue and Madison Street. According to a police report, Howell "admitted to being the person firing the handgun from the maroon vehicle ... Howell added that he fired the handgun into the air and was not trying to shoot anybody but to just frighten the occupants of the tan vehicle off." He told police an occupant of another car pointed a gun at the vehicle in which he was riding.

Since he had previous convictions as a juvenile, he wasn't allowed to even possess a handgun, so the charges are stacking up on Howell.

Fatal is a "gangster" or "thug" rapper, with cuts like "Gangsta Groove" and "Watch My Back" telling tales about drugs, guns and money. Sample lyric: "Don't push me. ... I'm armed and vicious."

Tom Scanlon: tscanlon@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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