OG One didn't entirely intend for this year's Portland Hip-Hop Day to become as big as it did.
This April, the event's co-founder, Idris "StarChile" O'Ferrall, died of brain cancer. When he passed, it seemed Portland Hip-Hop Day, along with the city's music scene, was losing an essential pillar. A Portland native, O'Ferrall had been active in Portland hip-hop for decades. He co-founded the local showcase Mic Check, which still runs every month at the White Eagle. In 2015, he created Hip-Hop Day with OG One, who has long been the Trail Blazers' in-house DJ.
Previously held in October, this year's Hip-Hop Day will be held Aug. 26, which would have been O'Ferrall's 43rd birthday. So when OG One, whose given name is David Jackson, started putting the lineup together, he was overwhelmed with requests from artists who wanted to participate. "It just kind of blew up," Jackson says. "I'm like, we only got so much time in the day."
Last year, there were four performers. This year, there will be 30. The lineup ranges from veterans like Cool Nutz, figureheads of the current wave like Rasheed Jamal and Mic Capes, and promising new MCs like Karma Rivera and Wynne. Almost everyone involved worked with O'Ferrall in some capacity, either through past Hip-Hop Days or Mic Check.
Four years in, Portland Hip-Hop Day has become increasingly about the scene celebrating itself on its own terms. Jackson says he'll continue to book larger lineups, and starting this year, there will be an awards ceremony for the scene's unsung heroes. But the event was founded for a slightly more specific reason. "For a while, there was this sense that the city of Portland didn't want hip-hop in Portland," Jackson says.
Artists frequently claimed their shows were subject to increased police scrutiny. The debate came to a head when a show headlined by veteran rapper Illmaculate was shut down by police in 2014 in Southeast Portland. About the same time, Jackson learned from a venue owner that a police officer had warned him against booking OG One shows because, the officer alleged, Jackson brought gang members to his DJ sets. "Now, mind you, I'm the official Blazers DJ, I'm a community figure, I have no gang ties," Jackson says. "It was 100 percent not true."
Jackson was able to dispel the rumor when he got the officer's name and contacted his superior. The incident led to a realization. "What if I am able to put myself in a position where I am able to be heard?" Jackson says. "How many promoters or DJs or venue owners are out there getting these things said about them?"
Jackson and O'Ferrall began holding meetings with the fire marshal, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the police and the mayor's office. Eventually, they decided Portland Hip-Hop Day was a solution. If the city of Portland wants to have hip-hop within its borders, setting aside a day to celebrate local artists seemed a good first step.
The massive scope of this year's Hip-Hop Day is in honor of O'Ferrall, but it's also a way to build on the infrastructure he helped put in place. "Here's the shoulders [newer MCs are] standing on," Jackson says. "You're trying to pursue your career, should be going to [veterans] to try and soak all the knowledge and information out of them that you can. And vice versa—being able to tell the vets in the game here's the future of Portland hip-hop. You guys should have an open door to pass on that information if they want it."
According to Jackson, the relationship between Portland and its MCs is a work in progress. "It's gotten better in some sense that now, the doors of communication are open," he says. "There's still a lot of work to do in terms of the trust."
But that's only part of the objective of Portland Hip-Hop Day.
"If nothing else," Jackson says, "this is our day."
SEE IT: Portland Hip-Hop Day is at Portland City Hall, 1221 SW 4th Ave., facebook.com/pdxhiphopday, on Sunday, Aug. 26. 2 pm. Free.