w/ The Roots
Wed Aug 1

"I'm a pastor's child," says Versatyl, a large, smiley guy with a charming voice. "I was born and raised in a pastor's house, and I'm a musician because I grew up with what I knew: music and God." It was a love of these two elements that brought Versatyl together with his fellow MC Jumbo, at his father's church in Northeast Portland, the Albina Christian Life Center.

And it's music and God that keeps the two together--with the addition of DJ Rayzor Shynez--as the Lifesavas, a Portland-based crew who will release their first single, Head Exercise, on Quannum Projects Records. "Both of us take in as much church service as we do music, and that helps us build our minds," says Jumbo, a wiry guy who's more serious than Versatyl, more focused and consequently more on edge. The two compliment each other perfectly.

"We're students, and we know that we have to feed our minds, just like we have to feed our fans, just like we do our family," continues Jumbo. "Doin' a show, goin' on tour, that's feedin' our fans. That's buildin' our relationship with God and with our fans."

But religion, for the two of them, isn't in any way a means of exclusion. "We're not at all caught up in the systematic part of knowing God," says Versatyl. "God is always a consideration, but never a set of rules." This fact is especially important to the Lifesavas when navigating the Portland hiphop scene, a place where unity with other crews and artists is Portland's only chance of growing up.

"In a place like Oakland, there's enough hiphop that you can stay in your own group, and never have to listen to anyone else," Versatyl explains. "But in Portland, the scene is so tight that if you're into hiphop, you're gonna have to be force-fed a style of hiphop that you don't particularly enjoy." And this is what Portland hiphop's got going for it: A diversity about the scene, and a consequential requirement that groups listen to each other and feed off each other.

The Lifesavas think that this element is crucial to Portland right now, because it's just about to break out of its reputation as a Bay Area subset and into its own sound. "A friend of mind was in Canada recently," says Keary Kase, another local MC, "and someone told him he had a Portland accent. Imagine that! It's a collection of words that defines it, things we say here. Like fam, we say that. It's the word that's short for family." Keary's been rapping in Portland since '89. "It was so tough to be heard," he says. "At first, we only played at Satyricon, and hiphop was so new that the crowd didn't really know what to do with us. But it was a good crowd, a punk crowd." Now, says Keary, Portland's come far enough. "All we need is one solid album, and we're there," he says. (Keary Kase and Vonda the Great will self-release their first single, The Life of a Star, next month.)

"We had grunge in Seattle, we had hiphop on the East Coast and then in Oakland, and we need something else, something new, right here now. The world already loves hiphop, it's everywhere, it's what the kids are doin'," says Versatyl, "and Portland's gonna be there next."