Hooded Headed Medics, the first release from Bellingham hip hop group PlagueDoctor, begins with the words “bring out your dead.” The sample is of course from the oft-cited classic comedy Monty Python and The Holy Grail. References to the bubonic plague run throughout the PlagueDoctor’s release (hence the name,) but much like Monty Python, they are combining the dark imagery with a very tongue-in-cheek attitude. The group is comprised of emcees Garth Shillington (aka WilNever Tell) and Tyson Morgan (aka Lighthouse,) along with beatmakers DJ Serve Stacks and 8 Track Mind.
The group was started by Shillington and Morgan, who are both familiar faces in the Bellingham hip hop scene (Wilson Project and Haunted Authors respectively). Shillington and Morgan had been hanging out regularly and doing freestyle together, when Shillington came up with the PlagueDoctor moniker and pitched it to Morgan.
“I just figured we could get some beats from friends and go from there,” Shillington said. “The whole Plague Doctor concept was really interesting to me. These people that would walk around during the Bubonic Plague with these elongated masks filled with herbs that they believed kept the plague away. We just thought it was cool imagery and lended itself to an appropriate metaphor.”
The metaphor Shillington refers to can be summed up succinctly with the band’s description on their Facebook page: “We are the doctor attempting to cure this plague of wack shit.” The “wack shit” being commercial mainstream hip hop, mediocrity and unoriginality.
“It’s like you listen to the radio and you hear these really bad songs and ask yourself ‘how did this get popular?’” Morgan said. “Those songs are the infection that is spreading, and that’s what we are trying to comment on.”
The PlagueDoctor’s music has a dark vibe going through it, although Shillington and Morgan said that is not meant to be gothic or depressing.
“The idea of the ‘anti-hero’ is something that we try to play with in the music,” Morgan said. “It’s not all glitz and glamour, we wanted to go with something darker and more mysterious. Music to make you feel that mood because an anti-hero can be doing good, but is still lurking in the shadows. But, our music is meant to be positive, turning a bad situation into a good one.”
Shillington and Morgan said their music is a reflection of living in the Pacific Northwest and draws on the regional hip hop scene, which tends to be a little weirder and more experimental than other hip hop scenes around the country.
“To us, Pacific Northwest hip hop means not being afraid to be different,” Shillington said. “And since we are not New York and we are not L.A., we kind of have to carve out our own niche in the hip hop community.”
Pacific Northwest hip hop influences named by Shillington and Morgan include members of the Old Dominion hip hop crew like JFK and Smoke, Sandpeople Music out of Portland and Grayskul from Seattle. Outside of hip hop, Morgan said he listens to a lot of instrumental electronic music and Shillington said he listens to a ton of metal.
Hooded Headed Medics was released on Oct. 31, and can be heard on the Zapnow Records bandcamp page (zapnow.bandcamp.com/album/hooded-headed-medics.) Tony Zapnow, the owner of the record label, produced and recorded the release, which attracted the attention of Frozen Food Section hip hop label out of St. Louis. PlagueDoctor was recently added to the label’s roster and are tentatively planning a tour in support of the album.
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