Portland hip-hop is in the midst of a boom period.
With Aminé and the Last Artful Dodgr receiving national attention, and monthly showcases like the Thesis and Mic Check giving emerging artists a regular platform to perform, there isn't a more exciting music scene in the city right now. And if you ask Terrance "Cool Nutz" Scott, part of that is due to the foundation he helped lay 20 years ago.
In 1995, the Portland rap ambassador—along with David Parks, now a member of the Beyoncé-collaborating New York busker funk trio Too Many Zooz—launched the Portland Oregon Hip-Hop Festival, or POH-Hop for short. Acting as a rap-focused precursor to PDX Pop Now, the annual multi-day festival gave a stage to local talent at a time when Portland was much less hospitable to hip-hop culture. It was a big stage, too—the first iterations took place at La Luna, then one of the city's premiere music venues.
After La Luna closed in the early 2000s, the festival spread out across town, but the financial strain forced a hiatus in 2011. Now, Scott is bringing POH-Hop back, with two nights of performances and panel discussions. With the Portland rap landscape completely changed, we asked Scott about the festival's legacy, and where it fits in today.
Willamette Week: What did POH-Hop mean for the hip-hop community in Portland when it originally started?
Cool Nutz: That first year, people didn't really know what to expect. But the second and third years, it would light the city up. One of the main goals was to present to the city that there was a hip-hop scene, and to give artists a platform to play in the prime venues, on good sound systems, and have the promotion be top-notch. POH-Hop was the start of a lot of things that are still going on in terms of artists and the ability to book shows, to promote shows, to know how to properly put a show together. It created the landscape.
What were the challenges of running the festival in those early years?
Dealing with artists' egos. The whole point of the event was about showcasing the talent and the culture, and not just one artist. Those were probably the biggest issues—people not being able to put themselves to the side to say, "I'm not tripping over what time I go on. I'm not tripping on how big my name is on the flyer."
Why are you bringing it back now?
One of the important things this year is the Ash Street is closing. It's a venue that's been so good for us in the hip-hop scene, in terms of giving us a place. We already had two nights booked there. Instead of doing two hip-hop shows, we might as well do POH-Hop there to honor that venue and let people know Ash Street has been a big catalyst by giving artists a place to promote shows.
Tell me about the booking. Aside from you and Mic Capes, a lot of the acts are fairly under-the-radar.
There's a lot of different scenes happening and evolving in Portland. For instance, Luxury Jonez, on the second night, he just came home from doing six years in the penitentiary. When he got out, he released three mixtapes, and he's been trying to promote his music. Rich James, he's a singer that's been featured on a lot of stuff around the city. And Liquid Anthrax, he's been putting on a lot of his own shows. He's an older dude, so he's into pop-locking and breakdancing. So there's a lot of artists who are doing things that might not typically get to play on a show like this that I wanted to also give an opportunity to.
With monthly showcases like the Thesis and Mic Check giving more opportunities for local rappers, has the mission of POH-Hop at all?
POH-Hop is a brand, and that name is synonymous with something. And I think sometimes, we tend to look at stuff and go, "Portland didn't have this, Portland ain't a city for that." But you've had monumental things that have occurred in Portland. There aren't many things hip-hop related in the city that transcend a legacy. People still understand the importance of it, that says a lot, because we're talking about something 20 years in.
SEE IT: POH-Hop is at Ash Street Saloon, 225 SW Ash St., on Thursday-Friday, Dec. 7-8. $10 advance, $12 day of show. Go here schedule, start times and tickets. 21+.