Mic Check: HANiF. (formerly Luck-One)


A little over a year ago, rapper Hanif Collins left Portland as Luck-One. Now, he's coming back as Hanif. Or rather, HANiF.—please write the period. Once the self-proclaimed "King of the Northwest," Collins felt he'd gone as far up the local totem pole as he cared to go, and decided to try his "luck," so to speak, in the cradle of hip-hop culture, New York City. So far, he's done pretty well for himself. He's pressed flesh with Kanye West. He's appeared on iconic rap radio station Hot 97. He's dropped an EP. And he's currently on tour with the legendary Pete Rock, bringing him back to the land he once ruled over, at least for a night. On the eve of his return engagement, we chatted with the always-outspoken MC about his name change, meeting Yeezus, the Eric Garner protests and whether he'd ever consider returning to the Northwest for good.

WW: How'd you end up on this tour?

HANiF.: I don't think it's nothing but God. My old manager, who I actually kinda-sorta fired, hit me up out of the blue and was like, "You want to go on tour with Pete Rock and Slum Village?" It was just weird, because I turned 30 last year, and I was doing some things in the street and getting some income from that, just trying to stay afloat, and I made some decisions to leave those things alone. As soon as I did, that's when I met Kanye, I went on Hot 97, and then the tour pops up. So I don't know if you call it God, good karma, the universe—I started doing certain things and stopped doing certain things, and everything started coming together.

Back up. You met Kanye?

My manager wanted to go to this private party for John Legend's birthday. My lawyer had an invite, because him and Kanye's cousin went to college together, and his cousin had introduced John Legend—John Stephens then—to Kanye. I walk in, and my lawyer's like, "So, Kanye and Kim are here." It's a small place. Think the size of Ash Street Saloon without the bar area. I'm looking, and I'm like, "Kanye's not here, man." The elevator opens up. Robert De Niro walks out. Questlove walks out. Q-Tip walks out. Then Kanye and Kim Kardashian walk out. I'm not a fanboy at all, but I definitely had a moment of, "Damn, Kanye's within an arm's reach of me." We chopped it up. He's hella cool, just an ordinary rapper.

So did you talk shop with him?

We chopped it up pretty tough. We're working on doing some things with GOOD Music. That's now my inner circle. My management team, my lawyer, are all dudes that work in the industry. My manager used to work at Interscope for 10 years, my lawyer used to work at Def Jam. Now I'm in a circle with them. It's not like I'm gonna run up on Kanye and spit a verse, but the possibility of me being in his presence again isn't unlikely at all.

Is that the biggest difference of being an artist in New York as opposed to Portland, where you can find yourself just happening into the same circle as Kanye West?

Even in Portland, there are a lot of rappers who are dope, but they're not happening to find themselves in my presence or Cool Nutz presence. If you put in work in Portland, you can meet Illmaculate or get noticed by Myke Bogan or Cool Nutz who might give you some game or an opportunity, but there's really no industry. Its just rappers and other rappers with varying degrees of success. Whereas in New York, if you're putting in work, you have access to meet anyone who had anything to do with music ever. I'm a barber by trade, and I was cutting the hair of this old Jewish dude, and it turns out he produced two entire albums for Wu Tang. That's why I left: I've climbed to the top of this totem pole, at least as high as I cared to go, in Portland, Ore., and now other rappers are jealous of me or whatever. I'll just vacate and let them see. Last time I was in Portland, I told Tope, "You're getting all this blog love, everyone's got their eyes on you. You see how worthless it all is? It doesn't matter. You're still in Oregon, man. You're gonna open up for anyone, kill the show, burn it to the ground, and tomorrow you're going to go to work." That's the main difference. In New York, you're dealing with people who are in the industry. It's not people who rap or used to rap or maybe know somebody. When I pick up my ASCAP check, I go to ASCAP.

Would that be your advice to rappers still in Portland? Basically, get the hell out?

I can only speak on what works for me. I'm not going to act like there's a formula for this or I've got all the answers. I'm as clueless as most of these dudes out here. People look at me like I'm supposed to be some rapper in the game. They don't know, man. The van broke down in D.C. We're driving 55 miles per hour from city to city because it's got 210,000 miles and might break down at any moment. They see the Instagram photos and think I'm living the rap life. We're really just scraping by. So any advice I can give an artist is one, follow your heart. Make music that means something to you, and make sure you're in it for the right reasons because this game will eat you alive if you're not. And two, just use intelligence and calculate your moves as much as you can. Put some forethought into what you're doing, and look at the rappers who are doing what you want to do—not the rappers you're competing with in Portland, Ore. Look at the rappers who are doing what you want to do and maybe take some game from that. In Portland, it becomes a huge circle jerk. I've spoke all this before. Everybody's trying to compete with everybody when you're all on the same team. Everyone's trying to one-up everyone else, but nobody even knows who any of us are.  So it's one of those things if you believe in what you're doing, and you keep doing it, someone's gonna mess with you. I'm a testament to that, but I don't have the answers.

Why'd you change back to your birth name?

First, Luck-One kind of sounds like an old rapper. Like, "Luck-One's gonna kick that real hip-hop!" It doesn't really fit what I'm doing at this juncture. And also, I turned 30 last year, and someone told me the other day you don't really know who you are until you're in your 30s. I don't know how it is for everyone else, because everyone processes time and experiences differently, but for me, that's definitely the case. I feel like I'm going to be a much better artist in my 30s than I was in my 20s. And I thought I did pretty well in my 20s. I feel like, transformatively, I've gone through a lot of changes, and the things I want to speak on, the way I want to do it, my attack, my approach, my presentation when I go places and what I'm representing, is totally different now, because I have a greater sense of self. So I felt like Hanif is a really powerful name, if you know what that means, it means a lot. I felt like it also spoke to a lot of who I am and who I want to be. It's better than Luck-One. Luck-One I came up with when I was a kid, and that was also attached to some street stuff. Hanif is more authentic. I want to be more authentic in this developmental stage of my career. 

So are you completely starting over, or is there still bits of Luck-One in what you're doing now?

I like to think every time I put out a piece of music I'm starting over. If you listen to my projects, none of them sound the same, except the ones that are the sequels. They all sound like a different rapper. People would be like, "I heard Beautiful Music and you sound like Immortal Technique, then I heard King of the Northwest and you sound like Pusha T." I'm a craftsman. My new project is a boom-bap project. The whole thing is golden era. So I like to dabble. You should have more than one style. So I don't look at the name change as really any type of significant change artistically, it's more like what I'm standing for as a person and, by extension of that, as an artist.

How do you feel like New York has affected you as an artist?

New York has really shown me how dope of a scene Portland, Ore., has. There are so many dope rappers, there's just no way out of there. But New York has no underground rap scene at all. It doesn't exist. There's Jay Z, there's French Montana and then there's the dudes who live on the block with me. There's no underground rap shows people are excited to go to. Once you've put in the amount of work an Illmac has put in, or even a Mic Capes, in New York City, you become the Underachievers. Because Vice magazine is there. Because XXL is there. Instead of Willamette Week picking up a piece on Glenn Waco, it's The Source. So there is no underground. To answer your question, that's the main thing it's taught me. We underestimate the ability and raw talent we have in Portland. And I think it's really a powder keg that's about to blow.

It sounds like you're saying the drop-off from the haves and have-nots in the rap scene is much bigger than it is in other cities. Like, your competition is Jay Z.

But see, that's the thing. I've always seen Jay Z as my competition. I never competed with Illmaculate or the Sandpeople. I never saw it like that. I think that's how I was able to do what I did in Portland. These dudes get so caught up in trying to be on the blogs everyone else is on. I'm like, "Man, why are you worried about these other rappers in Portland?" These dudes aren't making any money off their rap. There's like five of us making money off rap. And it's a meager living. Most of us are, like, selling weed. It's real! How many rappers in Portland are sustaining themselves with rap music? So I said this years ago: My competition is Lupe Fiasco, it's Kanye West. I've always felt that way.

Do you feel like you appreciate Portland's hip-hop scene more now that you've been away from it?

I always appreciated it the same. I guess I have a greater appreciation for the talent level. I was guilty of thinking, "I'm hot, I'm a big fish in a small pond," but then I came to New York and I'm knocking everything down, and I'm like, "I've really been sharpening my blade against one of the best stones in the nation." I guess I do have a greater appreciation for it. I've been singing that song, though, that Portland is where the best rappers on earth come from. But living in New York, I've seen a dude come out with a cape on and rap a bunch of things that don't rhyme with dancers who had miner lights on their heads. I've seen some of the most comically ridiculous stuff in New York City's hip-hop scene. So I think I do have a greater appreciation for it now that I'm looking at it from afar. Rappers in New York are used to just being discovered. You go from rapping on the block to being famous. That's it. There's no grind, there's no process, there's no figuring out what works and what doesn't. It's just, "I'm nice, my cousin such-and-such is going to come take me on his golden chariot to stardom."

You were involved with the incident at the Blue Monk last year. Did you follow the fallout at all?

Generally speaking, when it comes to politics, I don't really pay attention to the minutiae. I rely on my concrete understanding of the broader themes characterizing and coloring these events to really understand what's happening. If they say, "We're going to war with Iran," if you know why Americans go to war, they only go to war when there's resources or some political situation when their leaders won't bow down to our imperialist agenda. So I don't need to know the excuse or the reason. I know what's going on. It's kind of how I looked at the police situation. "OK, you're now realizing the police are racist, because they shut down a rap show. They killed a bunch of my friends. You think they can't shut down a rap show? They shot and killed a number of my friends for no reason." So the whole thing with the Blue Monk: I just don't care. My message is, to everyone who wants to get even and get justice with the police—go get some money and I guarantee they'll leave you alone. If you weren't broke, if you were driving a Mercedes-Benz, they wouldn't pull you out of it and beat you up. Rich people never get discriminated against by the police, ever. If that's what you're after, go get some money. Otherwise, that's part of their job.

They can do whatever they want. People who believe in the law are just sheep. Politics is economics for people who don't understand capital. The police protect property. But if you want to believe what you were taught in schools—that were funded by the government—to believe in liberty and justice, that's not real. I said when that happened, "We need to go to the Bureau of Labor and Industries [and say], 'They're infringing upon our rights to conduct business in a legitimate fashion.'" But they wanted to talk about justice and freedom and black people, and that's not an argument you're going to win. As soon as you talk about race, you alienate most people in Portland who are not ethnic. But in actuality, what they're doing is infringing upon your business. I lost a lot of money that evening, and that's the main issue of contention. But people are so small-minded. They'd rather have a march and hold a megaphone and feel good about themselves, and the police are still doing the same thing. It's not like they're going to pass a law that says it's illegal to harass niggas. [Laughs.] Politics is just economics for people who don't understand capital. You can't watch the news, so you get a cartoon. It's for dumb people. I don't follow that stuff.

What was it like being in New York during the Eric Garner protests?

Oh, the Eric Garner Festival, where they had undercover police leading the marches? "C'mon guys, right this way, let's keep walking in a circle." We went down there and said, "Let's shut down the trains. Let's chain ourselves to the trains." No one was trying to do that. "Let's sit down in the middle of Times Square and get arrested." No one wanted to do that. It's not even a protest. You're not protesting the law, you're just walking around until you get tired and go home. Stuff is a joke, man. I don't take any of that stuff seriously. Eric Garner was not killed because he was black. Eric Garner was killed because he was poor. And poor people are not represented by a police force that's there to protect property. He didn't own any property, so of course you're going to be discriminated against. If you're not a shareholder in a corporation, you don't get a vote. That's how it works.

Do you ever envision any situation that would bring you back to Portland?

Yeah, I'll be back in Portland in two weeks for a show! I mean, that'll probably be as long as I'll be back. I love Portland, but the city I grew up in doesn't exist anymore. I'm not from the Northeast—I'm from the Notorious Northeast. I'm from 19th Avenue. That doesn't exist anymore. But the earth is my turf, man. I grew up really poor, so we lived everywhere. I'm able to adapt. But I can't go back to where I came from, because it doesn't exist anymore. They've turned it into a coffee shop.

Do you still think of yourself as the King of the Northwest, then?

Man, something I learned is God is the king, and if you try to usurp his title he will humble you, bro. I'm just Hanif now.

SEE IT: HANiF. plays Hawthorne Theatre, 1507 SE Cesar E. Chavez Blvd., with Pete Rock, Slum Village, DJ Wels and Tope, on Tuesday, March 31. 7 pm. $18 advance, $20 day of show. All ages.

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