WHEN PORTLAND RAPPER Glenn Waco announced he was moving to Long Beach, California, a few months ago, I felt personally victimized by the decision. To be fair, the Portland rapper/activist had been making music for several years before I noticed. I first sought out local music at the first We Take Holocene last year, where Waco gave me that astonishing introduction to Portland's rising hip-hop scene.
That show—the first in an ongoing summer concert series—showcased artists from the Resistance (Glenn Waco, Mic Capes, Rasheed Jamal) and Mikey Fountaine. It was one of my most eye-opening Portland experiences and the best $10 I've ever spent. There was something in the air that night... besides the presence of Damian Lillard and a few Black Panthers. It felt like a tight-knit community was growing here and smelled like someone had cracked open a jar of dank potential. Even from California, Waco continues to curate the Portland event regardless of his personal participation. The third installment featured an all-ladies lineup on May 25, and the next We Take Holocene will be held in August. So I guess if he's going to keep doing dope shit in Portland then it's okay if he wants to live in Cali?
Now that he and his emcee girlfriend Alia Zin are settled in Long Beach, Waco's working on his new album, Human, which will drop next year. For the moment though, he's promoting his new single "Assata," and has recently filmed scenes for a music video in downtown Portland with local director Ben Olsen. The song is a hopeful-sounding ode to the life of former Black Panther (and Tupac's godmother) Assata Shakur. She has evaded capture since escaping prison in 1979, and has since taken political asylum in Cuba. Waco released the song on May 2, exactly 11 years since the FBI labeled Assata a domestic terrorist. A Black Lives Matter activist himself, Waco has had some of his own run-ins with the law. It's no wonder he can empathize.
"If you listen to the song it's really about how the government did the Black Panthers," says Waco. "Before I even started doing music I was always interested in Malcolm X and just his black empowerment. And I used to like—around the time I started rapping—I used to just be in the house all day every day watching, like, Malcolm X movies and stuff. Watching Bobby Seale speeches and interviews and shit."
Waco says he hadn't heard of Assata until fellow Resistance member Rasheed Jamal mentioned her in the midst of a deep conversation. Waco wrote the Samarei-produced track in 2014, and got Neka (of Neka & Kahlo) to provide featured backup vocals in conjunction with emotional guitar riffs. Despite its heavy lyrics, "Assata" has a definite uplifting vibe that's reminiscent of J. Cole, and lyrical content that echoes more political rappers like Kendrick Lamar.
I don't know about y'all, but the song has certainly been educational for me personally. I am now ITCHING to go grab Assata: An Autobiography from Powell's, especially after hearing a sample of the activist's voice at the end of the song:
I have advocated and I still advocate revolutionary changes in the structure and in the principles that govern the United States.... I advocate an end to capitalist exploitation, the abolition of racist policies, the eradication of sexism, and the elimination of political repression. If that is a crime, then I am totally guilty.