Crane City Music proudly promotes the distinctive hip-hop culture of the Pacific Northwest. We focus on capturing and preserving the vibrant and exciting present of Seattle music through writing, photos, movies, record reviews, ‘zines, playlists, events, laser dome award shows, promotions, and more. Our focus is on voices underrepresented in mainstream hip-hop: underground musicians, women, and queer artists who are pushing at the boundaries of the genre.
Yeah, we also sometimes put out cool vinyl records, too. The Crane City Music collection is an essential listening library of the finest recent hip-hop albums from the PNW on wax. (You can see the whole collection here.)
What’s the history of Crane City Music?
Crane City Music is a media company and record label founded by Gary Campbell, a Canadian multimedia artist, journalist, and filmmaker. He’s an internationally-recognized storyteller and innovator who has been nominated for more than two dozen national awards back in his home country. Between 2010 and 2012, he created and published seven issues of AGGREGATION Magazine, a project widely hailed as “a laboratory for the digital magazine of the future.” Campbell is a named inventor on two U.S. patents for his efforts pioneering new paradigms in online media.
Campbell has been a fixture in the Seattle music scene since 2013 when he began chronicling local live shows and writing record reviews on Instagram. Over the past seven years, he has written reviews of more than 300 hip-hop records from Washington State. (See the full list here.) At the end of each year, he prints a new issue of his annual TOWN LOVE magazine, collecting together some of his favorite reviews from the past year. In 2015 he produced “The Homeskillet Drawings,” a series of ink portraits featuring all 50 artists who performed at the final Homeskillet Music Festival. In 2018 he wrote a well-regarded series about the top non-male beatmakers in Seattle.
At the start of 2017, Campbell established the self-replenishing, not-for-profit $25,000 Crane City arts fund to preserve some of Seattle’s current favorite hip-hop albums on vinyl. This direct investment in the local community has helped an ever-widening list of artists–including Kung Foo Grip, DoNormaal, Gifted Gab, Stas Thee Boss, Chong The Nomad, SassyBlack, Perry Porter, Dave B, and Da Qween–to release their music on vinyl. Each record is the result of a close partnership between Campbell and the musicians: The audio is professionally remastered, the vinyl is a unique color, and the packaging is deluxe. Profits from all record sales are split 50/50 with the artists involved. Crane City’s own profits are fed back into the fund to allow for the pressing up of more vinyl projects in the future. So far, this approach has allowed for eight vinyl records to be funded and produced so far. We hope this business model will allow us to continue directly funding more new vinyl projects from Black artists. The Crane City Music collection is intended to secure an essential listening library of present-day Seattle hip-hop music for future generations. (You can see the whole collection here.)
Crane City Music strives to be actively anti-racist. We do not financially profit in any way from Black music. Any monies that we earn from selling vinyl records are then fed back into the Crane City arts fund to pay manufacturing costs and to be re-invested into future vinyl projects. The artists we’ve worked with retain full ownership of their music. Every record is a one-time pressing, and the artist(s) are paid all projected profits owed to them–in records or cash–on the day their album drops. We don’t buy masters or obtain any digital or streaming rights from our artists. We believe strongly that we should not own, nor profit from our artists’ music. Hip-hop music made exclusively by white musicians is not eligible to receive any investment monies from the Crane City arts fund.
Though it is Crane City Music’s role to provide design, marketing, distribution, and fulfillment for our vinyl records, we do not seek to speak on behalf of our artists or their communities. Instead, we endeavor to employ the tools at our disposal–experience in the media industry, access to tech investment, and white privilege–and use them in allyship to amplify the voices of Women, Black, and Queer artists who wish to be seen on a larger stage and redistribute money directly into the hands of Washington’s marginalized musicians where possible. We donate 10% of every sale made through our Crane City Music online store to charities and groups assisting the Black community, including Black Lives Matter, the ACLU, and FEEST, a King County organization led by Black youth to improve health in King County schools. If you feel there is more we can do to fulfill this mission, please let us know how we can do more.
Every Crane City Music record is mastered and manufactured in the Pacific Northwest to keep money flowing through our local economy. The packaging for each release is designed by Campbell in collaboration with the musician(s) and a network of local visual artists and photographers (including Ari Glass, Andrew Imanaka, Ivan Mršić, Izzy Vibes, and Léa Godoy) and local journalists (including Jonathan Zwickel, Larry Mizell Jr, Mike Ramos, Martin Douglas, and Jasmyne Keimig.)
Records from Crane City Music have received positive press from NPR, Pitchfork, The Wire, Tom Tom Magazine, Earmilk, The Fader, i-D Magazine, Mass Appeal, and Vice. Crosscut describes Crane City as “Seattle’s preeminent tastemaker” while Tokyo’s Manhattan Records says these records are “currently the best new hip-hop coming out of America!”
In 2019, Crane City Music produced a sampler CD that ascended to #1 on the hip-hop charts at KPFT in Houston, Texas, #2 at Radio Phoenix in Phoenix, Arizona and #2 at KWTF in Santa Rosa, California. The compilation also spent several weeks at #18 on the national NACC Hip Hop Charts.
Every year since 2016 Crane City Music has produced an annual WA state “hip-hop records of the year” list, compiled using a mix of data sources including public voting, local media coverage, radio play, podcasts and streaming play counts.
In 2017, Campbell was invited to be one of the talent judges on reality-TV show Discovered! alongside fellow judges Georgio Brown and Silas Blak.
Since 2018, Campbell has served as the curator for “The Rap Sack,” a 500-CD library of classic Seattle hip-hop records established by Larry Mizell Jr. Campbell is currently cataloging details about every record and posting them on this very website for anyone to access. (See the full list here.) He has funded the purchase of an additional 500 CDs, cassettes, and vinyl records by Seattle artists to add to this important historical trove of local music. Numerous local musicians jokingly refer to Campbell as “The Professor” because of his encyclopedic knowledge of Northwest music. If you randomly ask him about any Seattle hip-hop record released since 1985, he can probably tell you at least five things about it.
In the spring of 2019, Crane City Music organized Washington’s first statewide hip-hop awards show, held at the Seattle Laser Dome. The winners were determined through an open public vote held over two weeks in January. A total of 5,498 votes were cast. Parisalexa’s Bloom was awarded “Record of The Year” along with a $500 prize. (Watch Taylor Hart’s film about this event for free on YouTube.)
In April 2020, during the Coronavirus pandemic, Campbell collaborated with The Residency to create the pilot for The Residency Presents: THE TOWN a cross-generational Zoom conversation between Seattle’s biggest hip-hop legends and newcomers, featuring Sir Mix-A-Lot, Macklemore, Jace (Black Stax), Jake One, Gifted Gab, DoNormaal and Chong The Nomad. (Watch The Residency Presents: THE TOWN for free on YouTube.)
Gary Campbell’s feature-length documentary NEWCOMER: A Seattle Hip-Hop Mixtape was released for free on YouTube on May 15th, 2020. It’s an intimate fly-on-the-wall portrait of current Northwest hip-hop, featuring clips from more than 50 local concerts and cyphers from the past year. (Watch the full 82-minute movie for free on YouTube.) Respect My Region says the film “places you in the audience as you bounce from one Seattle music venue to the next [with] abstract, avant-garde visuals. There are moments within NEWCOMER where … you forget you’re watching candid footage captured on a cellphone.” It was recently picked to be an Official Selection at the 2020 Golden Sneakers International Hip-Hop Film Festival, based in Hamburg, Germany.
So is Crane City Music a record label?
Not exactly. Or not in the ways you might think. The only records we’re involved in producing are the ones included in The Crane City Music Collection. Each year, we release 2 or 3 vinyl records, and typically these are the “most-acclaimed” hip-hop projects out of Washington State. We don’t sign artists to elaborate record deals, and we only consider projects that align well with our label’s mission.
We often take a “wait and see” approach, evaluating a project for as long as six months after it is digitally released on SoundCloud, Spotify, or Bandcamp, to see what sort of reception it is receiving from the likes of KEXP, The Stranger, The Seattle Times, blogs, podcasts, and–most importantly–from fans. Is this record generating huge buzz online? Typically, the records we choose to release are some of the most critically-acclaimed Pacific Northwest hip-hop records from the past twelve months. It’s not uncommon for us to put out the vinyl edition of a project as much as 9-12 months after the digital and streaming release. We also have a small board made up of strongly-opinionated members of the hip-hop community who help us decide which 2 or 3 records we should pursue and release.
We do not consider nor accept unsolicited demos.
Can I submit my album for inclusion in the Crane City Music collection?
No. If you’re an artist who aligns well with our label’s mission and we decide we’re interested in doing a limited-edition vinyl record of your project, we’ll directly approach you. We rarely put anything on vinyl that hasn’t already received significant critical success and wide acclaim from the general public in a digital or streaming format first.
So what do we mean by “critical success”..? If you want to be on our radar, you should focus on building your audience both online and in the real world. The artists we’ve already worked with can easily check most (if not all) of these boxes:
- They have more than 2,000 monthly listens on Spotify
- They have more than 5,000 Instagram followers
- They’ve performed at a major Pacific Northwest music festival, such as Bumbershoot, Upstream, Sasquatch or Capitol Hill Block Party, alongside national and international acts
- They’ve headlined a bunch of shows in the Seattle area and around WA state
- They’ve done an in-studio performance with KEXP
- They’ve been featured in a publication like The Stranger, The Seattle Times, the KEXP blog, CityArts… Maybe even been on the cover
If you’re already at this point in your career, congratulations! Not quite checking all these boxes yet? You’re probably not ready to work with us. But keep at it! Get your numbers up, build up your fan base, play a dozen more shows and work on getting some local media coverage. Make enough noise and, at some point in the future, if we think you’re a good fit for our label, we may tap you on the shoulder. Until then, keep making great music. Best of luck.
TBH, I just want to press up some vinyl. Can you help?
That’s not our business. We recommend you reach out to a vinyl pressing plant like Cascade Record Pressing in Portland, or Gotta Groove Records in Ohio. Both of them have pretty good websites that explain the vinyl production process and they should be able to answer any questions you might have.