By Blake Hickman
This Thursday, February 4th marks the latest installment of #TheThesis, a monthly hip hop series sponsored by hip-hop culture blog We Out Here Magazine and Portland’s most important radio station, XRAY FM. Rather than provide a preview of the event itself (which my friend and colleague Mac Smiff has done exhaustively here) I wanted to take the time to provide some background about how and why this series originated. XRAY FM’s co-sponsorship of this event is just one of many valuable contributions that the station makes to the Portland community and it’s been a real joy to help coordinate these events under the XRAY umbrella.
The exclusive canonization of the formerly-underground is hardly a new phenomenon but in Portland in 2016 it’s becoming increasingly rare for the boutique music industry here to extend opportunities to rising talent who haven’t already achieved a certain amount of mainstream recognition. There’s no facet of the Portland music that suffers more from this glass ceiling than Portland’s burgeoning hip hop scene.
My involvement with Portland’s hip hop scene began in the Spring of 2014. I had been working in college radio for awhile and I was getting burned out on a mainstream local music scene that was becoming increasingly dominated by bands that make music that sound like something my dad might actually like (it’s no secret that California tech bros are turning this city into a cut-rate San Francisco–do we really need a cut-rate Bay Area Garage Rock scene to match that?) I saw the increased marginalization of the hip hop scene (venue closures, lack of mainstream recognition) and was struck by how similar it was to many of the issues my friends were facing in the all ages / DIY scene. The factors at play against hip hop are obviously more insidious (a racist Portland PD and OLCC targeting hip hop performers and venues) but the end result of Portland hip hop functioning as a separate entity from Portland music at large was the same.
In great contrast to the All Ages / DIY scene which only a scant few in the mainstream Portland music community will touch (even here at XRAY FM which is named after a once-thriving DIY venue, there are only a handful of DJ’s who regularly play music from that scene, and slots on XRAY curated events are never offered to young bands that regularly play DIY venues) there have been numerous attempts by mainstream talent buyers to be inclusive towards the Portland hip-hop scene. The problem is these folks don’t really want to take the time and energy required to discover and break acts from that scene (which, let’s not be confused, is what separates an actual tastemaker from a “talent buyer” to begin with) which is why the same 3-5 MC’s find themselves being invited to festivals and “mixed genre” lineups at the expense of the broader hip hop community which is currently experiencing a renaissance of sorts.
This is ultimately why I met with We Out Here Magazine (WOHM) editor Mac Smiff (quickly becoming one of the most important minds in Portland music today) in the fall of 2014. I wanted to use my position (then with KPSU) to provide a regular showcase for young hip hop artists to perform and develop for the benefit of the hip hop scene as a whole. That monthly showcase was later branded as The Thesis (by the great Janessa Narisco) and has been a monthly engagement for over a year now. Highlights have included two Kelly’s Olympian sell outs, a raucous once-in-a-lifetime boat party, and an all-NW all-female rap show in July headlined by Seattle’s Gifted Gab. Every show has been anchored by house DJ Verbz and have benefited significantly from Mac Smiff’s deep working knowledge of the Portland hip hop scene.
This month’s bill promises to be the most wild lineup yet featuring Brookfield Deuce, Yo! X, Kamara Slim, and HV Gutter. If you’re the average XRAY FM listener you may not recognize any of the acts performing on the bill and that’s exactly the point. Many Portland music type celebrated Portland Hip Hop Day but how many of them have attended a hip hop show since then? Or ever?
Last month’s show sold out shortly after the first artist finished up so the smart money is on showing up when doors open at 8 PM.