So, Luck One was in town on Saturday.
When he got on stage at The Blue Monk around 11-ish, he was definitely in his element. The crowd was already hyped, women were happy to see him, the show was sold out and Portland Police Dept. had already pissed him off. Luck lives for this shit. And on Sunday, boy did shit go down.
The man who is easily Portland’s most opinionated rapper is definitely still on that East Coast grind, but the self-proclaimed King of the Northwest took a New York minute out on the Best Coast for what promised to be a noteworthy show. Headliners included Mikey Vegaz, Illmaculate, with appearances from Matt Murdock, Only One, Big Mo, Cool Nutz and long-familiar faces. When I got there at 10pm, it was already a veritable “who’s who” of the established Portland hip hop scene. I’m pretty skeptical of inflated claims, but when GLMG titled the show Heavyweights, they weren’t kidding; artists, producers, promoters, journalists, designers… everyone showed up.
Oh, and the cops. Duh. Portland police are a hip hop institution. Huge fans. You can’t really have a hip hop show in Portland without Portland police. They love hip hop and they can’t stand to be left out. And on Sunday, the Gang Taskforce Unit, the Fire Marshall and a handful of other (labeled and unlabeled) law enforcement were so excited to see their favorite rappers that they flipped their lights on, parked in the middle of Belmont and forgot to close their car doors in their rush to get inside and catch Mikey Vegaz and Luck One.
Of course, since they were on duty, they had to have a good excuse to be there. The Gang Unit told event staff that they weren’t leaving until after Mikey’s set. They were REALLY looking forward to seeing him (and maybe getting an autograph?) as soon as he got off stage. No word yet on whether they convinced the rapper to give an encore later at the police station. However, upon further questioning, and a quick glance around the room at all of the diverse, happy, relaxed crowd, they realized they’d need a better cover story for why they were hobnobbing with Portland’s Finest instead of out keeping people safe. So they quickly backtracked and gave an unlikely story about “overcrowding.” Contrary to popular belief, they did NOT shut the show down; they wanted to see Luck One! And boy, was Luck excited to see them!
Conveniently, Luck’s newest album, “Curse of the Pharaoh” includes several law enforcement favorites such as,
– Malcolm X (“Your enemies are buying buildings while the cost is cheap… And the white folks own all the property on Malcolm X Blvd”) – (um, did someone yell MLK Blvd instead?)
–Strange Fruit (“Like we ain’t getting nervous when we see the police, as if there was really justice when they’ve never been entrusted and they actually afforded us the freedom of speech…”)
-And of course, (Subliminal) Sounds (Of the City, II) (“Where the coppers only judge to show us they never loved us and they beat us up and they cuff us on the ground (IN THE CITY!) Where they treat us like we’re criminals, scandalous individuals….”)
Needless to say, Luck went out of his way to shout out his friends at Portland Police Bureau. He repeated the above lines written just for them several times, joking about the money they owe him for a previous “misunderstanding.”
Other acts seemed less amused. Mikey Vegaz (whom the police originally informed event staff they were most interested in) left the building almost immediately after his set, although he probably could have stuck around; a police officer asked the merchandise salesperson “who was performing” while he was on stage. And in a dramatic climax, the ever-intense Ill maculate, the closing act, shut the show down himself, lividly informing the crowd that not only would he not be performing then, but he wouldn’t be performing in Portland AT ALL.
As frustrated fans made their way upstairs, the front of the Blue Monk looked like a murder scene (squad cars blocking Belmont, 20+ police scattered in the crowd to “help fans leave the venue safely”), and the fire marshal (and friends) stood by with folded arms, and irritated expressions, seemingly exasperated with the confused fans repeatedly (and calmly) asking them why they were there.
When I tried to ask him (or his co-workers) what had brought them out, they insisted that they had stopped by “randomly” to “ensure safety.” When I asked who else I could talk to, one officer shrugged, and said, “I really don’t know, maybe the police chief?” When I asked for a name, he shrugged and told me I could “probably look it up online.” These were easily the most disruptive, uncooperative and ill-tempered hip hop fans of the night. But rumor had it that they had been hoping there would be a protest or a riot or a fight or at least some petty theft. You know, something “gangster” or “urban,” something exciting. Maybe they were just bummed out.
As the disappointed crowd slowly dissipated, frustrated artists and hip hop heads stuck around to rant.
Big Mo pointed out that while the police, OLCC, fire marshal and others continually express concern that hip hop shows will be negative, “We’re not the ones making a scene. We’re not the ones intimidating people. We’re not the ones being disruptive. That’s them.”
Cool Nutz described the situation as “very frustrating,” and said that it seemed there was, “No answer.”
“They [the police] feel like they’re doing their job. I tried to influence the continuation of the show, but their presence created a dark cloud.”
In the end, everyone involved, from the fans, to the artists, to the house had lost time, energy and money and no one was happy. Technically speaking, since no one was fined and the show was never shut down, even the city and the tax payer lost money in this fiasco. By Sunday morning, the rumors were flying about what had happened, why, and Facebook went crazy with speculation, rants, and illogical suggestions on how to prevent this from happening in the future.
According to Bryce Trost, founder of Green Luck Media Group, this is what really went down: “They would pull the plug on the show if Mikey didn’t leave, due to his ‘gang affiliation,’ and the concern of what he and his devoted-attendees would do after his set, implying a history of ‘jumping and robbing random concert attendees.’ It was straight up appalling. That’s when they began to not let already-paid guests back into the show, which then forced a formed crowd wanting back in.”
When I finally caught up with Illmaculate, his sentiments seemed to sum up the feelings of the scene in general. “I will no longer be accepting these type of situations as standard atmosphere for a hip-hop show in Portland. There is accountability on all sides for creating a safe and positive atmosphere and if that is really the goal of PPD (as they’ve stated) & OLCC, then we have the same goal, and working with us, rather than against us would be much more productive for all parties involved. By addressing whatever issue they claim is the reason why they were there, in such an unnecessary, heavy handed fashion, they are only alienating themselves from the same community they are claiming to want to protect and serve, making it harder for them to do so, as well as for us to do our job.”
Did Portland push three of its biggest hip hop names further away? Sounds like it.
Oh, and Portland, take a tip from this reporter; if your police are going to be “undercover” at a hip hop show, you should probably make sure they don’t have kids who take tumbling lessons from this writer. See you all at class though.
*Cover photo courtesy of Matt Almendinger.