No shade to Portland rappers, but it’s one thing to be a Portland-raised artist who packs shows in their hometown week after week, benefitting from that same community that’s been supporting them, and it’s an entirely different thing to move to a new city and try to build a career and fanbase off grind, charisma, and talent alone.
After catching a couple of recent performances from Houston-born rapper Quinn while he was backing up his friend and collaborator KayelaJ, I was intrigued. He had a distinct style, bouncy sound, and an extra-listenable, coherent flow. I was even more intrigued after hearing his outstanding debut LP Detached Thoughts, most of which he made while living in Portland. From front to back, the album is enjoyable and could easily play on the radio (with edits, of course).
I recently met up with Quinn at Lloyd Center and we got to chatting about his journey with freestyling, writing rhymes, his debut album, and his recent relocation to Portland from Texas. Wearing a colorful windbreaker and his signature two-braid beard styling (but not his typical two afro-poofs), Quinn greeted me with a big smile, his gorgeous Southern accent, and a cannabis-infused Rice Krispies treat.
“I didn’t start off writing raps, I started [out] freestyling off the dome,” he tells me. “I’m from Texas, so it’s in our culture.” Quinn remembers being in little league when he started freestyling, and was in eighth grade when he wrote down his first rhyme. It wasn’t until he was 18 that he began recording music.
“I was part of speech and debate and we had an extracurricular activity [where] we had to do a rap. We were setting up our own concert for the school, like, to showcase our talent. I was the host and I had to do a little rap,” he explains. “And even though I don’t like people, people usually gravitate toward my energy. When they started cheering, I was like, ‘This could be something I could do, with me up here and them over there.’”
Even though Quinn jokes that he doesn’t like people, the rapper does have a very genuine, positive spirit. If you’re on his wavelength, you’ll definitely feel drawn to his vibe. Having moved to Portland in February, he says the city has been welcoming both to him as a person and an artist.
“I had visited Portland three times prior to moving here, and people were naturally gravitating toward my aesthetics and music. People would peep me as an artist before I would even say that I do music,” he says.
“I’m not the type to go around and be like, ‘Hey, I do music and woo woo woo.’ People would be like, ‘Are you an artist? I just got that just from your vibe and just how you look and how you dress,’” he explains. “People are accepting of who I naturally am, and the way I move and the way I walk and the way I rap.... I was like, ‘This is the best move for me to make musically and holistically, if I was going to move anywhere else.’ That’s what my intuition was telling me.”
When asked about the differences he notices between Houston and Portland, Quinn says, “Portland’s got way more white people than Houston. But to me the biggest difference is Portland is more accessible in every way: transportation wise, to obtain better income, to obtain... [weed], and the livability.”
If you weren’t paying close attention to the lyrics on songs like “Major Payne,” “Step on ’Em,” or the quick-firing verses on “4 DA DL’s,” you might not immediately realize that Quinn is queer. He asserts that he’s a free agent when it comes to battle rap, but tells me about an LGBTQ battle rap league started by Sara Kana in New York called Prism Battle League, for which he’s been booked twice. Quinn’s first Prism battle was at Pride 2017, and he also shined in a freestyle with Prism in this year’s New York Pride parade.
Quinn says that after seeing the fruits of his labor on Detached Thoughts, he’s focusing on continuing his uninhibited, free-flowing writing process, and creating some tunes in the soul genre as well. "In 2019 I will display my singing abilities and [play instruments] on more songs," he says. He also tells me he's planning to release a music video for his single "Brain In A Drought" later this Winter. Look out for the rapper’s name on hip-hop bills in 2019, and even in the nearer future. Quinn tells me he has a collaboration with Don’t Shoot Portland in the works. “I appreciate those that believe in me in Portland enough to book me, to listen to my music, to vibe with me, to want to interview me—from radio to magazines to newspapers—it’s been a blessing. Like, I’m new here, and to be honest, I’ve observed other artists here and like... I’ve done a lot with the time that I’ve been here.”
When asked what he wants his role in Portland’s scene to be, Quinn says “an artist that’s from the South that expanded to Portland, and he gon’ expand all around the world. Yeah, I’m gonna stay in Portland for a li’l bit and continue to expand.”