"ORIGINALLY THE INTENTION wasn't to put on a hiphop festival," Fire in the Canyon backer and production manager Phil Haleen tells me via phone. "It was to make a multi-genre festival. When, at first, we couldn't get any solid rock or electronic artists, we got—thankfully—these wonderful hiphop groups that wanted to play." Indeed, while FITC is a multi-genre situation—which typically means mostly rock and electronic artists, with very few hiphop acts—the local festival evolved to flip that idea on its neck, making it as unique as its setting. Horning's Hideout, an idyllic patch of woodsy, rolling hills about 25 miles west of Portland in North Plains, comes complete with lakes and even a local wild peacock population. It's a perfect backdrop to these top-flight hiphop acts.
Not too long ago, Kanye West declared the Pharcyde's classic debut Bizzare Ride II the Pharcyde his favorite rap album ever. It's not hard to see why if you've ever heard it—the album is one of the most fun, unabashedly funky, and memorable works in the genre, like South Central's answer to 3 Feet High and Rising or Paul's Boutique. The Pharcyde's smooth sophomore album Labcabincalifornia, heavy with growing pains and Dilla beats, fared less well but was pretty ahead of its time. Yes, Fatlip is gone, but Imani, Bootie Brown, and Slimkid3 can surely hold it down between the three of them.
The Insect Tribe may now be enjoying more shimmer and glow that it's seen in years, what with clan maven Ish's new project Shabazz Palaces (whose album Black Up was recently released by Sub Pop) piling up a heap of breathless, and well-deserved, critical acclaim. However, let it be known that Digable Planets (who pulled off a Grammy win and two seminal LPs before falling into a years-long hiatus)—with a full band and no trace of the lovely, lyrical Ladybug—still managed to blow my mind the last time I saw them live, with a heady psychedelic presentation and a suite of classic songs I didn't realize I still had memorized.
Misfit Massive reppers, PDX OGs, teachers, and virtuosos the Lifesavas taught a whole generation of Portland hiphoppers how to do themselves with their stylish example. Seemingly inspired by the posi vibes and—most importantly—dense, left-brain rhyme schemes of the almighty De La Soul, the Savas' funky, polysyllabic attack has made them a worldwide name, with the help of the fan-respected Quannum label. Not much has been heard since 2007's unfairly slept-on, funk-bubblin' Gutterfly, but a dope new track called "And the Soul Goes On" quietly snuck out earlier this year, showing that Jumbo, Vursatyl, and Rev. Shines haven't lost a sure-footed step.
The backbone of Portland hiphop, Cool Nutz and his Jus Family familia have helped keep the heart of the Northwest beating for decades with their refined trunk-funk, and much more. I suggest new jacks get up on Nutz's classic material to really put in perspective that he's as vital as ever (about to release his newest album, The Cook Up), making music, killing it live on tour everywhere, throwing POH-Hop for well over a decade, as well as playing new regional rap on his NW Breakout Show on KXJM (and blogging it over at his site raphater.com). The man is a world-seasoned pillar of local music.