I’m going to approach this from an unlikely angle. In truth, I never really listened to the Lifesavas much coming up. It’s not that I was oblivious to their movement or hating on their sound, but more-so that I was on a different train at the time they were really big.
Let’s rewind to 2003 – insert DJ reverse spin sound effect – that’s ten years ago! Before I got married (and divorced)… Luck One was still at MacLaren… Kendra James had just been murdered by the police… Jay-Z was still relevant as a rapper… And I was learning to balance having 2 baby-moms. I can recall listening to lots of R&B. Donnell Jones and Anthony Hamilton come to mind along with 112 and MJB. Detroit rap (aside from Eminem) had recently broke into the mainstream, and I was definitely intrigued by the movement coming from the South. T.I., David Banner, Lil’ John, and DJ Michael Watts were starting to shake things up and two years removed from my short college stint in ATL, I felt like I had the inside scoop.
This was the year MySpace got started and I was working with Sonny on our album, Known Perfectionists (which, like all of my other rap projects, never came out). I certainly wasn’t trying to hear about a rap group from the town rapping over spacy beats and doing reggae hooks. I’d already given Lyrics Born a chance and I wasn’t really into it. No hate, I just didn’t pay attention. I was still recording with Snaff and Mako of OlDominion, pulling for The Chozen to get back together and wondering who these Sandpeople guys were and why they were claiming 19th and Prescott Street when that was clearly 7th Science domain.
That was a real Portland underground rap tangent right there… If I lost you, I’m sorry. Let me back back to the point.
So a couple years ago, I happened to be at Ash Street – maybe for POHHOP? – and caught Jumbo and Rev. Shines rocking with Libretto. This was the first taste I’d ever had of the Lifesavas and I was blown away by Vursatyl’s lyrical arsenal. Still, I hear a LOT of music and the experience never translated to me downloading their music. Now fast forward to last Saturday…
First of all, shouts to the Doug Fir a) for hosting a hip-hop concert, and b) for putting We Out Here Magazine on the guestlist. My lovely photographer Sharde and I got in with no hassle, no unnecessary pat-downs, and there was no drama over my fitted ball cap. We were even allowed to leave and re-enter as many times as we wanted. Winning, for sure.
Upon entry, I quickly noticed Deena B on the 1s & 2s, spinning for a lanky rapper I didn’t recognize. A quick chat with the always engaging Kenny Fresh cleared that up as I learned that the young rapper’s name is Zoo?. I was conflicted by his performance as he definitely had a great voice and I liked his schemes, yet I often felt unable to connect with his bar-to-bar lyrical content. I’ll definitely have to keep an eye on this kid.
Next up were the folks I truly came to see. TxE rarely disappoints and this night was no different. Reeling through the hits they’ve amassed over the last few years, Tope, Epp and Calvin Valentine kept the crowd at a solid 8 throughout the duration of their set. At one point, a young lady jumped up on stage to dance with the young rapstars. I was nearly in tears when Epp ever-so-politely pushed her back into the crowd. In what’s become tradition for the band, Tope and Epp took their mics into the crowd for their banner song We Get It In True and rapped from the middle of a wild mosh pit. If you’ve never seen TxE live you need to get on your job.
Finally, The Lifesavas took the stage. Vursatyl is an amazing showman. He does everything: rap, sing, reggae-ton… I was half expecting him to beatbox and pull out a viola. As I’d mentioned earlier, the guy has bars, and I was really happy to hear that Jumbo is no slouch either. Fellow Mets fan Rev. Shines really did his thing; honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been less than impressed by his work.
It’s always interesting going to a show with little-to-no knowledge of a band’s body of work. For the first few songs they performed, I had a hard time feeling engaged. As longtime fans danced and sang along, I was studying, analyzing, trying to decide if I had an authentic like for the music I as hearing. The building was at or near capacity and I was forced to watch from the stairs (where the sign clearly told me not to stand) and as they broke into HelloHiHey, I found that first spark of familiarity. “Hey,” I thought to myself, “I know this song… And I like it!”
Sometimes that’s all it takes. From then on, I was engaged in the call and response. My ears recognized a few tracks along the way that I’d heard, but never knew who the artist was. I wasn’t blown away, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself… And I wasn’t even drinking.
Afterwards, I was outside with Sharde, Sonny and the lil’ homie Mira. She introduced us to Vursatyl who, despite being one of the most celebrated rappers in Portland’s history, was surprisingly chill and humble, thanking us for coming to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Spirit In Stone. To top it all off, he knew about WOHM, and that in itself made my night.
2003 was a long time ago. A lot has changed. But the Lifesavas music holds up as classic, and I’m happy I finally got on the train.
All photos by Sharde Marie