October 7

Legacy of Hip Hop

Emerald City Sound

Amidst the mail plane hanging from the ceiling, the tributes to World’s Fairs past, and the other timeless Seattle artifacts on display at the Museum of History and Industry, the boombox-strewn second floor entrance to The Legacy of Seattle Hip-Hop stands out with its funky, retro style. As visitors push through the doors and enter the museum’s new exhibit chronicling the cultural history of the musical movement, they’re greeted instantly by the sounds of Seattle rap music and the large, colorful graffiti mural by SPECSWIZARD specifically created for MOHAI. The atmosphere quickly establishes a sense of place separate from the museum’s other classic relics, and gives newbies a crash course on the city’s hip-hop tradition.

An entire wall is devoted to a timeline covering the totality of the scene’s history: from the pioneering ‘80s sounds of Emerald Street Boys, to Sir Mix-a-Lot’s national booty-fueled breakout in the ‘90s, to modern Macklemore fever. The history is further sussed out through show flyers, old beat making equipment, and segments highlighting Seattle’s underground hip-hop media (did you KFOX’s Freshtracks was the first West Coast rap radio show?) It all helps convey one of Seattle rap’s defining characteristics: fierce sense of hometown pride. MOHAI illustrates this in fun little ways like an annotated map that allows you to follow the journey Sir Mix-a-Lot takes in the song “Posse on Broadway.” Aural learners can curate their own soundtracks at the exhibit’s listening stations.

The Legacy of Seattle Hip-Hop even lets visitors get a taste of the musical creation process via two conjoined digital mixing stations that allow patrons to play with the volume level sliders and turn the knobs (adjusting the echo and reverb) to manipulate multilayered tracks by nationally acclaimed local producers Jake One and Vitamin D. While it’s not overly complex, this interactive experience offers a window into the creative process that lays the sonic foundation upon which the Seattle sound has grown.


But hip-hop isn’t merely a genre of music; it’s a vibrant culture that incorporates elements of art, fashion, and dance. The Legacy of Seattle Hip-Hop provides a glance at all the elements that make our local scene stand out in the national landscape. While Seattle’s not a mecca for graffiti, the exhibit looks at the art of tagging in Seattle, which via graffiti-adorned jackets segues into hip-hop style. While a display case housing Macklemore’s fur-lined coat and scooter from the “Thrift Shop” music video immediately catches the eye, MOHAI also presents a look at fresh local fashion labels like Enyce and Mecca 206.

The breakdancing culture has also been key to Seattle’s hip-hop lineage over the decades. From the earliest b-boys and b-girls to crews like Massive Monkees winning international competitions, the corner devoted to these exploits bursts with life (having a slightly raised dance floor for any would-be breakers to experiment is a sweet touch). Seeing video of Massive Monkees performing at the halftime of Seattle Supersonics (RIP) games delivers a slice of bittersweet history.

For those that still think grunge was the only Seattle music movement and Macklemore is the city’s only rapper, The Legacy of Seattle Hip-Hop is here to help. The exhibit will be at MOHAI through May 1, 2016.

Story by Seth Sommerfeld, Photos Courtesy MOHAI

At The Center

SLU is the geographical center of Seattle