What is hip-hop?
That’s a question that has sparked debates since DJ Kool Herc began spinning at Bronx block parties in the early 1970s. As OPB’s David Stuckey recently put it:
“… hip-hop is a scathing documentary.
“When someone says hip-hop is beautiful and bold and brilliant — that’s real talk. And when someone says hip-hop is capitalistic, misogynistic and/or glorifies violence. Well, that’s real talk too.
“Because hip-hop is (and has always been) an unapologetic mirror of our society and the artistic truth in this emergency ward called America.”
All of that rang true Saturday night at Portland’s Wonder Ballroom. Part of the eclectic Soul’d Out Music Festival, attendees were treated to a collage of sounds and experiences between the night’s four acts.
Portland-duo Brown Calculus kicked things off with smooth, electric-jazz sounds and conscious lyrics espousing love, self-care and community. Hometown hero Mic Capes then provided a throwback with a focus on storytelling. Capes painted a narrative of the trials, tragedies and triumphs of life as a black man in the uber-white world of Portland, Oregon.
And maybe no act Saturday night could sum up the diversity of sounds that is hip-hop quite like co-headliner EarthGang. The otherworldly duo of Doctur Dot and Johnny Venus continue to reinvent the sounds of the genre with every release. If you took 60s counterculture vibes, the lyricism and ingenuity of OutKast and the funky sounds of The Pharcyde and tossed it all into a blender, you’d have yourself an EarthGang smoothie. Oh, and don’t forget the cannabis.
Then, of course, there’s, J.I.D. The rising Atlanta superstar offers a more mainstream take on the genre, with impressive lyrical skills that weave stories of life in the hood with the good-time vibes of party and excess. Oh, and an energy that quite literally made this reviewer think the floor might cave in.
So what exactly is hip-hop? Well, to borrow from an old adage about America itself, it’s a melting pot of sights, sounds and experiences. Saturday, Portland was at the center of that melting pot.
-Bryan M. Vance
J.I.D. + EarthGang
It’s difficult to describe the raw energy that EarthGang brings to the stage. Decked out in the strangest of garb — Doctur Dot wore a rainbow mohawk hat, yellow overalls, an Army surplus jacket and a bright green fanny pack, for example — EarthGang’s style is only topped by their even stranger sounds. The crowd gobbled up every bit of their magic, hanging on every syllable and helping the duo go line for line through their last three EPs.
Dreamville labelmate and fellow Atlanta-resident J.I.D. technically co-headlined the night’s show with EarthGang, but entered after the duo finished their set and somehow took the energy to another level. His hyper energy shines on a stage where he’s free to bounce from one train of thought to another, interlacing it all with powerful prose and performances. Near the end of his set, J.I.D. brought back out Doctur Dot and Johnny Venus and together they had the crowd jumping up and down so hard that the Wonder Ballroom’s floor began to feel like a trampoline.
-Bryan M. Vance
Jaimeo Brown Transcendence
“I think about this music 90 percent of my day,” said drummer-producer Jaimeo Brown. Beyond the raucous energy of the Wonderland Ballroom, the Mission Theater had a cerebral, more slow burn offering.
Snares like shifting sand filled the space, punctuating Jaleel Shaw’s ethereal sax solos and Chris Sholar’s sampling of archival southern work songs. At the rhythmic helm was Brown, weaving together the fragments.
There was a scholarly ambition to the evening’s music, sure — that lesson was memorable, nonetheless. Jaimeo Brown Transcendence reached down into the primordial soup of soul music, amidst the dirt of manual labor and communal yearning for humanity. In a 90-minute set that flowed unbroken, the group toyed with historical recordings, sparse hooks and moments of exaltation.
“Jazz. Hip-hop. EDM. Everything has its roots in traditional work songs. And these songs built communities. This was music to support and encourage. To heal.”
In the hands of less experienced musicians, all this could have fallen flat, or worse. With collaboration credits encompassing work with A Tribe Called Quest, Beyoncé and Stevie Wonder (to mention a few), however, members of Jaimeo Brown Transcendence had the necessary chops to deliver their manifesto: A musical distillation of being black in America, or, seen through a wider lens, of any community transcending incredible challenges.