Rose Bent performing
This is part three of a three part series on the crackdown on hip-hop in Portland. Part one discussed the history of the tensions and the application of dress codes while part two examined the role of security costs.
Growth of Portland Hip-Hop
For the most part, Portland hip-hop hasn't expanded outside of the region. There have been some exceptions like the Lifesavas having their music featured in the popular, short-lived ESPN series "Playmakers" and Cool Nutz going on tour internationally with artists like E-40. However, the city's musical reach hasn't gone far beyond that and many artists believe the seemingly anti-hip-hop policies are further stunting its growth.
"No one is really on here. You have a couple gatekeepers," says Jacque Dixon of the group Rose Bent. "If you can show that you can do numbers for a venue there shouldn't be a struggle to book some of these shows.
"We're behind. Our radio is behind. Hip-hop can't be progressive because of the venues, the radio, the lack of community."
Some believe it also has a negative effect on outsiders' perception of Portland. Specifically, some artists worry that bigger names from out of town will avoid the city because of its reputation.
"As a whole, if you've got big acts that are coming through Portland and they stop in town, there's a chance that a local act can perform and might get a chance to get signed, go on the road, do shows, as well as promote their albums," says Jonathan Norman, who goes by the stage name Smurf Luchiano. "When you've got a stigma on the whole state or the whole city saying, 'Hey this is a place you don't want to perform at because the show might get cancelled before you get there or the promoters don't really want to bring anyone out there because they're getting overcharged so they want to pay you less money,' it makes Portland have a black eye."
He says artists will make the choice to bypass Portland for places like Seattle or L.A. to avoid these issues, which will further limit the local scene's growth.
Jonathan Norman aka Smurf Luchiano
Randal Wyatt, MC of the group Speaker Minds, says playing shows with bigger name artists in the city has helped his band build a fan base from their exposure to a larger audience.
"It's not that easy to play shows outside of the region if you don't have it locked down in your region," he says.
Furthermore, Wyatt says the lack of quality venues has an effect on simply putting on a decent show.
"It's hard to gain a fan base if you can't perform at venues with a decent sound system. That means the world to a live band."
As some feel hip-hop is being phased out, the tensions between the hip-hop community and the City lead back to a larger conversation on the issue of gentrification.
"It's hard to find where I dwell because home is only a shell and the people I was raised with, can't afford the raised rent, so the neighborhood shifted and faded out of existence," raps Luck-One on the song "Keep Shining" off of his "King of the Northwest" mixtape.
Portland has a long history of forced migration of Black people, which includes the Vanport floods, the building of the Memorial Coliseum and Emanuel Hospital, all of which pushed Black populations to areas with even less resources than before (Check out The Skanner News' Lost Neighborhoods Edition for more in-depth coverage). More recently, Portland has seen large numbers of Blacks relocate from Northeast to East Portland and Gresham, where housing is cheaper.
Wyatt has lived in the city his whole life and seen the changes in areas like Alberta, Hawthorne and Mississippi Street. Specifically, he says there has been an influx of people that identify as "hipster" or "hippie". While this decidedly whiter crowd has supported his group, he hasn't lost sight of the effect it has on other artists who have been in the area for years.
"That's primarily our fan base but what about the others that may not attract that?" asks Wyatt. "If they can't get their own people into their shows, how are they supposed to grow?"
He says he considered moving, partly due to his role as a father, but also says he will continue to entertain the thought if Portland venues continue the seemingly adversarial relationship with hip-hop acts.
Randal Wyatt of Speaker Minds
The loss of Black music hubs isn't new to Portland either. Jumptown, the city's thriving jazz district was lost to the construction of the Memorial Coliseum, freeway expansion and urban renewal initiatives in the 1950s. (Check out this interactive map by The Skanner News' Lisa Loving, displaying the businesses that made Jump Town thrive and what has replaced them since).
Artists agree that fans would ultimately be the ones losing out if bigger venues continue to become less available or artists choose to move to areas where careers in hip-hop are more prosperous.
"We're from here," says Norman. "This is what we do. What kind of music we do. If we can't do it at home then where are we supposed to do it at? We got to have somewhere to keep hip-hop alive. Hip-hop is not all bad things. There's a lot of culture involved."
All sides agree that more communication will be the key to a resolution to the hostilities between the hip-hop community and the City.
"It's good they're (the hip-hop community) pushing to thrive," says Benjamin Eshbach, general manager of the Mt. Tabor Theater. "I've seen it grow in the four years I've been here. I think it's good that the questions are being asked instead of people being angry."
Kheoshi Taylor-Mayes (stage name Lady Trinity) of Rose Bent says that the relationship between hip-hop artists and the police, specifically, doesn't have to be contentious.
She says she traveled to Atlanta and saw more Black officers than she has ever seen. Also, she says they were on friendly terms with artists and fans.
"I've never seen so much support from their police," she says. "When you go to the club there are six or seven police cars parked out in front of the venue but they just sit there. They'll be talking and joking with people at the venue because they're involved with the community. They grew up with the residents. They had a relationship there and that was something I'd never seen. In Portland it's like cow herding. People hunting."
Although Sergeant Pete Simpson of the Portland Police Bureau says he doesn't know if the relationship between certain artists and the police are as solid as they were when he was on the Gang Enforcement Team, he says the keys to making things work are still the same.
"Artists want to make money," he says. "Having a good relationship ensures shows go off without a hitch.
"Get to know officers and let them get to know you."
While the improvement of communication remains to be seen, artists are finding ways to reach their fans in smaller venues. Many are performing at house parties and letting their fans know it's not necessarily a bad thing.
"House parties > Clubs," reads a status on the Luck-One Conscious Facebook fan page.
Speaker Minds have also found themselves performing more at house parties. Wyatt says they, like many local groups, will perform anywhere someone will take them. Hip-hop is not a stranger to adversity and he has faith the music will persevere.
"I know hip-hop will always find a way to get heard," says Wyatt. "We've got backup venues galore and new ones popping up because we bring out a great vibe of people and never have any problems."