When Micah Fletcher co-founded Last of a Dying Breed with veteran Portland rapper Mic Crenshaw, he was well aware the project's attention wouldn't be limited to his dexterous lyricism.
In the summer of 2017, Fletcher was one of three men who stepped in to defend the young women targeted by Jeremy Christian's anti-Muslim rant on a MAX train, and the only one of the three to survive the stab wounds Christian inflicted. In the months after the attack, Fletcher watched comment sections unfold on local and national news stories about the incident. Some commenters claimed he was an actor deployed in a conspiracy against far-right politics, others praised his actions with such veneration that extremists from the right mockingly dubbed him "St. Fletcher."
"I'm sick of it," he says of being asked about the attack, "but I get it."
The subject is hard to avoid—Fletcher still has a red scar across the left side of his neck, and the stabbing was somewhat of a catalyst for Last of a Dying Breed's formation. What Fletcher doesn't have much patience for, though, is the assertion that the MAX attack was an isolated or even surprising incident.
"There is something about this situation that shocked Portland," he says. "That is what pisses me and Mic off, is that this isn't shocking, none of these things are shocking, and we truly believe it's because of this passive fucking mentality that has been bred in the town we live in."
The belief that society's ills run deep—and that change requires persistence—is evident in the music of Last of a Dying Breed, or Load B for short (not to be confused with Portland's other rap duo Load B, which comprises rappers Milc and Brill). This spring, the duo will digitally release their debut album, Brink of Distinction, eight tracks of labyrinthine verses over instrumental production layered thick with funk basslines, drum machines and kits, and the occasional organ. It is Fletcher's first album, and the first in Crenshaw's prolific career that he has released as part of a duo.
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Fletcher is 23, Crenshaw 48. The two met in 2015 through their overlapping roles as Portland poets and rappers. Crenshaw has mentored Fletcher since then. According to Crenshaw, the cross-generational similarities between the two MCs are much more profound than an affinity for hard-hitting verses and old-school back tracks. "When I was Micah's age, I was also an anti-racist skinhead and a founding member of Anti-Racist Action. My whole approach and set of priorities socially in my subculture was about white supremacy," he says. "Many years later, for Micah to be involved in his time in a current reflection of that—even if only circumstantially—is a powerful thing."
Crenshaw moved from Minneapolis to Portland in 1992, three years before Fletcher, who grew up in a house on Southeast 87th Avenue, was born. Though their timelines are staggered, both MCs have been honing their lyricism for more than half of their lives. Crenshaw has self-released six solo albums and EPs on his label GlobalFam, which will also release Brink of Distinction. Fletcher started rapping when he was 11, but it was only after the MAX attack that he began to publicly pursue his career, partly out of a desire to reclaim his identity from anonymous internet commenters, partly because his anger begot a deluge of lyrics, and partly because he felt he had nothing left to lose.
"I got pretty heavy into drugs and alcohol, and basically spent nine months after the stabbing like blackout drunk," he says. "I'd be crying to my father, and I'd be like, 'I just want things to go back to normal.' My dad would turn to me with this really sad look in his eyes and be like, 'Micah, unfortunately, this is your new normal, kid. You just got to learn how to live in this.' And I guess I haven't really learned how to do that yet."
Last winter, Fletcher asked Crenshaw if he would be interested in collaborating. "I took a chance and I hit him up, like, 'Hey, I know you're a big fish and I'm a little fish and this is a little pond, but I was wondering if you'd want to do a project,'" says Fletcher. "He was graceful enough to accept that proposition."
In April, Crenshaw and Fletcher released what would become their first single off of Brink of Distinction, "Paradox," a swaggering anthem with a back track of scratched records and a wobbly guitar melody supplied by one of their de facto producers, Theory Hazit. On the song's chorus, Fletcher recites: "The truth is a paradox/Revolution is a marathon." It's one of the album's many condensed bits of wisdom, and a line that was partly inspired by both MCs' confrontations with white supremacists that occured generations apart. "It's a serious reminder that things don't go away," says Crenshaw. "That phrase, 'The truth is a paradox/Revolution is a marathon,' rings very true, because what I thought I could help end through political violence as a young man hasn't ended."
Brink of Distinction is at its most potent in the moments when Fletcher's striving desperation meets Crenshaw's seasoned determination. Fletcher attacks each verse with a breakneck gasp influenced by Eminem and East Coast hardcore, while Crenshaw has a deliberate, smoldering delivery. On "I Want It," Crenshaw raps, "Focus on the future and the present/I'm steady," and "Life is eventful/I'm busy with beauty," while on "Legend Has It," Fletcher recites, "They call me St. Fletcher, but I'm more like Emperor Nero," over a rolling drum kit and menacing piano, and "I'm just some fuckup who's a fearful weirdo, truth be told."
Throughout the album, both MCs dig into the difficulty of thriving in systems and situations they were placed in by forces beyond their control. "I'm having a hard time with it," says Fletcher. "[Crenshaw's] older, he's kind of figured out how to live with the life he's been given. I have not."
Even though Load B is uninterested in softening the blow of their subject matter, the duo is planning for their next release to be a little bit lighter. They're already working on their follow-up to Brink of Distinction and have an album's worth of beats and drafts of two songs. "We're going to have to write some songs that are a little more fun," says Crenshaw.
For Load B, "fun" doesn't exactly mean vapid bangers, it's more like well-worn but hard-won optimism. "Shit just crumbles around you and you wonder what to do," says Fletcher. "All you have is this little pinprick of hope in the middle that maybe, someday shit will get better. What we're hoping is that we can put a little more pinprick into the album."
SEE IT: Last of a Dying Breed plays the Star Theater, 13 NW 6th Ave., startheaterportland.com, with Everlast on Friday, Jan. 11. 9 pm. $23.40. 21+.