Portland hip-hop is having a moment. It's becoming a bigger part of the music community, and getting more adventurous. It's not just the rappers who've made it possible, either—the producers working behind the boards deserve just as much credit.
Grant Stolle knows this better than anyone. A longtime local DJ, Stolle, aka Verbz, hosts Crate Diggers, a podcast using vinyl records as a jumping-off point for conversations between artists. On March 24, Stolle hosts the first-ever live edition of the podcast at Kelly's Olympian. So we asked him for a survey of the cream of the current Portland beatscape.
I first came to know Drae as a student leader while we were both attending Portland State University. But as I started adding more songs by Portland artists to my crates, the more I saw Drae Slapz's name attached to some of my favorite songs. His work with these artists, as well as production for Dame Dolla's cousin, Brookfield Duece, and other top-notch local talent rank him among Portland's hottest producers. His 2015 project, Late Night: After Hours, features some of the town's best and most solid production.
KEY TRACK: Brookfield Duece, "Sunday"
Lawz Spoken is one of the most mysterious beatsmiths in the Portland area. His work with fellow Northwest-born, now Cali-based producer Calvin Valentine received a lot of positive acclaim, as did his work with Epp on both Chrome Plated Chronicles and Suicide Doors. He's an artist that has created an identifiable sound, leaning heavily on obscure '80s rock samples and soundtrack cuts. Though he's been quiet lately as far as output goes, I've been privy to preview upcoming material and have been highly impressed.
KEY TRACK: Illmaculate and Lawz Spoken, "Fuck You Mean?" featuring Epp & Cassow
Neill Von Tally
I discovered Neill Von Tally's music by performing with Blossom. Von Tally is the most low-key on this list, but extremely wavy. He is the production mind behind many of the projects coming out of former Trail Blazer Martell Webster's Eyrst label, which has swooped up an exceptional roster of Portland's growing hip-hop talent, including Epp and Calvin Valentine of TxE, Ripley Snell, Maze Koroma, Blossom and arguably Portland's hottest rapper, the Last Artful Dodgr. Von Tally definitely deserves to be recognized for what he's doing behind the scenes.
KEY TRACK: Neill Von Tally, "Travel Agent" featuring the Last Artful Dodgr and Illmaculate.
Samarei is one of the most eclectic producers in the area. He specializes in adding his own artistic touch to beats as an instrumentalist. Samarei released a unique and sonically fresh collaborative album called Best in Class, featuring Portland-raised artists like Glenn Waco, Mic Capes and Illmaculate, as well as Macklemore's step-cousin XP and rapper/podcast host Open Mike Eagle. Samarei is a real musician willing to flip any sample.
KEY TRACK: Samarei, "Blacksmith" featuring XP, Epp and Farnell Newton.
Steez is not only my brother, he's also the producer behind my podcast, Crate Diggers, so I might be biased. But his remixes and beats have been fixtures in my sets for years. His most recognizable work was with Tope back in 2012 for the single "Come True." In 2014, Steez released Bless, a beat tape using uplifting samples with inspired, Dilla-esque production that received a very positive reception. He's currently wrapping up several projects to be released later in 2016, and has upcoming collaborations with some of the Northwest's most talented hip-hop artists, as well as a remix EP.
KEY TRACK: Tope, "Come True"
Stewart Villain is another double-threat artist, being an extremely talented producer with a unique flow and a self-assured style. He's worked with a wide range of local talent, including TxE, Tope, Cassow and Tre Redeau, creating some of their standout songs. He's got a chameleon style and flips a wide variety of samples. Just listen for the tag: "My name is Stewart!"
KEY TRACK: Tope, "Better Place"
Theory Hazit is one of the most criminally overlooked artists as a rapper but especially as a producer here in Portland. He's been a mainstay of the local hip-hop community and has produced for well-known artists like Redman and Kokane. His steady stream of solid albums, combined with a knack for creative visuals and a habit of collaborating with talented artists, ranks him among the best producers in Portland.
KEY TRACK: Redman, "Bars"
He truly stands out in the Northwest hip-hop production world, and is a force to be reckoned with on national level. Trox is passionate about music, from his knowledge of sampling and records to crafting a bassline and explosive drums. On top of his numerous beat battle wins in major competitions, he's worked with artists like 50 Cent and Royce da 5'9", as well as in Dre's lab in L.A.
KEY TRACK: 50 Cent, "You Took My Heart"
SEE IT: Crate Diggers Live, hosted by Verbz and featuring Trox, Samarei and Steez, is at Kelly's Olympian, 426 SW Washington St., on Thursday, March 24. 9 pm. $5. 21+.