Brush up on the city’s best hip-hop artists, showcases, shops and news outlets.
You may have seen Aminé on Jimmy Fallon or listened to the new album from Dodgr. But how much do you really know about Rose City hip-hop? Dive into the past, present and future of the Portland hip-hop scene with our expert guide to its best performers, stores and more.
History of Hip-Hop in Portland
It would be irresponsible to discuss the recent history of hip-hop in Portland without touching on the discrimination and gentrification the scene has endured. Artists, fans, journalists and promoters — especially those from the old school — have experienced a slew of club and venue closures. This has made it even harder for hip-hop to exist in this historically less-than-diverse city. Crown Room, Harlem, Someday Lounge and Beauty Bar all shuttered in the last few years.
The most infamous closure, perhaps, was that of beloved jazz venue Blue Monk in 2014. The closure followed a highly publicized example of local law enforcement targeting hip-hop and rap shows in Portland. A 2014 show featuring Luck One (now Hanif), Mikey Vegaz and battle rap champion Illmaculatewas cut short by the arrival of more than a dozen police and gang enforcement officers. Police blocked off the street and limited access to the event,
(Photo: David DJ O.G. One Jackson)
claiming there was overcrowding in the basement. Illmaculate, the show’s headliner, left the venue in protest before beginning his set. “I will not perform in this city as long as the blatant targeting of Black culture and minorities congregating is acceptable common practice,” he tweeted. The Blue Monk closed a few weeks later.
Today, Portland’s hip-hop scene is thriving and seems to have shaken off much of its negative reputation with public officials. In 2015, then-mayor Charlie Hales even designated Oct. 15 as “Portland Hip-hop Day” — a gesture meant to signify inclusion for the community.
Portland Hip-Hop Showcases
In recent years, several regular hip-hop showcases have blossomed around town. Here are a few to check out:
- Organized by former rapper and We Out Here Magazine (WOHM) editor Mac Smiff, amateur hip-hop showcase The Thesis has taken place every first Thursday of the month at Kelly’s Olympian since 2014.
- In 2016, the late emcee StarChile started hosting the Mic Check emcee showcase. Now hosted by DJ Klyph, the event takes place at White Eagle every last Thursday and has garnered support and coverage from the acclaimed hip-hop platform Team Backpack.
- The semi-regular YGB (Young Gifted & Brown) dance party DJ’d by Lamar LeRoy is known for its positive vibes.
(In Photo: Asa Spade & Anthraxx)
Portland Hip-Hop Artists
Portland hip-hop veterans like Vursatyl (of Lifesavas), Libretto, Hanif and Cool Nutz can occasionally still be seen on the mic around town. Meanwhile, a crop of promising new talent is building on what the old school started. These new performers are using social media tools to catapult their scene to the next level. Hip-hop leaders Mic Capes, Glenn Waco and Rasheed Jamalcomprise the Resistance crew. The group is celebrated for its socially conscious lyricism, impressive rap skills, community building and stellar crowd control.
Aminé and his viral single “Caroline” took Portland to the national stage in November 2016. Landing a post-election spot on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, he brought along established Portland neo-soul singer Blossomand acclaimed rapper Dodgr as backup. Other local stars include “femcees” like Karma Rivera, Vytell and Fritzwa. Newcomer Wynne stunned the crowd during a cypher (a hip-hop jam or freestyle battle) at Mic Check in March 2017. Portland is also home to eclectic artists like “St. Johns Scholar” Vinnie Dewayne, anime-obsessed Fountaine and the dynamic Myke Bogan.
Portland Hip-Hop Shops
In addition to checking out these artists and shows, visitors can shop at local stores vital to Portland’s hip-hop culture. These shops support local artists, host events and are First Thursday destinations for hip-hop-inspired art, music and designs. At Compound Gallery in Northwest Portland’s Old Town neighborhood, shoppers can find products from Bro Pluto, Jordan Carter’s monkey-logo’d brand. (The brand also frequently pops up at local gigs and merch tables.) In addition to selling local designs, Compound Gallery — along with neighbors Upper Playground and the Black-owned Deadstock Coffee — offers an alternative to typical First Thursday exhibitions.
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