FOR THE PAST 12 months, a hip-hop show has served as a creative outlet for Portland's up-and-coming artists and bridged the gap between the city's various hip-hop cliques. This week, the Thesis celebrates its one-year anniversary, and the event—held every first Thursday at Kelly's Olympian by hosts/sponsors We Out Here Magazine and XRAY.fm (taking over for KPSU)—will expand to two nights, including its first ever all-ages show.
The city has seen its share of controversy surrounding hip-hop. A show at the Blue Monk was cut short in March 2014 when local rapper Illmaculate decided not to perform in protest of the overbearing police presence at the event. Since then, many artists have struggled to find venues to regularly host hip-hop shows; the Blue Monk has since shut down (it is now a venue/bar called the Liquor Store), while other hip-hop-friendly venues like the Alhambra Theatre have also closed. Relations between performers, fans, and city police have been strained in past years, but 2015 seems to have ushered in a new attitude toward hip-hop in Portland—perhaps best exemplified by the city's first sanctioned Hip-Hop Day, an event that took place on October 15 in the courtyard of Portland City Hall.
"There aren't many venues for hip-hop," says DJ Verbz, who has been DJing the Thesis since the beginning. Verbz has been involved in Portland hip-hop for more than a decade, and has performed at just about every venue in the city. "The Thesis is more important than ever when it comes to providing a venue," he says. "We're helping to build this new batch of hip-hop, I swear to that."
Every first Thursday, Kelly's Olympian becomes a meeting ground for local hip-hop fans, producers, and emcees alike. The event prides itself on being more than just a monthly concert series, though—it aims to create an environment where hip-hop can thrive in a city dominated by other genres of music.
Coordinators have made it a priority to book a wide variety of sounds and styles, from more classic hip-hop sounds to avant-garde performance art. "Our main focus is making sure the Thesis is the event you go to," Verbz says, "and that you don't necessarily go for just the lineup."
Portland's hip-hop scene is—much like Portland itself—a diverse pool of personalities. Past events have seen appearances from artists like Mic Capes and Jon Belz, both artists who performed at Hip-Hop Day. Along with Capes and Belz, the fresh sounds of artists like Fountaine, Grape God, and Renaissance Coalition have graced Kelly's stage. It's not just Portland's new artists, either—the Thesis has also hosted Portland legends like Cool Nutz, who's been actively involved in the city's hip-hop scene for more than two decades.
The one-year anniversary of the Thesis will be the first time the event stretches to two nights. At Kelly's Olympian on Thursday, December 3, performers include Epp, Dodgr, Neill Von Tally, Mic Capes, and Elton Cray. The following night (Friday, December 4), the Thesis hosts its first all-ages event at AIA Portland with Verbz and local emcee Fountaine performing alongside special guests. Friday's event will also host the premiere for the new web series X-Ray, which features Fountaine and depicts the turbulent journeys of a rising rapper.
"We like to give a voice to the people who are actively contributing to the Portland scene," says Janessa Narciso, one of the event's co-founders. "All of these artists are putting in work, they all have a story to tell, and that's where the Thesis gets its name. This is their body of work, this is their thesis they're presenting on stage."