Q&A: Mic Crenshaw

The Portland MC and new KBOO co-manager talks community radio and the war on hip-hop.

Earlier this month, following a year of internal tumult, Portland radio station KBOO announced that longtime rapper and activist Mic Crenshaw—along with Monica Beemer, former executive director of the nonprofit Sisters of the Road—would be taking over as station co-manager. We emailed Crenshaw to ask about the changing landscape of local radio, dealing with KBOO's declining listenership, and the station's relationship to Portland's embattled hip-hop scene.

WW: Tell me about your personal experience with KBOO.

Mic Crenshaw: Since I came to Portland in '92, I've been tuning in to 90.7. Initially it was for the music, hardcore punk and hip-hop you wouldn't hear anywhere else. As time went on and my activism developed, I tuned in for news and public affairs in addition to the music you wouldn't find on other stations. I did a brief stint as a host on Labor Radio and periodically have been invited on to talk about social justice issues. KBOO has been integral to my life and career in Portland.

The radio landscape in Portland is in the process of changing. What is the station's role now?

We need to say relevant, competitive, cooperative and increase our listenership and membership. People should know that KBOO is accessible and an incredible resource for building peoples' power in the community. 

KBOO has faced declining listenership in the last few years. How do you bring people back? 

Both Monica and I are engaged in various levels of social justice activism, and I am often in the schools and universities—in front of crowds, teaching, performing, organizing. This work takes place locally, globally, nationally. There is a large audience, a base of support, and a potential audience that has to identify KBOO as a resource in their lives. 

There's been a lot of talk recently about how hip-hop is "under siege" in Portland. Do you agree with that?

Hip-hop is under siege everywhere. This culture comes from those of us whose existence is either exploitable or expendable in relation to the dominant structures in society, namely late-stage capitalism. What do you do with the slaves when the plantation no longer needs them? You police them and try to get rid of them. Folks might not feel this way about it when they're in the thick of it, getting harassed by security, police and insurance companies, turning on the radio to hear an extremely limited range of expression, but that's the reality.

At KBOO, we will continue to provide a platform for the voices of marginalized people whose culture is under siege. Some of that will be hip-hop music programming, some of that will be in the form of news and public affairs that shed light on the current and historical realities that we, as a people in a transforming society, need to be aware of.

MORE: KBOO is currrently conducting a membership drive. If you'd like to donate, visit kboo.fm.

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