Garfield High is Breeding Ground for Next Generation of Seattle Hip-Hop

by Jeff Nguyen

Hip-hop artist and Garfield senior Kyle Ting heads back into school after lunch. He puts in his earbuds and takes out his notepad. The cover is imprinted with an image of a solemn Buddha statue. Scribbles and notes filled each page.  Some are neat and arranged. Others crash and tear across the paper with the vibrancy of a Pollock painting. About 10 minutes ago, he was walking across the street from fellow senior and musician Upendo Moore.

Moore, with food in hand, waves to his mother, who waves back from Fat’s Chicken & Waffles, her locally acclaimed soul food restaurant.  He continues on Cherry back to school. Like Ting, his earbuds are in and he is nodding along.  Meeting them you would first see relaxed, cool natured students. But their easygoing attitudes belie their many accomplishments, hopes, and shared dedication to their roles in the hip-hop culture here in the Pacific Northwest.

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Kyle Ting at Garfield High School. Photo Credit: Jeff Nguyen

Both Ting and Moore’s childhoods were rich with music and art. Ting specifically cites growing up with a music-obsessed twin brother. “My older brother is a crazy music fanatic. He showed me my first rap song, ‘The Town’ by Macklemore,” said Ting.  “He got me to join his band when I was 13. I played bass, so I got really into that.”

Since then, Ting has developed a deep interest and fascination with hip-hop music, culture, and fashion.  He draws inspiration from various artists both past and present. “My favorite rapper of all time is Nas,” says Ting. “And there’s Chance the Rapper with his poetry, and the rest of his squad, Vic Mensa, Noname Gypsy. I love all of that old 90’s, Scarface, Wu Tang clan, Tribe called Quest.”

This has developed into many personal music projects and EP releases through Soundcloud, gaining Ting recognition and respect from classmates to local radio shows and organizations such as YouthAir.  Working with fellow student musicians at Garfield High School is an important factor that drives him to become better.  “There’s a ton of competition. Just at Garfield, you got Angel. I want to be better than him, or at good as him. And Wyatt Morrison, looking at all these rappers, it pushes me to be the best I can be to try to be part of that community.”

Not surprisingly, one of Ting’s peers and good friends is Upendo Moore. Locally recognized as an up-and-coming DJ and beats producer. “My parents, they were both musicians and both rappers. My mom, she was performing while she was pregnant with me, so I’ve been musically inclined since I was very young,” says Moore. This is not an understatement in any sense. Moore has been playing drums since he was one year old and rapping since the age of four, as well as being recognized for his production efforts that started from the early age of 8.

Moore’s inspirations are diverse and contain various artists such as, “Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye, John Coltrane, Michael Jackson, Prince, Kendrick Lamar,” he says. “Being born in the late 90’s I carry the spirit of the 90’s into the early 2000’s. I grew up a very soulful child. It’s a big influence on me personally.”

However, Moore cites his father, a working musician, radio producer, and manager of various artists, as the person he aspires most to be. In the era of music devoid of online self-promotion, Moore remembers his father helping many talented musicians make a name for themselves. “Just being able to network the way he does, it’s amazing,” says Moore. “I want to be like that. I want to be known as the best at what I do and the most professional.”

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Upendo Moore celebrating a job well done in the studio. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Both students, while being part of a larger community at Garfield dedicated to making music, have unique and individual approaches.

Themes of empowerment and self-determination become the layout of Ting’s work, as well as self-expression of his own insecurities and post-high school fears. “This album that I’m working on is based around uncertainty for the future. Uncertainty is anxiety-inducing, but my theme is to comfort people, encourage them to believe in themselves and life,” says Ting.

He strives to create a laid back and positive vibe with his music. “I feel that it’s important not to force creativity. I try and feel out my idea, and immerse myself in the music,” Ting says. “I try to connect my audience as much as possible by exploring what I feel.”

Moore’s music also aims to create an easy going feel that holds certain messages. His creative process is also organic and involves a sense of immersion. “My creative process is just sitting down with my instrument and beat machine, and just becoming one with the music, “ says Moore. “Because once I start playing I just get in this zone that I can’t escape until I’m finished. It’s weird, it’s like a vortex.”

One of Moore’s recent mixtape projects is “Get Well Soon Pops,” an instrumentals mixtape dedicated to his father’s recovery after an illness. “My dad, he’s had kidney failure. But in August, his body started rejecting the kidney transplant. And every Sunday he does a radio show on Kube 93, which he’s done like the last ten years,” he said, adding that because of the illness his father was unable to do the show. “It was the first Sunday where he wasn’t able to do that,” says Moore. “It hurt me personally that my dad was in the hospital, but also that he wasn’t strong enough to go do what he’s done for the last 10-plus years. I wanted that legacy to continue in some way.”

In that sense, Moore’s dream is to make unique and genuine music. “I feel as a society, our focus gets derailed, and we focus on the wrong things. My message speaks to positivity, happiness, and truth about the world we live in,” continues Moore. “I want to be very conscious of my music and the message. I want it to have a meaning. When you hear it I want you to be able to digest it, and gain something from it. My goal is to write something that will last and transcend generations.”

Moore, who was born and raised in Seattle, and Ting, who grew up in nearby Newcastle, don’t have to look far for inspiration and hope for their ascending musical careers. The hip-hop scene in Seattle has been a staple of the local music culture since the 1970’s, along with the culture of beatmaking and breakdancing arising in the same period. Roosevelt High School alum Sir Mix-A-Lot (Anthony Ray) is arguably the most well-known rapper to come out of the Pacific Northwest hip hop arena, spearheading the Northwest’s first record label, Nastymix Records.

Seattle’s modern incarnation of hip-hop does not disappoint. Local duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are touring worldwide, and making headlines with anticipated releases.  Up-and-coming acts such as Brothers from Another, Sol, Gifted Gab, and many others are bringing Seattle to the forefront of hip-hop communities. Heavily inspired by the 90s “golden age” of rap, Seattle’s hip-hop community boasts eclectic, laid back music combined with a retroactive fashion sense and culture.

One local rapper who has been gaining recognition for his tales of the South End is Draze, whose given name is Dumi Maraire Jr. “My parents were musicians, so as a child I really had no choice in the matter,” says Maraire. “I grew up with Zimbabwean music, my mother and father (NW-renowned folk musician Dumisani Maraire) trained me in singing, dancing. African music has always thoroughly influenced me.”

Born and raised in Seattle, Maraire releases videos, tracks, and collaborations with other local musicians. His most recent release, full of unabashed love and admiration for his NW home,  is titled  “Seattle’s Own”. Draze is also an artist and producer, and has worked across Seattle’s institutions. “I worked with the EMP Museum in ‘Through the Eyes of Art’, and we did individual art pieces on gentrification, black identity, etc.”

Draze’s music creates a socially conscious and vibrant sound that mixes positive anthems with powerful messages of South Seattle’s community and culture. A recent release called “The Hood Ain’t the Same” featured a nostalgic tour of the Central District’s most beloved haunts falling victim to gentrification.

“I have a direct commitment to telling the city’s stories,” said Draze. “And sometimes you’ll never know what side of the story I’ll tell. It could be from the side of the perpetrator, or it could be from the side of the victim.”

Planning many more upcoming projects, Draze and many other well-known artists in Seattle’s hip-hop community form an important vessel to bring to light many of Seattle’s social and cultural issues, while also serving as successful examples of passionate and talented musicians.

“I genuinely believe that Seattle can become the next Chicago or LA,” says Ting. “I genuinely believe in what we have here, and that we could accomplish big things.” The abundance and quality of homegrown talent is a huge encouragement for Ting and undoubtedly many other local musicians.

UW’s Foster School of Business has offered another way for Ting to engage in the music industry. He holds dreams of starting a major Pacific Northwest record business. “If hip-hop doesn’t work out for me, I want to start a record label and recruit youth here,” said Ting. “I want to consolidate and encourage Seattle’s talent.”

Moore is excited for Seattle’s bright future as well, and talks with cautious optimism about the city’s obstacles, saying “I definitely think there are a lot of talented musicians here. In terms of the city becoming big, there was and always will be potential here, but we need to get more recognition as a market for hip-hop.”

Above all, both Ting and Moore pursue success in hip-hop music due to its positive influence in their lives.

Moore credits making music as one of the greatest sources of happiness and purpose, as well as one that helps him connect with his family’s musical traditions. “Hip-hop at its core is about love and unity, and that music is my happy place that I can go to, and I know it’s always there,” says Upendo Moore. But he acknowledges that not all hip-hop comes from the same place for everyone.  “Some sub-genres, even if they portray dark, angry, and violent themes,  they portray the reality that some people face and have to go through.”

Ting takes many personal lessons from both making music and listening to his inspirations. “If you’re an outsider from rap, people hold the stereotype that it’s just about guns, drugs, bitches. Rap has taught me so much more than that,” says Ting. “It’s taught me how to carry myself, how to get confidence in who I am, how to respect others, and how to be myself as time changes everything around me.”

A lesson that both musicians have taken to heart is the need for authenticity in music, especially on the issue of cultural appropriation, and how acknowledgement and respect for past influences becomes more important for musicians looking to build a career. The prominence and work of white rappers from Iggy Azalea to Seattle’s own Macklemore have stirred controversy from many angles. “For example, we respect Eminem, who is white, because of his message and his background. He’s authentic and tells stories that we haven’t heard before,”said Moore.

“In one respect [hip-hop is] cultural appreciation. I respect black culture so much more when I got into rapping and hip-hop. But on the other it’s cultural appropriation,” says Ting. “You gotta be aware of the boundaries. You just gotta talk to people. You gotta be open to those perspectives. Be aware of what you’re creating, and your music will be better for it.”

And what Seattle’s hip-hop scene is creating is staggering, both in terms of quantity and quality. Ting and Moore are part of an exciting community who are producing, dancing, rapping, and writing across the city. Hip-hop collectives feature up-and-coming artists that demand attention with stylistic and powerful releases. Groups such as Massive Monkees and Youth Speaks continue to fuel youth creativity and self-expression within the hip-hop movement.

“Youth are definitely important to this city’s musical growth. They’re at the forefront of every movement,” says Draze. “People will get hungry for something real. We have it because Seattle respects authenticity. It respects great music and it’s a great place to perform.”

Most importantly, all artists mentioned are part of a movement to preserve Seattle’s rich musical past, heavily steeped in the tradition of “golden age” rappers, grunge and punk. It all culminates to create a unique and enduring musical culture that is often misrepresented and misunderstood, but at the same time is inspiring a new and promising generation of musicians.

“In the song ‘The Message’ by Nas,” says Ting, “my favorite line is ‘Love changes, a thug changes, and best friends become strangers.’ That line resonates with me because time keeps changing everything. You just gotta try to figure out how to stay the same in a changing world.”

Jeff Nguyen is a senior at Garfield High School and a reporting intern for the South Seattle Emerald