Tag Archives: People

Words with Hilltop’s Josh Rizeberg

Hilltop Tacoma’s hip-hop artist Josh Rizeberg is a storyteller. He studies ancient societies, writes with a conscious voice, and has a fondness for Hilltop. His spoken word touches truths others leave buried. A long-time Hilltop resident, Rizeberg has seen many people and places come and go. His memories of the area are as vibrant as the rhymes he writes.
Rizeberg has lived on Hilltop for twelve years and doesn’t see himself leaving anytime soon. In addition to creating music, he works at a bookstore full-time and writes for the Weekly Volcano. In his twenties he rented a Hilltop house and wrote for “The Facts,” a Northwest newspaper that is still in print today. Hilltop was Rizeberg’s beat and through his reporting, he got to know many residents. Listening to him tell their stories is like talking to them face-to-face.With all the empty lots, abandoned buildings, and sketchy characters, it’s easy to forget how rich this part of Tacoma really is. Rizeberg is a refreshing reminder of all that Hilltop has to offer.

“I don’t think this neighborhood will ever be boring or will be totally sterilized or will ever be lost. . . I think it will always be special and there will always be things that will make it a better place to live than a normal street,” Rizeberg says. But Hilltop isn’t the same as he remembers it.
“Now it is devastated,” he says. “There’s no way there will ever again be, like, twenty different African-American niche businesses here on Hilltop.” This is what Rizeberg remembers–a sprawling Martin Luther King Jr. Way–unmarred by Hilltop’s violent reputation and subsequent city control.

Rizeberg recalls a much more dynamic Hilltop. He remembers many businesses on MLK between 9th and 19th Streets. “There were incredibly unique and special places,” he says. There used to be a black-owned martial arts dojo, the Martin Luther King Housing Development Association in a building that is not even there anymore, an African marketplace and bookstore, two mosques, a DVD/record store, a woman’s spa, a record label with a recording studio, an architect’s office, health clinics, the Big Homie Program office, and Friday’s Cookies.

Rizeberg says, “Most people think [Hilltop] was famous for violence, but that’s what it’s famous to outsiders for. People who grew up here or who were part of the community in any fashion back then remember the culture. That’s what it’s famous for, the culture that was here.”

Over time Rizeberg has seen Hilltop businesses disappear one by one. At first he saw rent increases drive out business owners. He thought the city was pushing out local businesses to replace them with corporations like Starbucks, but now, with all of Tacoma’s failed growth, he thinks it was just plain evil. “In terms of what used to be here versus what is here now, there’s nothing,” he says. “[Hilltop’s] just an empty shell. . . It’s just a sterilized vacant business center.” He knows this, because the people who lost their businesses were his friends, his teachers, his mentors. They were part of what, at one time, made Hilltop great.

Rizeberg doesn’t see all this change on Hilltop as bad, though. He says, “All I’m about is preserving the integrity of this area and if you do that, then you’re cool with me. And if you come here and don’t try to change what this place is about, then I’m cool with that, too.”

Hilltop is who Josh Rizeberg is. His artistic roots are in spoken word or slam poetry, an art form he began performing at a young age. That practice. . . and life on Hilltop. . . influences what he writes today. Rizeberg is now an extremely successful hip-hop artist who has performed at venues in other states, as well as in Washington. Many of the places he travels to are places he originally visited as a slam poet in his younger years. “It’s just a natural progression,” he says. “It’s very easy to book shows once you have the connections.”

Rizeberg believes any artist that is active in the community is a good role model for today’s children. He has an immense amount of respect for Hilltop area artists and the work put into teaching youth at places like Hilltop’s Dash Center for the Arts. He builds connections with “damn near all” of the hip-hop artists and rappers in this area.

Rizeberg has released two albums, most recently “A Word to the Wize” in 2010, and “Spoken Worlds” in 2008. His newest album, “Josh Rizeberg vs. BoomBox Massacre,” is coming soon. It is a project he is doing in collaboration with Seattle producer BoomBox Massacre.

Right now Rizeberg awaits the birth of his first child, a son. He and girlfriend Chandra Marquez are expecting any day. We are sure Rizeberg’s son will grow up with a thirst for truth, knowledge of self, and passion for creative expression–just like his father. He will be a storyteller in his own right. 

In his Hilltop home, Rizeberg connects with Andy Hyppa, manager of EvergreenOne.


New Music from K. Coats: Stop. Drop. Roll.

Tacoma hip-hop artist K. Coats has just released his newest song, “Stop. Drop. Roll.” The song is produced by Ra Charm Music and has a strong West Coast vibe.

K. Coats has been writing and recording music for five years. He lives on Hilltop and is currently working on his first album. The upcoming album is different than “Stop. Drop. Roll.” It has more of a soulful vibe. It will drop later this year. “The album is real. It comes directly from my heart and soul–it’s the stuff that’s inside my head,” he says. “I’ve played the background for a while. Some people have heard of me, but nobody’s ever heard me.” Local producers on the album are DJ Semaj and Ill Pill.

"Stop. Drop. Roll." is produced by Ra Charm Music and has a West Coast vibe.

Watch for more music from K. Coats. Find him on Twitter and Bandcamp. You can also find his music page on Facebook under the name K. Coats.

Planting Seeds

Last week my mother hand-delivered an afghan my grandmother crocheted for us. “It’s garden inspired,” Mom said. “I have to tell it like Grandma did. . . ” She went on to describe the afghan’s carefully selected colors and the meanings behind its reds, greens, oranges, and yellows. “The red stands for tomatoes, the green is for beans, the orange is the carrots, and the yellow is for butternut squash,” she remembered.

Grandma's garden-inspired afghan brings hope and the blessings of spring.

The afghan was such a wonderful gift from Grandma and got me excited for the hope that comes with spring. Around Hilltop lately, buds have been forming on deciduous trees and shrubs. Safeway has been stocking bulbs for a weeks and lately we’ve spotted them carefully making their way out of the ground. Soon the sounds of the Daffodil Parade will be ringing throughout Tacoma and beyond. While the warmth of spring may seem like forever away, this week’s freezing temperatures are only a minor setback compared to what we have to look forward to. 

During my snow day yesterday, I read Paul Fleischman’s short book, Seedfolks. It is a story about neighbors in the city whose paths grow together and change for the better as they each take on their own part in a community garden. One of the community members, Amir, says, “When I saw the garden for the first time. . . I thought back to my parents’ Persian rug. It showed climbing vines, rivers and waterfalls, grapes, flower beds, singing birds. . . Those rugs were indeed portable gardens (58-59).” That is what my grandmother’s afghan is to us–a portable garden–something that will remind us that springtime is always near.

Community gardens offer city dwellers so many things. They give us a place to learn, build memories, fulfill dreams, teach each other, succeed, grow our own food and flowers, and so much more. Hilltop has come a long way since its years of notoriety and is ready for more community sharing and spaces. Friends of the community have worked hard to get us to where we are today.

This year, two spots on Hilltop have been proposed as possible community garden sites. Let’s hope we are fortunate enough to get support from the City of Tacoma so we can plant some seeds.

Tacoma’s Community Garden Program supports gardens city-wide and offers free gardening workshops for city residents. For more information about Tacoma’s Community Garden Program, visit their website.

French Toast and Mirrors

Not too long ago, we introduced our first-ever hilltoptacoma.com crew neck sweatshirt. It was fun to find community interest in our product. We learned that our blog has much support from Hilltop and residents of the surrounding Tacoma area. Even more exciting is that many fans of Tacoma’s thriving hip-hop scene support us 100%. So many of them have strong ties to Hilltop and believe in supporting our town, putting Tacoma “on the map.”

Our first pieces of Hilltop Tacoma clothing went to some of Tacoma’s die-hard supporters, including Andy Hyppa, Pat McSweeney, and Glenn Allen (also known as EvergreenOne, one of Tacoma’s best live hip-hop performers.)

Andy Hyppa is a Hilltop native and supporter of all things hip-hop in Tacoma.

Pat McSweeney grew up in the Tacoma area and now resides on Hilltop.

We are currently working on new designs for hilltoptacoma.com‘s expanding clothing line, including more crew necks, hoodies, tee shirts, and hats. Look out for more to come.

Who was Mary Johnson Sconyers?

As quickly as it appeared, the loving tribute to the life of Mary Johnson Sconyers disappeared from its place high above the 1100 block of Hilltop’s 12th Street. It was posted sometime toward the end of 2010 and was just replaced this week with an advertisement for Quadrant Homes.

The tribute to Mary Johnson Sconyers was above the 1100 block of 12th Street.

Since first spotting the memorial, I have wondered who Mary Johnson Sconyers was to the people of Hilltop. She must have a story, only I cannot find it. I have searched the internet to find out who she was and have only been able to find a death record through Pierce County. That simply does not satisfy me. I hope with time and patience I will be able to find out a thing or two about this lovely woman.


This evening we found a soaking wet wallet in the street behind the Safeway. It was dark brown and not in bad shape, but almost empty. Inside was a driver’s license, debit card, slip of paper with Keith’s phone number written in pink, a magnet advertising Daisy, an Asian stripper who can be to your room within twenty minutes, and a pawn receipt. As I carefully unfolded the drenched receipt, it tore into pieces in my hands. I did find a number, though, and I called.

When I dialed, the phone rang and a man answered. It was Clifford. Hesitant to talk to me at first, he livened up when I told him I had his wallet. He asked where I found it and what was inside. I told him and apologized for ripping up his pawn slip.

After talking for a minute or two, Clifford said he’d ride his bike up from his apartment on Yakima to get the wallet. I told him to call when he was close. Half an hour later, he called to say he was waiting behind the Safeway.

Clifford was an overly thin man in his fifties. He had no teeth and his face looked as old as my ninety-year-old grandfather. His bike was well-used and he wore a thick coat and winter hat. He had nice eyes and a genuine smile. “I’m gonna have to give you a reward later—when I get paid,” he said. We told him it wasn’t necessary. He was thankful.

Clifford rode off down Sheridan toward 11th and disappeared into the darkness. I wish I had put some money his wallet.

Ivory’s Mural

Reverend Ivory Crittendon's building used to house a post office and a bar.

Ivory’s mural is painted on a vacant building at 2143 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. The improvement was recently done by local artists as a part of Tacoma’s Safe and Clean Community-Based Mural Program. Reverend Ivory Critterdon, the owner of the property, has high hopes for its future. He wants to clean up and level the grass field adjacent to the wall so community members can have a nice place to bring their families, a gathering spot of sorts.

Reverend Ivory and his wife Billie founded Christian Brotherhood Academy, the school across the street from the mural. “I believe in education,” he said. That is why his portrayal on the mural is gifting books to children. Also pictured on the mural is Ivory’s long-time friend, Morris “Mr. Mac” McCollum, owner of Mr. Mac, a classy clothing store on 12th and MLK. Mr. Mac’s likeness on the mural is tossing balls and musical instruments to children.

Reverend Ivory welcomes newcomers to his church, Brotherhood Church of God, also across the street from the mural. “We have lots of white sisters and brothers,” he said, smiling, “but we sing pretty heavy.”

Ivory's likeness on the mural passes books to school children.

Ivory's long-time friend, Mr. Mac, is pictured passing out sports equipment.

Ivory's Mural brightens up the corner of 21st and MLK.