By Neve Kamilah Mazique-Bianco

At An Evening with the Residency Fundraiser at the Paramount Theatre on Sept. 28, Seattle hip hop community, family, and patrons celebrated five years of youth development and empowerment through the Residency, a hip hop program created in 2015 by a collaboration of the Museum of Pop Culture Seattle, Arts Corps, and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, emphasizing the need for all of us to create, remember, love, celebrate and sustain home.

“We believe in you. And the power of having somebody believe in you will go a very long way in this world.”

These words, spoken to participants in The Residency summer intensive by ceremonial leader and teaching artist Chenoa Egawa, Lummi and S’Klallam, played in the fundraising video screened for us at An Evening with the Residency. That need that we have to be believed in to flourish –– that need doesn’t go away once we become adults.

For those of us who grew up poor, Black and brown, who are indigenous or immigrants, who are queer, disabled, we who are survivors –– believing in ourselves doesn’t come easily.

The Residency is a Seattle music education and youth development program for King County’s low-income youth aged 16-19. Every summer, a cohort of up to 45 students will gather with The Residency’s team of internal and external staff, community leaders, and artists to immerse themselves in the four-pillared program: Social Justice; The Craft, which includes music writing, performance, and production; The Industry; and Youth Development.

In addition to the four-week residency, participants receive mentorship year-round. The fundraiser featured performances and speeches from alumni of cohorts 2015-2019, along with their teachers and special guests. According to their statistics, 100 percent of participants of the Residency say that they are still making music, and 86 percent are collaborating with fellow alumni.

Teaching artist and host Jace Ecaj opened by expressing gratitude and respect to the people whose land we occupy. I had never been to this large an event that was not already centering Indigenous resistance, which began with an acknowledgment of the land and its people. I reflected on the Duwamish people’s continued mentorship, leadership, and resilience, and hope that in the future, these public acknowledgements by non-Native people will deepen into committed relationships to Native people. 

I was compelled by the diversity of styles in fashion, flow, instrumentation, lyricism, stage presence, and the music ancestors called to mind and body which shone on-stage throughout the night. For me, the highlights were (in no particular order and transcribed here as I wrote them into my phone):

Parisalexa rocking the best bronzy red eyeshadow, and lending a rich, dexterous, and petal-soft vocal landscape to every song she sang. This includes her feature on Nile Waters’ “Walk on Water,” performed by Lazā, with backing vocals from Mileena Contreras, Sharmaine, and Talaya Logan which I loved. Giving me Black female power, finesse and Church!

Brandon Marsalis giving me red lights, jazz night club Kendrick Lamar, fancy suit, sharp cutting Indigenous drum beats, and even sharper cutting rapping and incantations! I have never seen an accompanying trumpet player throw down like that.

Travis Thompson, signed recently to Epic Records, wearing a sweatshirt in colors reminiscent of a science textbook illustration of kids doing some lit chemistry experiment, his flow tight enough to light little fires along your arms as you swayed them side-to-side like he told you to.

Macklemore, Residency alumni, and special guests performing “Corner Store,” featuring Travis Thompson and Dave B. Is it a thing that everybody growing up looks like everybody you grew up with? In Jersey, they’re called corner stores too, and you best believe I was posted there for no good reason, though I had my reasons!

When he made a surprise appearance, Sir Mix-A-lot told us that no one was allowed to say anything bad about Macklemore ever again. I don’t want to go against the knight of Seattle hip hop, that wonderful connoisseur of butts, and so what I say next is not bad, but real: as a Black queer anarchist who believes in second chances, my values are more unwieldy and resistant to capture than I can fully represent. Many friends of mine don’t have room for white folks in hip hop. Often I agree, especially when it’s clear that a white person’s approach to hip hop is to put on a fake voice, to make minstrelsy of the art. 

I have come to the conclusion that that’s not what Macklemore is doing. At An Evening with the Residency I met Seattle’s Macklemore, and he is a different person than who white America –– who started liking hip hop when “Thrift Shop” or “Can’t Hold Us” each made number one –– might like to see him as. Macklemore, who felt alienated from his community after his rise to the top, found a way to circle back home, to give back, and not just for show. Macklemore is a funny, intelligent, and talented person who wants to make Seattle’s underserved, musical youth feel like there’s a home for them in hip hop, and I ain’t mad at that.

An Evening with the Residency gave me a very special gift: Seattle pride. There’s a lot to love about this place, but a lot has changed in the short time I’ve lived here, and in the decade before that. It rains. A lot. We all know that can be a drag. And Seattle, despite its whitewashability, is full of such a variety of brilliance, culture, and fierceness, that it’s hard to put your finger on the true pulse of the city. What’s its flavor? Its rhythm? Its attitude? Its tone? Other than grey, coffee, beer, Nirvana, niceness, segregation, gentrification, tech? I’ve been to DIY shows where all of the bands were from Seattle, but the problem with punk (love of my life, trust) is that repping a place goes hand in hand with spitting and roasting it. If I want to hear folks lovingly rep my home, hip hop spaces are where I should go.

Seattle can be a Scorpio, a Goth, an Introvert, a Nerd, but most of all, Seattle’s heart is bright when turned on by creative community believing in one another. Seattle has a sun of its own.

Amir Islam, Program Projects Manager at the Residency, took the stage to speak on the need to financially support the Residency and in the spirit of the night, threw his notecards high in the air before speaking from the heart. The resounding cry which he asked us to join him in was, “The Residency Needs a Residence!”

Knowing where you come from matters, and so does believing you have somewhere to go.

It’s science, but no need to build a rocket with it –– a couple of rooms will do. There is a wealth of culture shaping organizations worthy of your attention in this city, and The Residency is one of them. I hope I get to help youth in my life apply someday.


Donate to The Residency here:
Donate to Real Rent Duwamish here:

Featured image by Haley Blavka.