Most Sundays between 3 and 4 pm, the cast of Portland's long-running hip-hop, community-issues show My City Live can be seen nodding their heads to local rappers or listening to programming advice from live callers. Posters for year-old rap releases fill the screen behind them.
But on this Sunday, just two weeks ago, in the big black room at the Portland Community Media building where the My City crew tapes its live telecast, a different type of hip-hop show is taking place. Host O.G. One sits in front of a modest set, across a table from Tina Johnson. Johnson's son, Eddie Barnett Jr., died on the high-school basketball court just over a year ago from a heart condition called ACM. She is here not only to reminisce, but to put pressure on lawmakers to require medical staff at school sporting events and heart defibrillators in public buildings. In the hands of a lesser host, this show could have turned into a total sob fest. But O.G. One keeps it positive. "Tell us about your son's life," he says, smiling.
My City was originally created in 1999 by producer D-Roc and his staff to shed light on Northwest hip-hop. Channels like MTV and BET were focused on music from larger cities, and "We really had no format to express the talent that was in this town," O.G. One says. "So instead of waiting to get exposure on those type of shows, we thought, 'Why don't we create our own?'"
Most weeks, My City's focus is still on local music. Emcees and DJs frequent the My City set almost every week, with mixed results: Between malfunctioning audio equipment and the lack of an in-studio audience, it takes a special performer to blow up the My City stage. The artist interview sessions and candid conversations between cast members are My City's most consistent elements. These discussions often revolve around the positives and negatives of hip-hop culture. On My City, "You get the balance of discussion," O.G. One says. "Here's why someone might be using explicit language in their music, for example." While hosts and callers don't always reach a consensus, O.G. One says, fans and critics alike come away with a greater understanding of one another.
O.G. One says that My City has evolved its social consciousness after receiving feedback from the community. The My City crew has heard back from a lot of parents who watch the show with their children, because larger media outlets don't deal with the subject matter that My City tackles. "People don't generally discuss [racism, economic inequalities, etc.] until a tragedy happens," O.G. One says. "But we need to discuss these issues on a regular basis." Hearing Tina Johnson describe her son's collapse and death, a tragedy that may have been preventable, it's easy to understand why. For a community that yearns to hear and be heard, this show is one part rap video show and one part town-hall meeting.
airs Sundays at 3 pm on Comcast channel 11. For information on the Eddie Barnett Jr. Foundation, go to www.myspace.com/eezybaby or email firstname.lastname@example.org.