Sounds like: The raw frustration of Eminem’s identity crisis encountering the soulful wisdom of Adele, with Skrillex on the decks.
For fans of: Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Illmaculate, TxE.
Why you care: Neka and Kahlo is more than a music project. As an interracial lesbian couple making hip-hop together, the pair’s mission statement is to help us see ourselves as the multilayered, weird-as-hell Venn diagrams we truly are.
“Our society tends to be very binary, very dualistic,” says Mila “Kahlo” Kokich. “There’s black and white, Democrat and Republican, and even the saying, ‘two sides to every story.’ We think there are several sides to every story. We are an embodiment of all our complexities, as women, members of the queer community and members of the hip-hop community. These aren’t isolated communities. They all overlap.”
This diversification is evident on the duo’s debut EP, Thirdwave: The seven tracks juxtapose pop hooks with tightly wound rhymes, frenetic drum’n’ bass with groovy, ethereal ballads. “I ain’t Anna Mae, Marie Antoinette/ Women in rap, I take the cake,” raps Kahlo on opener “The Shew Stone,” segueing into an album rife with assertive, urgent lyricism.
The couple draws much inspiration from their dual experiences growing up and coming out. “We’ve always been soul-searching together, exploring our identity as a queer couple,” Kahlo says. “Our music has been a way for us to express ourselves and work through that.”
Neka and Kahlo’s debut is culturally relevant in other ways. Thirdwave drops at a particularly tense time for hip-hop in Portland, in which the Portland Police Bureau has come under increased scrutiny for the proliferation of officers at local rap shows. “This is not just a hip-hop issue, it’s an equity issue,” says Kahlo, who grew up in St. Johns. Neka, who relocated from California, calls the ambiance in Portland a “quiet racism” in which the hip-hop scene doesn’t fit into the image the city would like to portray. “We hope our shows help everyone—the gay community, the [predominantly white] Portland community, the hip-hop community—to be in the same place, to open their eyes and see each other,” she says.
SEE IT: Neka and Kahlo play Rotture, 315 SE 3rd Ave., with Amine, Aviel, Maze Koroma, Blossom and Astro King Phoenix, on Thursday, May 22. 8 pm. $5 advance, $8 day of show. 21+.