Portland rapper Mic Capes has performed in venues all over Portland, but Thursday was something special. He was live at City Hall.
Capes was one of many to celebrate Oct. 15 as Portland Hip-Hop Day. The lineup included rappers Vinnie Dewayne and Jon Belz, as well as DJs Juggernaut, Lady X and DJ Wels.
The celebration was announced after a contentious 2014, when the city auditor’s office conducted an investigation into the way Portland Police engaged with hip-hop shows.
The investigation came after incidents at the Blue Monk and Kelly’s Olympian, where heavy police presence interrupted hip-hop shows. Officers said the buildings were over capacity, but the artists believed they were targets of discrimination.
To kick off the Portland Hip-Hop Day event, Mayor Charlie Hales addressed these concerns and why the city proclamation was important.
“Today’s proclamation is not simply about recognizing the importance of hip-hop in Portland,” Hales said, “It’s to publicly recognize the beginning efforts of the city of Portland to build better relationships, better systems of communication, accountability with law agencies, better business practices, and overall better support of one another in hopes for making Portland a positive and thriving environment for business and culture of hip-hop.”
But not everyone was quick to celebrate. Mac Smiff, editor of Northwest hip-hop blog We Out Here Magazine, is skeptical about the city’s motivation.
“If you’re a mayor and you’re running for re-election, you want to consolidate your base,” Smiff said. “It’s kind of a win-win situation, so I definitely think it’s a political move.”
Mic Capes performed at a show last year that was halted by law enforcement. He says the situation between police and hip-hop artists has improved.
“I feel like they’ve been less aggressive and less present,” Capes said. “I don’t care that they’re there. If you’re there, don’t come there (and) be aggressive with patrons. I feel like it’s been a lot better, way better.”
Last year’s investigation included a list of recommendations to help the city, club owners and hip-hop artists alleviate tensions. One of the recommendations was a long-term dialogue between the city and members of the hip-hop community.
Idris “Starchile” O’ferrall is a promoter in the Portland hip-hop scene who helped organize Hip-Hop Day with DJ OG One and members of the mayor’s office. For the last eight months, he has been a part of ongoing talks with law enforcement and city officials to help mend the broken relationship. He sees Portland hip-hop day as positive first step.
“I think its big because we are finally being recognized,” O’ferrall said. “Is everything fixed? Absolutely not. But if the city is willing to give us a day, and make the day grow … that shows they at least have some level of respect for us.”
Oferall hopes Oct. 15 is celebrated by not hundreds but thousands in years to come. By the fifth anniversary, the goal is to host the event at Waterfront Park.