Shoutout to Larry Mizell Jr. for paying tribute to Byrdie in his latest “My Philosophy” column. The hard copy is on newsstands now.
by Larry Mizell Jr.
Last week, we lost a real one—Seattle hiphop artist Jesse “Byrdie” Watson succumbed to complications from a long bout of cancer. If you were checking out what was shaking and baking in the Seattle scene in the early 2000s, there was no missing Pretty Byrdie, a big brother with a smile and a heart to match. Byrdie came into prominence via the Street Level Records group Full Time Soldiers. FTS and SLR’s brand of g-rap, including acts that hailed from the Soufend to the North End, sold out of local shops and kept mail orders ringing throughout the country—they were unquestionably some of the most popular local product in the late 1990s to early 2000s, and Byrdie was probably the most popular voice among them.
He broke out on his own with 2001’s Poetic Epidemic, which featured everybody from his SLR comrades to Source of Labor’s Wordsayer. Byrdie’s “Player’s Policy Pt. 2” was one of the first local cuts I knew of that got regular rotation on KUBE—at the time, and probably now, this was a big deal. (The other ones I remember: Mobb Tyght Hustlers’ “Let’s Get Toasted” and Unexpected Arrival’s “Take Control (Remix),” which featured Byrdie.)
All this feels like fucking ages ago—I know it wasn’t, really, but just listen to the intro of “Dirty Politics,” where Byrdie spits: “Man, I’m so sick and tired of these rappers in Seattle, these so-called MCs. Everybody wants to be divided! There is no rap scene in Seattle! There is no hiphop community! I built a bridge, but y’all burnt it down.” At the time, nobody I knew would’ve argued with this. Though it’s been only about 10 years, it feels like double that—we’ve come a long way.
A couple years later, Byrdie would release his N Flight album, his most polished work yet, and that radio love just increased, and he was on big stages rocking. I remember the joint video-release party for his “B.Y.R.D.I.E.” and the Blue Scholars’ first video (“Freewheelin”) at the old Vera in 2004.
Byrdie was born the same year I was, and he was one of the first bright lights I knew of from what I identify as my particular generation of this town’s hiphop artists. I would see the dude around my old neighborhood, not far from the Canterbury on 15th, maybe smoke, but always we’d have a good chop. He was unfailingly cool, quick with a smile or a good word—just massively supportive and genuine. This was simply not the default mode of Seattle hiphop back then.
Look, a lot of people I know are fucked up over this one. We’ll miss you, Byrd. I know your spirit is in flight. Love and thoughts out to his fam—if you’d care to help alleviate his medical/funeral costs, go to byrdie206.com and donate.
RIP to another real one: the late Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the South African revolutionary turned prisoner tuned president. The dismantler of the evil named apartheid. A great, great man, deserving of better words than these. Good-bye, Madiba.