I started getting involved with the Portland hip-hop scene not long after Portland rapper Illmaculate declared that he would never perform in the city again after a well-chronicled incident at the Blue Monk in 2014. It’s hard to not look back on that incident as something of a bellwether. In calling out the blatant attempt by police to suppress the Portland hip-hop scene, Illmaculate also brought wider attention to an ongoing conversation about the relationship between the Portland hip-hop community and the broader music scene that continues to this day.
Months later, after interviewing some of the Portland hip-hop scene’s most prominent members (Stewart Villain, Trox, Rasheed Jamal, Verbz) at KPSU, I pitched the idea of throwing a monthly hip-hop series to Mac Smiff of We Out Here Magazine and The Thesis was born. We’ve been throwing shows for nearly two years now. The Thesis has flourished as a showcase for up and coming hip-hop acts, brought to you by a team of volunteers and a $5 cover that goes directly to the performers.
It’s exciting to bring Vortex Music Magazine, which has established itself as an independent voice within the Portland music scene, into the fold as a new co-sponsor. Going forward, I’ll be using this space as a means to highlight some of the amazing Portland artists that grace the stage at The Thesis each and every month. While so-called tastemakers in the broader music scene only seem to have the attention span to throw the same two to three acts on mixed genre bills (read: all indie bands and a token hip-hop act), Portland is blessed to have dozens of hip-hop acts who are worthy of your attention.
This month, I’m excited to see Donte Thomas. I first saw Thomas brought out as a guest during Chris Lee’s set at a Thesis show several months back and was struck by his energy, poise and flow. I recently had the chance to catch up with Thomas and asked him a few brief questions about The Theis and other topics.
Describe your history with The Thesis. What makes you excited to headline this month's show?
I've never done my own personal set for The Thesis. I've been a part of my friends’ sets and what not, which is fine, don't get me wrong. But I'm excited to headline and perform my first set with The Thesis next month. I'm bringing out a few special guest from #NewPortland, so anything can happen.
Who are some artists in Portland hip-hop that you look to for inspiration?
I'm going to say myself first and foremost, because whenever I need inspiration, it comes from within. As far as others, I'll have to say The Last Artful, Dodgr, Myke Bogan, TYuS and Aminé. The reason I say these four names in particular is because one way or another, they all inspire me. Myke and Dodgr [both EYRST artists featured in the last Vortex] have been dropping some beautiful, yet crazy music with visuals to put the icing on the beautiful, crazy cake [laughs]. Aminé and TYuS [both recently featured as Artists to Watch] have both gotten a lot of national level buzz from their latest releases, which is always inspiring to see. It's nice to see other artists in Portland doing well. I'm rooting for everyone in town! Much love to the RIP.
In my opinion Grayscale is one of the best local releases of the year. For those who haven't heard it yet, which track should they start with and why?
Wow man, thank you! That's really appreciated, can't say it enough. For those who haven't heard, I'd recommend they start from the beginning with “Come From" [listen to the whole record below]. The reason why I say that is because I worked hard on all of these songs. My goal is for you and everyone to listen to them all and appreciate the art years down the line. Each track serves its own purpose. The flow of the album is smooth. If they start in a certain spot, they probably won't grasp the full vibe. So start from track one, turn your shuffle settings off, close your eyes and just vibe with a nigga one time [said in a mock Mick Jenkins voice].
Favorite current national hip-hop act?
I have a few, is that okay? [Laughs] No, but seriously, Mick Jenkins has been killing it. I appreciate everything that guy is doing for the culture. Another I'd have to say is Vince Staples, a true black sheep to the hip-hop scene. He's unique, his energy can't be matched or compared to anyone in the game. The kid is an evil genius. Like Dexter’s Laboratory meets N.W.A.'s nephew from Northside Long Beach. And last but not least, I'd say D.R.A.M. His music is full of positive energy, his hooks are always catchy, and he freaking chopped “Broccoli”—don't sleep on that man. I'm telling you.
Best bar in Portland?
I just moved back to town not too long ago, so I can't even tell you man [laughs]. But whichever bar has Hennessy for the low. Dig what I'm sayin?