UPDATE, 10/15, 11 am: Hip-Hop Day is moving from City Hall to Skype Live Studio.
As a professional MC, in both the literal and artistic sense, Idris "StarChile" Oferrall has never lacked confidence, even when he was first starting out.
"A friend of mine, who was working for Brand Jordan at the time, she was like, 'Yo, we're doing this tour, and the MC we have is trash,'" he recalls. "'They're killing him on the website and the blogs, so we're going to fly you at to Cleveland and have you host the event, and if you're good, then we'll keep you on the tour.' I told her, 'You might as well book my flights now, because I'm not going to waste this opportunity.'"
A week later, he was joining the tour in Chicago, and shipped a slew of Jordan swag back home to Portland.
Still, the hip-hop concert promoter and former radio personality admits that, 15 years ago, he couldn't have imagined the things he's managed to pull off recently. In the past year, he's helped bring rap to places that previously seemed impossibly off-limits, such as McMenamins-run folk den the White Eagle Saloon, for his monthly Mic Check series, and to the steps of City Hall for the first-ever Hip-Hop Day.
With the second annual Hip-Hop Day approaching, we asked StarChile about its impact on the rap scene, his plans for its future, which local rap vets deserve a second look, and what Portland hip-hop needs to do to build on the progress of the last few years.
Willamette Week: Do you feel Hip-Hop Day have any tangible effect on the hip-hop scene here?
StarChile: I don't know. I can't really say Hip-Hop Day transformed Portland, because things were already changing slowly when Hip-Hop Day came around. I think it was just a situation where people didn't think it was genuine and it was real. At the time, we were coming out of a lot of shaky situations, and people were like, "What's this? Why is this happening?" They thought there was an ulterior motive behind it, which rubbed me the wrong way with some people. Like, if you don't know me, and you have that view of things, it makes sense. But if you know me, and know my pedigree, and know how solid I've been all these years, you know I wouldn't do anything suspect like that. I had a lot of meetings behind closed doors with people, and I was like, "Yo, this is what it is, this is how it came to be." And a lot of people were skeptical at first, but at the end of the conversation, they were like, "That's cool." Then when they got in front of a microphone or a camera, they went back to, "This is the mayor pandering for votes." I was just like, "Really? After I told you what it was you're still going to say that?" It wasn't something I was mad about, but some people just have their own agenda, and they've got to try to stick to it as much as they possibly can, because God forbid you be wrong about everything you've been yelling about.
Now that you're doing the second year, have you heard the same skepticism?
I haven't heard any complaints but at this point what could you complain about? [Charlie Hales] isn't running for mayor, he doesn't have anything to do with the event and he didn't have anything to do with the first one. So what could you say from a political aspect about Hip-Hop Day and him? "He's doing it for votes again?" He's not running. There's nothing you could say except, "Maybe I was wrong," which some people just can't say that. And that's fine, I don't even care about that. All that stuff is minor to me. All I care about is Hip-Hop Day growing, hip-hop in Portland growing, the entertainment scene in Portland growing. That's what I care about.
And do you think doing something like Hip-Hop Day and collaborating with the city helps grow the culture?
I think it helps from the aspect that people see [hip-hop]. Because a lot of people read about hip-hop and have their own perceptions about hip-hop, and when they come to an actual event and see it's not a bunch of people talking about shooting and killing—I mean, there's different forms of hip-hop. So when people see that, they go, "It's not what I thought it was."
So you're hoping what this does is expose local hip-hop to an audience that normally doesn't have a chance to interact with it.
Exactly. And then I hope those who have gone to a hip-hop show, and had a bad experience, I hope they would come to Hip-Hop Day and have a great experience and be like, "Maybe that was just a one-time thing." It's like anything else in life. Unless you've been to every show you don't know how the shows are. It varies. There are shows where stuff happens, there are shows where stuff doesn't happen, there's rock'n'roll bars and house-music bars where there's lots of fights, and there's clubs and rock'n'roll bars where there's no fights. It's the same in every genre of music. You just have to experience it.
This year's lineup is more focused on veteran MCs. Was that intentional?
I said it from the beginning. A lot of people questioned the lineup last year and they were like, "Why are you doing this? Why are these young dudes on?" And I told everybody, I was upfront, "This is how it's going to go. This is a brand new situation. We have Portland hip-hop at the time, we have a lot of young cats that are really starting to bubble. And since this is a new situation and a step in a new direction, let's go with the new artists. For the second one, we'll come back and pay homage to the veterans, not the ones who started Portland hip-hop, because that'd be too difficult to do, and probably 95, 98 percent of them don't perform anymore. So I went with more of the golden era of hip-hop, which is the artists I got. And I still wasn't able to do it the way I wanted to do it. I wanted a Misfit Massive-slash-Lifesavas whole conglomerate together to rock, and I wanted all of Jus Family. But you've got people in jail, you've got people who don't rap no more, you've got people who don't talk to each other no more. So I went with who I could get, and I still wasn't able to get everybody I wanted.
You've been doing shows here for 15 years. How has promoting hip-hop in Portland changed in that time?
You've got to look at the context. Back then, I was doing more parties versus hip-hop shows. I was doing parties with DJs, versus the people who were doing hip-hop shows, they were definitely being harassed and they were definitely being shut down. I've had conversations with certain officials and they were straight up with me, like, "Back then, there were people who did not want this music here in this city and they did everything they could to keep it out." Now that a lot of those people have retired, things have started to change. That's why I say I wasn't messed with as much. A lot of the times when I went to hip-hop shows, I saw the harassment. But at the same time, we have to take accountability for our actions because we did fight a lot at those shows back then. It was a little bit of both. I would say it was 70-30.
You're working with McMenamins now, hosting your monthlies at White Eagle and Mission Theater. It seems pretty crazy, even now, that you can have hip-hop at a small McMenamins venue that normally has folk stuff. Could you imagine that happening back in the day?
Most of the stuff going on in my life I could not have imagined, whether it was me or anybody else. But that shows you there's been some progress. We've got a long way to go, but you can't say there hasn't been any progress. Like you just said, look at me, I'm doing events at McMenamins. Who thought McMenamins would allow hip-hop in a spot with folk and bluegrass? My deal with McMenamins has actually changed. It started out in one aspect and then they expanded the deal and were like, "Yo, what do you feel about this?" And I countered, "What if we did this this?" And they were like, "Cool, let's do this." I've done events in places where they were like, "OK, we're going to let you come in here but we've got our eye on you and everything you do is on your shoulders to make it successful." This is a full-blown partnership. They are behind me, they help push, we trade ideas, we try to figure out what we can do to make it better. They have been fully supportive.
What is it that's changed in the culture of Portland?
I think time, honestly. Before, hip-hop was at a state where people who were in charge weren't really into it. Now the people who are in charge, and people like myself who are into it, can do it in a way where it's successful, peaceful and fun and not stereotypical. Plus, I think the climate in Portland has calmed down as well. You look at Cool Nutz, Anthony Sanchez, Mike Thrasher, all these people who have stayed the course and done shows all this time, just kind of chipping away—some shows have been great, some have been really bad, but they've kept them going, and the people who are into it are like, Let's give it a try, because it's something we're not doing, and I think we should try because it's music I enjoy outside my job.
You said there's still a long way to go to get hip-hop culture in Portland on the level that it is in other cities. What do you think specifically needs to change to continue that progress?
It's very simple, and it's one thing. It's the mindset of the general public. It's not the club owners, it's not the police, it's not the OLCC, it's the average, everyday person in Portland. If they were interested in Portland hip-hop as much as they are interested in hip-hop from Atlanta or the Bay, then Portland hip-hop music and these shows were skyrocket, and they wouldn't be at the smaller spots, they'd be at the bigger spots. Portland has had a stigma for years of not supporting its own. We just need more support. There are a good number of people who definitely support Portland hip-hop and are supportive of me and what I do and OG One and what he does and various other cats. We just need more people, because the more people who come to my stuff, the bigger I make it—the only thing that hinders my imagination is the amount of people. That's it. If I wake up in the morning and know if I send out a message, 1,000 people will show up, I will create stuff 1,000 people or more would love to come to. If you look at my track record, it starts off small and gets bigger and bigger and next thing you know, you've got guest DJs and guest artists, because the bigger the crowd is, the bigger the money is, the more you can spend to get people. Some promoters or event creators just take your money and never give you anything back. I want your money so I can get your dream artist.
How do you feel about this current generation of Portland hip-hop artists? Does it live up to the golden era in your opinion?
To answer the first part of your question, I love them. I'm loving the majority of what I'm hearing. And I'm hearing variety. I'm hearing some dope street stuff—you've got cats like Mikey Vegaz. I'm hearing your Mic Capes type cats that are more conscious. Then you've got Jon Belz type cats, who are more lyrical. And then you've got Amine, who's got a hit record. So I like the variety of the music. I just told someone the other day, we've been here before. So I want to see where it goes from here. We've had the Lifesavas in Rolling Stone magazine, we've had Cool Nutz with a record deal. If you go back even further, we had U-Krew on Soul Train. We've had artists on national platforms, we just need to see where the young cats go. You know, Mic Capes now is getting a lot of buzz. He's getting a lot of likes and a lot of Tweets, which is all cool, but I hope he has a lot of record sales. Because if you're not buying these dudes' albums, you haven't really helped them and you haven't helped move the scene.
Do you still have big aspirations for Hip-Hop Day?
I never stop having big ideas. I have to look on the calendar, but I think next year it might be on a Sunday or a Monday, and I'd like it to be in a space where I could do a block party and I could have a Portland MC who's actually nationally recognized and perform along with another MC who's nationally recognized who isn't from Portland. Portland Hip-Hop Day is a celebration of hip-hop in Portland, it's not just Portland artists. So I'd like to be able to mix and match national acts with local acts. I'll never do an event as far as hip-hop goes where there aren't any local acts on there if I can help it. If I have a say so in it, there's going to be someone from Portland on there who's going to rock.
Who's the most underrated MC in Portland right now?
People are always coming to me, like, everyone knows the hottest rapper, let them tell it. Everybody's boy is the dopest dude ever. I think 2 Reps are very dope, they just need to work more. They need to put more music out. When you have so many dope MCs, it's just a matter of…they show up, and then kind of disappear. We need consistency to where every month, twice a month, you can go see different artists, so Mic Capes doesn't have to burn his name into the ground. You want to keep it special.
Are there any older MCs deserving a reappraisal now that people are paying more attention to Portland hip-hop?
I'd say Vursatyl. That's why I dragged him out of retirement. [Laughs] Because he's done it all before. He's done all of that. But he's arguably the dopest MC to ever come out of Portland, and I think people need to hear him.
SEE IT: Portland Hip-Hop Day is at
City Hall, 1221 SW 5th Ave., Skype Live Studio, 1211 SW 5th Ave. #600, with Mic Crenshaw, Vursatyl, Libretto, DJ OG One and DJ Chill, on Saturday, Oct. 15. 3 pm. Free. All ages. StarChile also hosts Soul Clap at Mission Theater, 1624 NW Glisan St., with Kimberly Monique and Nehemiah Booker, on Friday, Oct. 14. 9 pm. $12 advance, $15 day of show. 21+.