A lot of people have heard of 25-year-old Portlander Kenny Fresh. Most don't know why.
The New Jersey transplant, creator of music blog FRSH SLCTS, has become a significant fixture in the Northwest hip-hop scene, but his role is not always obvious. Even his parents are uncertain as to what he exactly does. But to Fresh, it's pretty simple.
"I'm a curator," he says. "As pretentious as that sounds, that just makes the most sense: finding the right way to frame things in the context that they will do best in."
Through his blog, which he started in 2008, Fresh has released around 15 original albums, most by Northwest artists. He helps arrange artwork and mixing and advises artists on everything from the sequencing of songs to the content of lyrics. His work has helped usher in a new wave of young and talented musicians who have given the city's hip-hop scene a new identity. Artists like Cassow and TxE, which released their latest albums through FRSH SLCTS, have moved away from the Bay Area-influenced thump of the scene's veterans and taken on a more wide-ranging sound.
"I want to be the gateway for Portland to the rest of the world," Fresh says.
But the blog was not initially meant to promote Portland's hip-hop scene—only the music he liked. It wasn't until he grew a desire to put out projects himself that Fresh began consistently posting local music.
"Some people would expect me to be more willing to work with someone because they're local, but it's actually the opposite," he says. "If I'm putting you out, saying you're from Portland and this is what we're showing [the world], you better be the best here."
His high standards have generated some backlash. In 2009, he declined to promote the Portland Hip-Hop Festival on FRSH SLCTS, which scene veteran Cool Nutz took as an insult (the two have since reconciled and worked together). But it has also helped the blog's popularity, attracting visitors from Amsterdam to New York. Fresh usually posts only a few times a week, to emphasize quality over quantity, and the posts tend to focus on soulful, sample-based beats. For fans of creative underground hip-hop, the blog is a gold mine.
"I can be kind of hard to work with, I think," he says. "I am aware of it and apologetic for it, but it's just really how I feel. I'm sure no one else cares as much as I do."
Fresh is unsure how long he'll remain in Portland. He's a romantic when it comes to his future. He pictures himself running a label in Paris, perhaps. Or, maybe he'll find the next big thing right here in town.
"I don't really have any grand visions of owning the most successful record label in the world or any aspirations for fame," he says. "I just want to do cool shit."
This is the fourth in a series on Portland's musical infrastructure.
VISIT: FRSH SLCTS is at freshselects.net.