Mercury Anniversary Fri June 11

Sabala's Mt. Tabor

4811 SE Hawthorne

In the four years the Mercury's been in operation, one of the most important developments in Portland music has been the local and national success of the Lifesavas. They're longtime Portlanders steady grindin' with their crew, Misfit Massive, since the mid-'90s. But their 2003 release, Spirit in Stone (Quannum), put them in the worldwide underground, and exposed them to parts of the city that might not have known their music otherwise (aka much of white Portland). In a segregated city that seems to only talk to one another about racism when someone dies, the sheer uniting force of Lifesavas' larger presence--and message--has been an important one for the spiritual well being of Portland.

And, put simply, the talented Misfit Massive crew--which includes the three Lifesavas (Vursatyl, Jumbo, and Shines), Sly Da Brown Hornet, Dubb-Flexx aka Wolverine, and Libretto--is defining the Portland hiphop sound in the early oughties. Each artist has his own style--but when you work together for upwards of 10 years like they have, you start out friends and end up brothers. They help each other out as individuals, as only a family can. As Libretto puts it, "Lifesavas represent that underground raw, head knockin' lyrics. But when me and my man Dubb hook up, we be coming with that whole gangsta whatever you wanna call it, but at the same time, I'm droppin' that wisdom on 'em. So that's how hot our arsenal is... I kinda look at us like the Wu-Tang--we got too many styles. Anyway you come at us, you gonna get served a nice dish."

Libretto is next in line for liftoff. Fresh off a shot on the West Coast opening shows for Talib Kweli, he's just released "Volume" b/w "Slum Funk," a new 12" released by LA punk/hiphop label Dim Mak. With a hot grimy-soul production by Jumbo and Dubb-Flexx, and featuring a vocal turn from Jumbo and Vurs, "Volume" trots Libretto's low, stern delivery and rubber band styles out for show. He reaps elements from both coasts, and knowledge from his life experiences. His father, an ex-Black Panther, came from New York; Libretto grew up in Watts. They both moved here in the mid-'90s, a history he tells on "Slum Funk": "Ain't no civilians livin' inside these buildings/ everybody's ready, willing to leave your blood spillin'/'95 came/and pops wanted to switch lanes/and move me to the 503... bomb threat: cassettes I spread throughout the projects."

"I do what I do," he explains. "I can come complicated, or I can come for you smart-dumb cats. On the album, it's all comin' out. They can't put me in no box. Only thing I haven't done yet is make some booty-shaking music... which is part of me I can't do," Libretto laughs.

For years, we've been hearing "hiphop's gotta change"--that it needs shaking up. Lately, it seems there's been an urgency--and you can hear the change.

Libretto thinks change is especially important in Portland, where our hiphop scene is in the baby stages of becoming something bigger. "I think this town, though, they've learned to turn their heads, especially the black community, against progressive hiphop. If you're not talking about drinking or having sex or owning your car or smoking, they don't wanna hear it. Man, I avoid all of that. Hiphop needs to take a 360 turn, cause we're forgetting about the love, and where it came from. It came from poor black and Latin people, and white people, in the ghettos, in the city, and y'all forget that. There wasn't no club song," he explains.

"It's a 9-1-1 on hiphop, no doubt. I think we need to dig back in, man, go look at Krush Groove, go look at Style Wars, and then go into the studio and make that stuff; don't forget where you came from."