3. The Last Artful, Dodgr (75.5 points)
FORMED: Started performing in 2013.
SOUNDS LIKE: Missy Elliott living in Future's future.
NOTABLE VOTES: Party Damage Records owners Ben Hubbird and Casey Jarman; ex-We Shared Milk bassist Travis Leipzig; PDX Pop Now artistic director Meagan Ruyle.
Alana Chenevert could have followed her hip-hop dreams back to her native L.A. Instead, she moved to Portland.
"Because when has a black woman popped from Portland?" she says with a grin. "I didn't come here necessarily to do just that, but I need to make a change somewhere. Why not start here?"
If the Aston Martin in the driveway is any indication, things are going well. The car isn't hers—it belongs to former Blazers swingman Martell Webster, who operates Eyrst Studios in Northwest Portland—but it's still indicative of how far she's come in a short time. Three years after her arrival, Chenevert, who performs under the name the Last Artful Dodgr, has a deal with rising indie label Fresh Selects, and says she's too busy these days to respond to emails. After all, she's spending upward of 24 hours a week in Webster's studio.
But personal success isn't the only goal in bringing her act north. For Chenevert—whose stage name is simultaneously a reference to Oliver Twist, a tongue-in-cheek homage to her hometown baseball team and a reference to the time she narrowly avoided catching a stray bullet outside her childhood home—everything operates in layers.
"My dream is to be more than just hip-hop," she says from a leather chair inside Eyrst. "There's a social message that I am trying to get across."
A graduate of Humboldt State University, with degrees in journalism and biological anthropology, she sees Portland as a city with a target painted on its back, a metropolis of forward thinkers that lacks culturally diverse artists. As a vocalist whose dense and kaleidoscopic speech-song appeals to hardcore hip-hop heads, rolled-cuff latte drinkers and suburban Kanye fans alike, Chenevert thinks of herself as a sort of musical bridge. Where other rappers might have viewed Portland as a hard scene to crack, she saw it as a massive personal project—a place with a huge, mostly untapped market for her wares, and a growing community of like minds trying to break molds.
It was tough going at first. A hard worker who now has more recorded material on Eyrst's hard drive than any other artist, Chenevert settled into her new scene slowly when she first arrived, another Portland transplant with big dreams but no local foundation of musical minds to help her accomplish them. Persistent writing and a lucky trip to the supermarket were her first keys to success.
"Finally, I went to New Seasons by my house," she says. "For whatever reason, I mentioned that I rapped or something, and the dude that was checking me out was like, 'Oh, you rap? I am an engineer!' His name was Matt, and he started connecting me to other artists."
That's when her bet started paying off. Because of her talent and unique taste—she equally values the musical importance of a third-grade teacher showing her the Beatles as she does her older brother introducing her to Snoop Dogg—Chenevert had by the end of 2015 become one of Portland's best up-and-coming hip-hop voices. Having collaborated with former Best New Band finalist Myke Bogan and released the three-track Fractures EP, showcasing a vibrant take on Southern trap music, she's looking to put out a full-length release in 2016.
So far, Portland has proven a good fit for her. "There are so many people here that have open minds and want to hear all kinds of music, and who want to be able to relate to something," she says. "It's all love."
As a result of her ongoing efforts to bring people together, the Last Artful Dodgr is the first African-American woman to make our annual Best New Band list as a solo rapper—an honor which Chenevert takes as both a sign of success, and a reminder of all the work she has left to do.
"At first I react with ego, like, 'Oh my God, this is so amazing! I can't believe I am the first black woman on this list!'" she says. "And then there's the other side of me that's like, 'I can't believe I am the first black woman on this list!'"
NEXT SHOW: March 9 at Mississippi Studios as part of Live Wire Radio.