Hip-hop has been one of the most important vehicles for the African-American community — especially the under-30 set — to talk about grief, anger and next steps forward. We caught up with two artists this week who have been writing about justice issues for years, as part of State of Wonder’s episode about how Portland artists are responding to the recent shootings.
Mic Capes has one of the largest megaphones on the St. Johns scene. He’s got a big voice and a lyric sensibility to match. He records solo but has also shared the stage with Rasheed Jamal, who has been on Portland stages for five years with a style that’s picked up speed and intensity.
Here are some highlights of our conversation:
On the difficulty of making socially relevant music in the industry today:
Rasheed Jamal: “There was a point in time when artists could be artists,” Jamal said, “but now more so than ever you are pressured to do things and say things that really benefit other people. It’s all about partying; it’s almost turned into disco. It’s like, man who do we listen to these days whenever we’re going through something? There’s no album I can pick up that makes me feel like Makaveli makes me feel.”
Mic Capes: “Everything is escapism today on the radio.”
On reaching people who’ve never experienced a bad traffic stop:
Mic Capes: “This is Portland, man. A lot of people aren’t forced to live in these areas where there are people of color. You can grow up here your whole life and not grow up around anybody of color.”
Rasheed Jamal: “I feel like the propaganda that is out there is trying to force a divide between black and white when honestly it’s a divide between ignorant and informed.”
On the new momentum in political organizing around Black Lives Matter and other movements:
Rasheed Jamal: “Every time I see some little girl getting dragged around by a 230-pound police officer it makes me fear for my own mother; it makes me fear for my little cousins, my own life, Mic’s life, Glenn [Waco]’s life. Don’t believe for a second comfortable white people who believe all lives matter, yet you do nothing to comfort our own lives. The compassion that we seek is the fact that, just understand man, you and me ain’t got the same problems. I’m not saying mine are bigger than yours, but I’m saying I still have to be two different people.”
Mic Capes dropped a new track this week called “One for O’Shea” a.k.a. Ice Cube – an homage to “F*** The Police” by N.W.A. Capes says the week’s violence in Dallas did not give him pause once he decided to release it.
“I’m the type of person if I see a bunch of things and it hits me deep than I gotta get it out. I believe there are good people who are police but I don’t really believe in good police — good policing. It’s like asking a fly if there’s good spiders. There are good people who are police, but the system as a whole is messed up.”
On his SoundCloud, Capes writes “I had to get this off of my chest. This is NOT a call to kill police. It is a call for equity and justice for people of color in the United States of America and beyond. Power To The People.”
Rasheed Jamal adds, “There has never been a mainstream group of black people talking about let’s go kill some white folks. That’s another myth that has been created.”
Both Jamal and Capes say they are going to continue what they’ve been doing: making music and helping youth in the communities they live in.
“Putting that energy into the community — our community,” Jamal says, “talking to these youth and inspiring them and getting to see outside of their four corners. Trying to live regularly, impact your community, be educated and then someday be 75 years old with your little granddaughter or grandson bouncing on your knees and telling them about the stuff that you used to do.”
Capes is playing at the Deep Under Ground event on July 16 at Disjecta and is also playing at PDX Pop Now on July 22. Jamal will play at Mic Check at the White Eagle July 28.