For local rapper ePP, integrity is more than just a privately held quality—it's something that should emanate to the rest of your community. In that regard, ePP has a lot to say to his fellow Portlanders of color, though he hopes it's a message that reaches people of color beyond the city.
"I know it's been talked about before, but I wanted to add my take on the other issues we face," says ePP, who declined to share his real name and his age. "There are times when we feel alone and know that no matter how hard people try, there are things about being black in America that they'll never fully comprehend. I want to keep that conversation going."
"They," of course, refers to those in white society holding hierarchical power over blacks and other people of color. On his new record, There's a Place for People Like You, which was released last week on local hip-hip label Eyrst, ePP addresses those social mechanisms. Years in the making, There's a Place has the signature touch of producer Neill Von Tally's dreamy sound, elevated by ePP's call-and-response switch-up of rap flow and choral coos.
Even though the Georgia-born rapper calls Portland home, his experiences here have been particularly indicative of how asymmetrical, omnipresent privilege can work against creative expression, especially for artists of color. Before he began his solo career, ePP was a member of the rap group TxE, which he founded in 2010 with Tope and Calvin Valentine. With TxE, ePP experienced Portland's attempts to suppress hip-hop music—shows were subjected to increased scrutiny by the Portland police and fire marshals, and were frequently shut down. It shook the thriving career of ePP and TxE, and ultimately led him to retreat inward and begin working on a new way to speak his truth.
"[The album] came from me wanting to speak to my community and remind us how strong we are, no matter what we've been through," he says. "We have to stop looking for validation from people who won't be here when it really matters. I want to help people of all backgrounds feel comfortable about being in their own skin."
In that sense, his debut solo album addresses more than his community—it addresses some of the deepest battles he's been fighting with himself. Understanding how being honest with yourself and holding yourself accountable can be "better for you and the people in your life," he says. Some of his favorite songs on the album give a lyrical peek into his coming-to-terms, like "One You Can Save," on which he sings in a low tone, "I wanna leave the shell that's got me hiding in the brain," over a mellow R&B beat. On "Even? When?" which has a beat that calls back to the early '90s, he ends the track with "I feel alive, no longer am I stuck in my ways."
With influences ranging from everyone from Big L and Davey Havok to AFI, Truman Capote and skate videos, ePP prides himself on blending whatever he loves and appreciates into his work. It's helped him become more vocal with his frustrations and emotions, something he's actively suppressed in the past. "I would come off cold towards people and not give them a chance to be a friend due to my fears and past trauma," says ePP. "It's a lot different now. I still have a shoulder up, but I'm a lot more open."
With There's a Place, the MC creates a place where he can freely express who he is. The level of vulnerability within the tracks is palpable as he opens up about his past mistakes and behavior, and the steps he's taken to become a better person. His emotional awareness is heightened, making him more willing and able to confront his inner workings before they try to steer his ship.
It's a feat, but one he's grateful he could accomplish. That's something all of us, no matter our physical characteristics, can relate to.
"It isn't always easy," he says. "But I'm better for it."
SEE IT: ePP plays Disjecta, 8371 N Interstate Ave., facebook.com/epp1999, with Fountaine, Sxlxmxn, Half & Half and Letjoux, on Friday, May 3. 8 pm. $10. All ages.