Thirty years ago, the rallying cry at concerts by female-led punk bands was, “Girls to the front!” Leave it to a hip-hop artist to take that sentiment and flip it into something bolder and sassier: “Penises to the back.”
The artist in question was rapper Karma Rivera. She said it with a playful smile and a dismissive wave of her left hand. The Portland artist was already turning things inside out by performing the first part of her set from the middle of the dance floor on the Portland Spirit as it cruised up and down the Willamette. Why not surround herself with more female bodies to amp up music that, as she chants on recent single “Show Ur Worth,” carries a “cunty, flashy, sexy, sassy” energy?
Her short, lively set was the perfect capper for this nautical edition of the Thesis, the monthly showcase for local hip-hop that has been going strong for nine years. In that time, the organizers for this event, journalist-activist Mac Smiff and DJ Verbz, have clocked how far the influence of the culture ranges. For this installment of the Thesis, that meant bringing along Izzy Baba Melo, a Nigerian-born artist who kicked things off with a set of slinky Afrobeat jams, and Alana Rich, an up-and-coming future-pop singer in the vein of Charli XCX and Dua Lipa.
Even with those artists, the focus remained on the more traditional end of hip-hop with the addition of Bird Bennett’s blunted combination of goofball and street-wise rhymes and the pure trap of New Jersey-born Lambo Lawson, who packed the small stage on the boat with friends and collaborators. With little time between sets and every artist sticking to their most upbeat material, the two-hour pleasure cruise zipped by, leaving fans dizzy, happily seasick, and hungry for what the Thesis has in store for October.