One week after his release from the Oregon State Correctional Institution last summer, Hanif Collins tiptoed into a late-night rap cipher on the sidewalk outside of Pi-Rem and verbally decapitated a handful of Portland's most seasoned MCs. Packing an impossible number of syllables into each verse of his calculated, fiercely lyrical delivery, he left dropped jaws in his wake. Having served a six-year sentence for second-degree robbery ("I tried to rob the weed man," Collins says. "It was stupid."), the 24 year-old MC was back to rebuild.
"Before going to jail, I lacked a sense of timing," says Collins en route to his parents' house in Vancouver. It's Sunday afternoon and baskets of laundry fill the trunk. Hanif, whose stage name is Luck-One Conscious, speaks rhythmically and at the rate of an auctioneer—during the drive, he covers Karl Marx, Bobby Fischer, the food and work strikes he staged in jail and how he used his solitary-confinement time to learn Spanish and read George Jackson. "I started a screenplay while in jail about the politically constraining problems with America's political theory," he says, the soft angles of his face exposing a set of dimples. "It's called True Theory and will be released with my next album."
Before his incarceration, Luck-One founded the 7th Science Collective, a hip-hop ensemble comprising him and a few childhood friends, including his older brother, Fayhim. Since his release, he's recaptured the momentum of 7th Science and created Architect Entertainment (of which he's appointed himself "chief executive genius"), a new umbrella company to house his artistry and music. His next LP, also titled True Theory, will be his second since finishing his prison sentence July 16, 2008.
At the Collins abode, shoes are removed at the door and a glass-framed Koran, in Arabic, hangs over a bookcase stuffed with novels. Hanif's parents, Omar and Aqiylah Collins, their heads covered in traditional Muslim fashion, speak candidly about their son's past. "He acted impulsively," says Aqiylah. "With a clean criminal history, under Oregon's Measure 11, he had to serve the mandatory minimum. We visited him every week and made sure there was money on his books to call us as often as he wanted. He once wrote me in a letter that he refused to let the system take over his mind."
Over eggplant curry, Collins emails electronic copies of his self-made press kit to music labels, magazines and blogs across the country. Hard copies of the kit, wrapped in bright orange manila envelopes ("I want mine to stand out among the masses," he says), lie in a towering stack next to him. The promotion is for Beautiful Music, the seven-track EP Collins recently completed between shifts as an industrial roofer. Beautiful Music is a project permeated with Collins' confidence and wit. Effusive statements about social injustice, childhood nostalgia and growing pains are slathered over producer Dekk's atypical rock-tinged hip-hop beats. On a track written while incarcerated titled "Afrika," Luck-One pours:
"The esoteric messages and sphinxes progressed to graffiti in slums written by modern-day delinquents/ How we distinguished in a populace speaking English is bronze skin, African naps twisted in singlets, Namibian ringlets/ Obsidian knights continue the fight/ Indigenous rights that won't be relinquished."
At Berbati's Pan in September, Collins performed for the first time since being released. Dressed in an oversized white tee and creased khakis, he approached the edge of the stage and paced, square-shouldered, in a boxer's stance. Since then, the MC has spent his evenings marketing for Beautiful Music, observing the local competition and feeding his bulldog work ethic. A three-week champion streak on Cool Nutz's Bar 4 Bar MC competition on Jammin' 107.5 FM awarded Collins phone calls from producers wanting to collaborate on projects.
Back in the Collinses' Vancouver dining room, the afternoon sun is melting. "Umi, let's pray," Hanif calls out. Aqiylah joins him. They bow and kneel, whispering the Muslim prayer Salaat in Arabic. "You did better that time," she says to him. He laughs easily, joking about downloading the Koran onto his cell phone. Then he checks his email and exits the room to collect the clean laundry.
on Thursday, March 5, at Berbati's Pan. 9 pm. $7. 21+.