Alexander Wright

LAST MONTH Portland hip-hop’s most relevant players packed the Yanagida shop on Mississippi to finally hear Mic Capes’ Concrete Dreams. During the listening party, Capes was “serious as an eagle” as he shared his long-awaited follow-up to 2012’s Rise & Grind.

The new 20-track project opens with some wise words from LA emcee Alia Zin on “Alia’s Prologue: AM Thoughts”: “I question those who don’t oppose and just obey/Who like a dog sit, stand, and lay, even shit when they say/But you would too if all you knew was concrete and your dreams became obsolete.”

On Concrete Dreams, Capes dreams of financial stability and discusses the mistreatment of black women, police brutality, and gang violence. “Five Finger Discount” features local rapper Rasheed Jamal—one-third of the Resistance collective he started with Capes and Glenn Waco years ago. I already knew that this and “Jumper Cables” with the “St. Johns Scholar” Vinnie Dewayne really banged live, but surprisingly the recorded versions got me hyped. I also appreciated Capes’ cleaner re-recording of his single “Jansport.”

Concrete Dreams is a raw expression and reflection of Capes’ experience as a young black man growing up in North Portland. At the listening party he told the room about his writing process, and how he finds inspiration riding the bus, walking down the street, or from the kids he mentors, and then listens for emotion when choosing a beat. It’s an honest take on serious topics that have shaped his reality. “KKK,” which also features Jamal, is a chilling and somber track produced by Deadbrainz; “Pour out a little liquor, pour out a little liquor nigga,” Capes raps, “kings killing Kings, ain’t no better than the KKK.”

“One 4 O’Shea” is another great example of Capes taking a stand on issues of social injustice, especially since his delivery is crisp and concise as they come: “I’m down to ride for mine/If it came to it, shit, I’m down to die for mine, I’m down to die for my people they say they’re the law but then treat us illegal/Brutality footage it got me so tired/Kill us on camera and don’t get indicted/These coppers are tyrants they got me ignited I might grab a chopper and start me a riot.”

As soon as I heard “Black Pearls,” I knew it was my new personal favorite. I think it’s the musicality that’s working really well for me here, and poet Lauren Steel’s spoken word intro. Aaron Obryan Smith adds R&B vocals and sings the chorus, “Don’t change a thing/Don’t change a thing/You’re beautiful just the way you are/You are a queen” while a catchy bassline jams against Capes’ heartfelt verses. It’s inspired by his girlfriend, and reflects the pressures society puts on black women.

The succession of tracks is in impeccable storytelling order—from dreaming about success, to finding a good woman to love, to finding purpose in mentoring youth, Concrete Dreams takes you on a detailed journey through Capes’ perspective.