According to evolutionary scientists, about 10 million years ago an ambitious amphibian crawled out of the primordial ooze and croaked a series of strange noises which would—in the distant future—form the foundation for all the world's languages. Shortly thereafter it took up rapping, named itself Cool Nutz, and recorded a debut album, Dis Nigga's Nutz. That is the commonly accepted biography of Terrance Scott, the man uneasily dubbed "The Godfather of Portland Hiphop." What's wrong with that title? It's a nice thing to say about your grandpa, but right after you do so, I bet you leave him in the corner to collect dust.
The book on Cool Nutz is not incorrect. He has been making albums and performing shows since the early '90s, and he first picked up a mic around the time that most of Portland's younger hiphop practitioners were clutching their first pacifier. Nutz was even signed to Atlantic Records for a time. "[The Atlantic deal] kind of went sour, but when I dropped Harsh Game for the People, the ball really started rolling," he says.
That was a decade and several albums ago. But just in the past year alone, Cool Nutz has released two albums to widespread acclaim—a collaboration with Luni Coleone, and his newest solo record, King Cool Nutz. The albums have sold well and even garnered rave reviews in publications like The Source. With his next record scheduled to drop in the summer of 2008 on a nationally known label, and his recent work the best of his career, why is Cool Nutz still fighting to gain a reputation as a legitimate artist in his hometown?
I would posit that it has to do with race and circumstance. "Most of the powers that be out here... aren't going to predominantly be into the kind of music I make," says Cool Nutz. "I guess because it's considered a little menacing or urban."
In a town where the heavy majority of the hiphop fans—and music writers like myself—are white, Cool Nutz's brand of street rhymes has not always had a comfortable home. It's hard to say for sure what effect the racial composition of his audience has had on his career (and Nutz refuses to draw direct connections himself) but it's a situation worth noting. It's well documented that people turn out in droves in Portland for hiphop produced by bigger underground acts, as well as the ubiquitous radio-friendly groups, but seldom for the in-between emcees like Cool Nutz, who raps from a street perspective despite lacking a massive promotional budget for his albums.
Regardless of his titles, his history, Cool Nutz is a gifted rapper with a commanding stage presence. His well-received performance this past New Year's Eve alongside the Wu-Tang Clan was proof of that. It's a hard fight against forces outside of his control, but Cool Nutz is not angry. "I don't want to be called 'The Greatest Rapper in Portland.' All I want is, if I rocked a show, say I rocked it. If I put out a good album, say I put out a good album."