Northwest Folklife Festival


Seattle Hip-Hop Timeline

The Emerald Street Boys

The Emerald Street Boys

The timeline of Seattle hip-hop represents the variety and diversity that has characterized this scene from its beginnings in 1979. Of the four original elements that comprised hip-hop culture as it emerged from the South Bronx, New York City, DJing (musical), graffiti (written), b-girls & b-boys/breakdancing (dance), and MCing/rapping (verbal), the most popular and commercially viable aspect by far has been rap music. This was also true in Seattle and while the timeline does contain rap that emerged from the 206, it also reflects the activities and achievements in different areas of the culture which formed the fabric of community and helped create the music. This community has produced multiple Grammy Award winners, a two-time world champion breakdance crew, world renowned urban clothing designers, an internationally read hip-hop magazine, and record producers who have collaborated with and created songs for some of the biggest acts in music.


Macklemore at the Grammys

From the start, the story of hip-hop has been the story of society. Another feature of this timeline is the view it provides for some of the changes that have shaped the history of this region over the last several decades. Events such as the crack epidemic of the mid 1980s, the gentrification of the Central District, Initiative 502, the rise of the East African immigrant population, and Referendum 74 have all been important parts of local hip-hop discourse.

One final key point about Seattle hip-hop that comes through in this timeline is the notion of ‘community’ itself. For example, the unusually large number of local compilation albums over the years combined with live shows featuring diverse performers at venues located in different parts of the city highlights the grassroots, collaborative nature of hip-hop in Seattle. The diversity of this community exists not only in a racial and socioeconomic sense, but also comes from the various styles, energies, and ideologies that different participants have continued to bring to the party.

By Dr. Daudi Abe