How Crane City Music is helping spread Seattle hip-hop around the world – The Seattle Times | Candle Made Easy

Gary Campbell knows he doesn’t look like he belongs in the hip-hop world. When the 49-year-old magazine designer started going to hip-hop shows in Seattle 10 years ago, he said he “sticks out like a sore thumb” with his already graying beard — and for being middle-aged white Guy who meddles in a mostly young black art form.

Now Campbell is a VIP in the local hip-hop scene, and while he still stands out, everyone recognizes him at the shows. He is the founder of Crane City Music, a Seattle-based vinyl record label and hip-hop advocacy group he founded in 2017 that has helped over a dozen local artists get their work onto vinyl, make money and promote their… Expanding reach into other states and countries through a partnership with legendary New York hip-hop label Fat Beats. Notable local artists that Crane City Music has worked with include SassyBlack, Stas Thee Boss, AJ Suede and Gifted Gab. Some artists associated with Crane City Music, including Chong the Nomad, Da Qween and Specwizard, recently performed at the first Capitol Hill Block Party since the pandemic began.

While Campbell is now important to the local hip-hop scene, he understands that hip-hop isn’t something he owns and he doesn’t feel comfortable capitalizing on it. Although Crane City isn’t a registered nonprofit, Campbell says he doesn’t make any money from the project. He says he wants to use his privilege as a wealthy white man to do whatever he can to support black artists in Seattle.

Campbell, who was born in Toronto, moved to Seattle in 2013 to work as a creative director for Amazon at the age of 40 without ever having set foot in the city. In Canada, Campbell had worked in lifestyle publications covering food, music and art, so he began attending local concerts to better understand the city he now lives in. He was particularly drawn to local hip-hop shows, where he found a thriving scene that he hadn’t heard much about while living in other places. Campbell says he found Seattle’s hip-hop culture particularly compelling because of its embrace of women and queer artists, something you don’t see in some other parts of the country, where the genre remains primarily a boys’ club. Campbell soon fell in love with Seattle hip-hop and wanted to help promote it.

“When I worked at Amazon, I was paid well, and I wanted to share the money by investing in artists whose work I believed in,” he says.

Over time, he became a staple at local hip hop shows, where he would shoot mini videos and post them on his personal Instagram.

“How do we create a vehicle that can put money in artists’ pockets and draw attention to their work?” Campbell wondered.

Gifted Gab, a Seattle rapper who was born and raised in the Central District, says she met and became friends with Campbell in those early days “because you can tell he’s a real lover of art and music.”

On Campbell’s morning walks to Amazon’s South Lake Union offices, he began to delve deeper into Seattle hip-hop, listening to new albums almost every day and then posting brief reviews about them on his Instagram during lunch and coffee breaks. account wrote. In his first year he wrote about 100 reviews.

But Crane City Music wasn’t formed until the release of their first vinyl album, Solar Power: New Sounds in Seattle Hip-Hop Compilation. According to Campbell, the project was originally intended to be a creative response to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential election victory, but grew into a celebration of Seattle hip-hop greatness. It was also to remain a one-off project, and vinyl wasn’t necessarily going to be a focus of Campbell’s work. But the community loved the project and the artists loved getting their work on vinyl, so he decided to do it again and committed $25,000 of his own money to seed the Crane City venture.

Local artists Campbell works by self-releasing their music, so he just gets the artist’s permission to put their music on vinyl and leaves the ownership of the music in the artists’ hands, unlike a traditional record label that does who could buy the rights to artists’ music to benefit from it in the future. He then works with an audio engineer to optimize the digital music for a vinyl format.

Crane City’s primary model for supporting artists has been to help convert local rap albums – typically ones that have already been released digitally and garnered some level of local critical acclaim – to vinyl. According to Campbell, there is typically around $10,000 in upfront costs (for album art, sound engineering, etc.) to make a vinyl album, a prohibitive price for many local hip-hop artists. Crane City Music has released 12 vinyl albums to date, typically printing 500 or 1,000 copies per album, for a total of around 8,000 records. For each release, Crane City keeps enough records to sell and recoup all that was spent producing the record, and the artist keeps the remaining records to sell online or at shows. In a case where 1,000 records are pressed, the upfront cost is $10,000, and the records sell for $25 each, the artist would end up making $15,000.

Through a partnership with Fat Beats, Campbell also distributes records to stores around the world, which Gifted Gab says has expanded her audience to places like Asia and Africa, where she’s seeing a surge in Spotify listeners.

The vinyl format has seen a resurgence in recent years and is particularly popular with the kind of obsessive music listeners who are often fans of local artists. AJ Suede, a Harlem-born rapper who moved to Seattle five years ago and released a split-vinyl LP with Seattle rapper Specwizard in 2020, says getting his music on vinyl has been a long-term career goal.

“In the rap scene that I’m in, where vinyls and physical music are paramount, immortalizing their music on vinyl is a goal for a lot of artists,” he says.

Crane City Music has not been immune to the pandemic. Aside from disrupting live hip-hop shows, it exacerbated already long waits for vinyl as demand surged and supply chain issues caused problems in production. But recently, Campbell partnered again with Fat Beats to launch the Northwest Vinyl Accelerator, which uses a Kickstarter-like crowdfunding model to fund vinyl projects and accelerate production by leveraging Fat Beats’ industry connections uses. Crane City’s first project through The Northwest Vinyl Accelerator is Avada Kedavra Deluxe, an album by AJ Suede, due out in late 2022.

Campbell, who left Amazon in 2018 and is now dedicating himself to Crane City Music while doing freelance design gigs to pay his bills, also credits a history book covering Northwest rap’s first decade from 1983 to 1993 to around this time commemorate history. And in 2020, he made a film called Newcomer (watch it for free on YouTube), made up of clips from Northwestern rap shows, an ode to work supporting Crane City Music.

Though much of the work Campbell is currently focused on is backward-looking, he’s excited for today’s Seattle hip-hop. He says he recently went to a showcase of young hip-hop artists where he didn’t recognize any names, which makes him hopeful for the future of the genre.

“There’s always local hip-hop shows happening all over the Northwest,” he says. He wants more Seattleans to go to them.

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