by Gabriel Teodros | from the April 2017 issue of City Arts Magazine
Word Sound Power
opened with an Amharic prayer
My Grandmother may never understand rap
but she heard this
You saw us, and we saw you
When that record dropped I felt called to
Nag Champa burning over beat breaks
in the back room, freestyling where I met you
You saw me, I saw you... or I thought
You taught us all how to set the stages we want to rock
My generation didn’t go to church, we went to Sureshot
As an artist, we wanted to get to where you were
And you stopped
We never saw what you saw when you saw us
The doors you opened up and the artists you raised
Your impact was greater than it could’ve been on a stage
Jasiri was courageous
In the collective is strength
There is no success if your people get tossed away
I’ll never forget you prayed in my language
when you showed me hip-hop can be
ceremony, you saw us
Cross continents and oceans
May the drumbeats hold us
with cornbread and ancestors’ pain
I listened, and I saw you
Still listening, I saw you
You would claim me as family even if I fought you
Heartbroken. I always wish I had more conversations with him. Rest In Power, Jonathan Moore. Seattle legend.
In 1997 I was living in Las Vegas when I heard Jasiri Media Group's Word * Sound * Power for the first time. I was in the 11th grade, I had been rhyming for a few years and was missing Seattle a lot. Word * Sound * Power hit me after Tribal Music's Do The Math and after 14 Fathoms Deep... but in a way it hit me deeper than all the Seattle compilations of the time, because the intro was an Amharic prayer. You've got to understand, this was in a time where being Ethiopian meant you were still the butt of a lot of jokes in the United States. What JMG did with that album was so deep for me, because even though Hip Hop made me feel less alone, like my life experience was reflected in the lives of the people who were in my headphones every day... I still never felt fully SEEN by Hip Hop until that compilation dropped. It was so Seattle and it embraced Ethiopian culture at the same time. I moved back to Seattle as soon I turned 18, largely because of the existence of that compilation. It felt like a calling to me.
The first time I performed at The Sit N Spin, was at the invitation of Orb and Mozest Lateef. I was too young to even be in the venue, but they had me freestyle with them during a Circle Of Fire set. J Moore walked in with Topspin, and I was bit starstruck by both of em, because those years I spent in Las Vegas I was listening to Sinsemilla and Source Of Labor, tough. I remember Jon closed his eyes, smiled, and nodded his head (that way his son Upendo still does when he's playing beats) the whole time I was freestyling.
When him and Kylea (Erika White) started Sureshot Sundays, which was the ONLY regular all ages hip hop venue Seattle had before I turned 21... they both made me feel like a part of it. I remember Kylea would drive to wherever I was to make sure I had flyers, I would show up early to their house to help carry turntables, they had me host the event several times... and I learned so much both from watching them and just being a part of it. Sureshot Sundays was incense-lit transformation of a space, where a ton of artists performed for the first time, and truly a one-of-a-kind sanctuary for a lot of us growing up. A huge part of my foundation in Hip Hop comes from the work that that family put in.
Then there was what seems like a decade where we weren't close at all. Times where I didn't understand the guy, and we just weren't talking or working together. And at some point I grew, and started to understand a bit of what he experienced, because I struggled with growing up on a public stage too. When he put the microphone down, retiring Wordsayer, I remember being a little upset at him... and can't even say why. But in time it made perfect sense to me, and we finally talked. One of the biggest life jewels I got from Jon was actually something he said on twitter that I've always kept close to my heart. He said: "Find and live life beyond hip-hop, and watch your life and time within hip-hop improve."
Seattle music would be radically different today if Jon never stopped making music himself. His impact on the city, and really the world, was so much greater than anything he could of done just as an artist. I never saw what he saw back then. I saw an artist in his prime, who quit... and as a very young artist myself at the time it just didn't make sense to me. Looking back at it now... what a visionary. The connections he made, the artists he managed and mentored, got deals for, the platforms he helped create... all that unseen, and often underappreciated work... really spread from Seattle to across the globe. Way too many artists to name. My idea of who Wordsayer was, was very limited compared to what I think Jonathan knew he could do.
What an example of not being confined to other people's ideas and expectations of you. What an example of giving to and participating in the culture, and helping us all grow, without needing to be on a stage or holding a microphone to do it. If only more of us prioritized working with and giving to the collective, over trying to just put ourselves on. Thankful for this article that captured the moment back in day: A Source for Seattle Hiphop.
"Do what you love with people you love." - Jonathan Moore
Two summers ago when I was one of the lead teaching artists for the EMP's Hip Hop Artist Residency, Jon hosted us for a few days at the 2312 Gallery. He didn't just host us though, he participated in the program, he mediated a huge conflict, and dropped wisdom on the whole class.
Because Hip Hop is family, and that's just what we do.
I will forever be thankful for everything Jonathan and Kylea gave us. When I got the news I fell apart, in tears, in public, like a brother just died. This one hurts.
All my love to the family.
- Gabriel Teodros
You can donate to The Legacy of Jonathan Moore here.