[Editors Note: I’m extremely pleased to present the following op-ed / week in review from Portland journalist Bruce Poinsette. Following a few years at The Skanner, Bruce has been doing freelance work and I’m can’t express how excited I am to add his perspective to our crew.]
Something strange happened in Portland this week. Unity.
It was subtle, but for a brief moment, there was no chatter about top 10 lists or any other petty drama in the Portland hip-hop scene. Instead, everyone had their eyes on Liv Warfield and their middle fingers pointed at a couple of rappers from Atlanta.
For a city that constantly talks about the lack of unity, it was beautiful to see everyone buzzing in anticipation for Warfield’s debut on Jimmy Fallon. People were posting reminders and flyers while some were even putting together viewing parties. When Warfield tore the stage down, it was a great look for Portland. For that moment, people put aside their drama and seemed to rejoice in unison.
Meanwhile, it was just as beautiful to see so many people come together in response to the “Black Portland” mixtape. Instead of letting some rappers from Atlanta appropriate Portland’s Black community, everyone seemed to come together to scream, “Who the fuck do these dudes from Atlanta think they are?”
Neither the responses to Warfield nor “Black Portland” were orchestrated. People united organically and revealed a sense of community pride that you wouldn’t believe if you listen to the rhetoric.
You’d think Portland hip-hop is in the midst of an internal war, even though it’s just a scene full of emerging artists and developing infrastructure. It’s gotten to the point where some have even suggested promoting artists you don’t like for the sake of the scene, as if others can’t tell the difference between a recommendation and contrived PR.
Instead of trying to manufacture unity, why not simply handle your business, support what you think is dope and tell the truth? It makes no sense to be up in arms over top 10 lists (They’re really like the blurbs on books and ads for movies in that they’re friendly cosigns, not finite resources worth going to war over) and criticism.
Hip-hop is rooted in many of the same traditions as other genres created by Black people like funk, soul, jazz, blues, gospel and spirituals. One of those traditions is an honest audience. A major reason that Black music has continuously produced so many timeless artists and trendsetters is because listeners will let you know if your music isn’t hitting (There’s a reason we all know “Wade in the Water” while “Kill Massa at Midnight” never caught on). The result has been generations of music that’s shaped the world.
Not to mention, this environment produced strong musical communities.
Right now, Portland hip-hop is witnessing a musical renaissance. Yet, if you weren’t from here, you probably wouldn’t notice.
All the pressure to be the one that puts the city on the map and the desire for everyone to just get along overshadows all the great things happening.
A number of Portland artists have made their mark internationally while repping Portland to the fullest. There are radio shows, blogs and a number of reporters at local publications hungry to capture the scene and give artists exposure. Beyond hip-hop, Liv Warfield just shut down Jimmy Fallon and Esperanza Spalding keeps winning Grammys. It’s gotten to the point where rappers in Atlanta are biting Portland’s style.
Instead of fostering artificial unity, let’s just keep building. As long as Portland keeps exporting strong music, more people will take notice. There’s no need for people to outsmart themselves with elaborate schemes. To reiterate, just keep it simple. Handle your business, support what’s dope and tell the truth.
I look forward to more moments like Warfield on Fallon, where the city comes together and realizes how unified it actually is.