COSMOs, a Seattle-based hip-hop group, took first place at this year’s EMP Sound Off! battle of the bands Saturday, March 5.

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Seattle-based hip-hop group COSMOS snagged the top prize Saturday (March 5) at EMP Museum’s Sound Off! competition, a 21-and-under battle of the bands open to groups across the Pacific Northwest.

The band’s fiery, impassioned presence was magnetic.

“They don’t like what I do, they don’t like what I see, they don’t like what I write, they don’t like that I’m free!” shouted lead singer Teron Bell, while performing “Living Proof,” to a packed crowd in the museum’s Sky Church concert hall.

The Sound Off! win secured COSMOS spots at Bumbershoot and the Sasquatch! Music Festival.

“Wow, this is just an unbelievable experience,” said Bell, 21, when the winners were announced. “This is the reason why I dropped out of school, this is the reason why I’m working full time, just to fund and invest in this stuff. I’m glad it’s finally starting to pay off.”

Four finalists competed Saturday, performing for a crowd of high-school and college students, older folks and even a few children.

COSMOS opened the show with a soulful performance featuring emotional, substantive lyrics and standout saxophone solos by Daniel Leong, 17, a junior at Garfield High School.

Bell started out wearing a NASA jump suit he bought on eBay.

“Our band name is COSMOS; I thought it would be appropriate,” he explained.

He slipped it off after the fourth song, to reveal more formal attire.

Redmond R&B singer Paris Williams, 17, who performs as Paris Alexa, took second place. She had a calm, confident demeanor while hitting tricky high notes over prerecorded tracks. All eyes were on her as she belted out songs with stunning clarity across the spectrum of pop, soul and R&B.

Producers of the Timber! Outdoor Music Festival chose Alexa and one other semifinalist, rapper Travis Thompson, to perform at Timber! this year.

Alexa was followed by Burien indie-pop group Animal Camera, which energized the crowd with an eccentric, psychedelic beat. Lead singer and guitarist Gianni Aiello, 19, looked the part, with a rainbow guitar strap and glitter on his face, as he screamed super-loud, fast-paced tracks and bopped his head. Animal Camera placed fourth.

Renton-based hip-hop group Dre’zy And Too Smoove, which took third place, closed the show with a powerful hip-hop sound that included smooth vocals and an impromptu drum battle between Jawann Blanchey, 19, and Joseph Simpson, 21.

Dre’zy and Too Smoove were dubbed the audience favorite, which earned them a performance at a KEXP community show. Third- and fourth-place winners will perform at Northwest Folklife.

Sound Off! has helped launch the careers of groups such as The Lonely Forest, Sol and 2011 winner Tomten, who made an appearance Saturday to celebrate the competition’s 15th anniversary.