Isaac Rathje, or Kool-Aid as he is widely known, has for long been a staple in the Portland rap scene. Like many, I was shocked late last night to hear that he’d passed, a victim of seemingly senseless gun violence at Fernhill Park, the previous home of Whitaker Middle School.
Turns out it was another guy with the same nickname – and for him we grieve – but I think we’re all rightfully relieved that our guy is still with us.
Well known for pushing mostly local rap CDs in any and every area of Portland Metro, Kool Aid is loved and respected for his constant grind, gentle demeanor and witty sense of humor. His character s something of myth and legend; people take selfies with him where ever they find him – from Vancouver to St. Johns to Clackamas – whether he’s riding the MAX or pounding the pavement with his box of CDs and his colorful durags.
I don’t know how long Kool-Aid has been grinding. As my friend and fellow Portlander EmmaJean said on Facebook, “I don’t remember the first time I met him because it felt like he was just always around, with a CD he was passionate about.” He once told me that he spends 20 hours a day “in these streets,” and when I asked him when he slept he just kind of shrugged me off like the idea of sleep was preposterous. This conversation occurred downtown around 4 am though, so it was hard to argue with the man.
Many a Portland rapper hire Kool-Aid to push their product. He is the one that put me on to Cool Nutz, Kenny Mack, LifeSavas, Dubble 00 and The Jacka back in my teenage years. He once told me (on a MAX train, I believe) that “everybody wants me to push thier CDs” but added coyly that he “don’t rep no whack shit”.
Keenly aware of his status in the city, Kool-Aid never seems to rest, singularly embodying the spirit of The Grind and causing smiles with his mere presence where so ever he travels. That’s why the rumor that he’d passed was so hard to believe, and why the city exploded in sadness.
I originally wrote this part in past tense, and it fills my heart to make this correction. Long live Kool-Aid!