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RJ: My name is Rasheed Jamal. I’m a hip-hop artist – alternative rap artist. And I’m an Arkansas native, Hot Springs, Arkansas native. I’ve been in Portland since April 4, 2008. So I’m swiftly approaching eleven years of living here. It’s kind of crazy to think about it.


AK: Did you have an impression of the Portland music scene before you moved here?


RJ: I didn’t actually. Part of me thought that – I visited here once before – what I liked about Portland was what I perceived to be the diversity in thought. ‘Cuz in 2007, I think it was right before they were getting ready to have the Olympics in China, in Beijing, and there was a lot of people just in the streets. Some people were protesting about Gaza Strip at the time. It was before the recession. Before Obama got elected, so American politics was a lot different at the time. The way people thought about stuff was a lot different. Social media wasn’t really a thing outside of Myspace. Facebook was just getting started so people didn’t spend a lot of time on comment threads or post videos about themselves like that, so a lot of people’s activism and stuff like that was actually played out in the streets. In real life. Handing out pamphlets. Connecting with people and stuff. 


Growing up, I always had a different set of mindset. I grew up with the internet. I grew up with Wikipedia, and streaming music, and downloading beats, and being aware of different stuff that was going on around the world. So when I got out here, I like the quote unquote “liberal” – that’s back when “liberal” was like aight, now liberal and conservative is really whack terms, but back then it was cool to be liberal because you actually cared about some shit. It wasn’t just picking out shit to be mad about. It was like yo, these people are getting killed over here. These people over here being abused in Beijing, but you all are doing the Olympics in Beijing – what’s up with that? So you had all kinds of people from Beijing in the streets, walking around. And then these other people carrying signs, and these other people doing this… I was really attracted to the free thought and the way people could express and demonstrate. That’s what I like about it. Didn’t go to any shows then. When I came back, I was just more so impressed by the fact that this was kind of place where people jog. It’s kind of place where people just go for a walk. Stay healthy. And they eat whole grains, and organic, and all that stuff. All that stuff that’s labeled as hipster but it’s actually really good for you. So it was a culture shock. And me being an adventurous person, I enjoy culture shocks. I like being genuinely like “what the fuck is going on” and figuring it out. I’m a country-boy, man. I’m from Arkansas. Now my city wasn’t necessarily just country, like rural, backwoods – it’s not. I come from a bustling little town, but outside of that in every direction, besides Little Rock and other areas like in Conway where I went to college, it’s pretty much like pretty country. It’s slowed down. It’s the South. We do a lot to expand our minds and comment on certain stuff, but then once you get into a city, more of a city kind of environment, where you come to find out Portland’s like a big town as well. It’s not so much the city-city feel like that. I was just interested in exploring honestly. 


By the time I found music, I didn’t come into the music scene – and I know this is a long answer but that’s what you’re interviewing me for so [laughs] – but I got introduced to the music scene through, I guess a few different ways. I used to go to people’s shows and stuff, and just stand around and be kind of amazed because I had stage fright at the time when I was 21-22. And I used to be like, “Man these people are really brave just getting up here. How they remembering all this stuff?” Because I had so many songs. I started writing music when I was 8. I started recording music when I was 14. I’m 32 now. I started recording music like for real, going to the studio all the time, and learned how to do it all myself so I wouldn’t have to ask somebody for help. I could just show up. All I need is your equipment. And then I would create codes, and I didn’t even realize I was making codes, but I was creating these codes and these batch-processing on this old program called Cool Letter Pro. And I’d create these batch processes in a way that you could pretty much automate all the edits that you want to make on a vocal. I would have such good recipes for how I did my vocals, a lot of people in Arkansas started using the same shit not knowing that it was mine. So that was kind of my start, musically. And when I came out here, I didn’t have any of that background and people knowing who I am and all the stuff like that, so I was going through a self-transformation as well at the time. So I actually got into the spoken word at first. Spoken word and live music – doing open mics at The Dookie Jam and Antonios there. That’s where I met Tony. I met Farnell. I met Black Butterfly. I met Barry Hampton Jr. I met so many people man. Jonny Cool, Frank Esquire, and from that, that’s where I started to expand and meet different people and I would show up and do open mics. Do a verse here or do a verse there. Sometime folks would just be jammin’ and you’d do a whole song in front of everybody – just straight improv. From there, that’s where I started to seethings about Portland.


AK: When did you first do your own music then on stage?


RJ: I guess 2011, ‘cuz I moved here in 2008. And in 2011 with my guy, Cloudy October. He had released his project, The Aviator’s Dead, and he was on the tail end of promoting it. I just met him outside of Someday Lounge one day. He handed me his card, and his card looked like a driver’s license, and I was like, “Yo man, you gave me your driver’s license.” He’s like, “No, no – that’s my card.” I was like whoa, and I really liked his name, so we hit it off after that and to this day he’s one of my best friends. But if I was Tupac, he was my Shock G at the time – he was Digital Underground to me. He took me everywhere with him, and he really showed me the ropes on how he self-promotes, and how he rehearses for his shows and stuff like that. So I give a lot of credit and a lot of growth to my stage performance to him, and that was in 2011.


AK: Do you think that in the Portland hip-hop scene, there’s a Portland kind of sound or a Portland kind of vibe?


RJ: I think that this is what people underestimate about it – it’s very fluid. You can look at five different hip-hop artists and they have similarities, but they’re all doing something different. Whether it’s how they walk, talk, dress, or whatever. I think that what’s signature for Portland is high quality. Cats here put a lot of emphasis on the quality of the way their stuff sounds, and they really pay attention to details here. I think that’s something that’s overlooked. I see that across the board for every genre, not just hip-hop. A lot of cats put a lot of effort into the studio they go to, the person who shoots their videos, how they release their videos… I think that if Portland had more of a hungry market for Portland artists, that a lot of people could really support their lifestyles, just from having a hundred-thousand hungry hip-hop fans here. I don’t think that some of the downfalls that hip-hop artists face here really have to do with them necessarily. Now we can get into the semantics of that, but I think the real hallmark of something that’s coming out of here is really, for the best of them, a high level of originality and thought, then very well-executed quality. 


AK: So do you think that a hip-hop artist could survive solely on their music here in Portland?


RJ: I’ve tried several times. Eventually you got to go out of town. And really much more so for now, because a lot of venues have been closed down, like a lot of venues. That hurts everybody. That doesn’t just hurt hip-hop guys. That hurts everybody. Kelly’s Olympian is one of them joints that really just stuck it out and continuously just service their audience and their crowd from the bar side and restaurant side, to the venue side. And they’ve held onto their joint. The Jack London Revue is a jazz spot that has a capacity, that I think it would be crazy, crazy to have a hip-hop situation going on down there. But downtown has kind of fallen victim to that urban blight movement across the country. Man, I’m not really scared of a lot of stuff, but I could be with two of my other friends, bigger than me, and we feel off being downtown, Downtown is not a safe place. There’s been a lot of people getting killed, shot, stabbed, just dying, shot by the police, car accidents – just craziness that happens down there now. Let’s say I throw a show. I don’t want to bring my girl down there. I don’t want my girl and nobody I care about – not to say I don’t care about my fans – but nobody I feel responsible for their lives; I don’t want them being around shit like that. Homeless people all over the place going crazy. Like these people really need help. It’s cool to put up a post about them, but how do we really get to help these people so that really makes the overall environment better instead of just leaving them out here to rot. There’s been plenty of times when I’m leaving a venue downtown, and it’s like I’m walking by myself… I ain’t scared, but folks is like leaned all the way out, damn near dead on the ground. I don’t know if you’re overdosing or just sleeping. That’s just not cool. On top of a lot of venues and clubs closing, and different things like that, it’s very difficult to just say, “Okay, I’m gonna go out and I’m gonna make five grand this month. I’m gonna make ten grand this month.” It’s not there. It’s just not there. There’s no all-age venues. It’s not there. You gotta go out of town, and you have to sell online, and you have to sell merchandise, and you have to set up a business model that will allow you to do that. And as an artist, that’s not always, really it’s never what you want to think about. Like what kind of business model am I running, and how am I gonna do this marketing, and this, this, this, this… And actually have real, legitimate fans, and not just buy followers, and buy comments, and buy bots that are gonna boost your perception in the intention market. Like what about the actual money market? How we gonna do this? It’s hard to make a living strictly as an independent recording artist in Portland. Just because I don’t really know what everybody here is focused on. You know – you said it earlier. You said that kind of the whole purpose of this was… say it, say what it was.


AK: That there’s all these different isolated pockets of music scenes but there’s no sort of concentrated “this is the Portland music scene.” There’s no one joining together and sort of standing up for that sort of music scene.


RJ: Yeah, and it’s just like real kind of extent kind of thing that goes on because there’s really nothing that people in Portland rally over. Especially now that the gentrification. It affects everybody, not just black people. But it affected black people the hardest because they got moved from where we are overlooking – North East Portland – out to Gresham. I noticed the decline of downtown with the gentrification, because downtown used to be popping when black people lived over here. You know what I’m saying? North Portland, North East Portland because they’re like, “Okay, see we going downtown, we gonna have a good time.” And people spending money over here, that fueled a different type of attitude, and that fueled a different type of culture, and then at that time there were more people that wanted to hear that. But when you have kind of the flavor moved out to Gresham, it’s like who’s going to Gresham to do a show? Who wants to go to Gresham to promote a show, and then do a show in Gresham? Not to disrespect Gresham, but who wants to drive to Gresham? I don’t know, man. It’s great that we got the radio station out there, but…


AK: Do you think there’s been a concentrated effort by local government to sort of shun that scene out of downtown?


RJ: Yeah!


AK: Or do you think that comes along with gentrification?


RJ: It used to be in the newspapers. Yeah! It was in the newspapers, it was in Vice magazine, it was in fuckin’ Buzzfeed. I was in the Buzzfeed article. I think the most well-known situation was that Blue Monk show where they ran in there on Illmaculate, and Mikey Vegaz, and I forget who the other brother was that was performing that night. But the next weekend they did the same thing to us at Kelly’s Olympian. We had a sold-out joint. It ain’t hard to sell out Kelly’s Olympian, but we had a sold-out show. There was X amount of money I planned on making that night, and the police department ruined that by telling people they couldn’t come to the show. And so yeah, I had direct experience with the fact that the local government didn’t want us promoting any kind of hip-hop. It didn’t matter what you was rapping about. But what that showed was the strength of what we had going on. The bad part about that is that we didn’t unify and push back harder. We didn’t unify and push back collectively because I don’t think folks had ever really dealt with that, and especially at this point in American history where hip-hop is the biggest genre. It’s diluted now, but it’s the biggest genre. So it’s like what are we gonna do, civil rights for hip-hop? Why don’t we just go to L.A.? That’s what a lot of people did. “Man, I’m going to L.A. man. I’m going to Houston. I’m going to Atlanta. I’ma go to New York, I’ma go to Oakland.” I’m gonna go somewhere where they already listen to this, instead of trying to convince Portland people that y’all need hip-hop just because we here. So that’s another thing that made it difficult, ‘cuz that sends a signal. And even subconsciously or whatever, people started to shy away from hip-hop.


AK: Well Portland obviously has very racist roots. Do you think some of that is just a direct result of Portland’s history of being afraid of black people essentially?


RJ: Yeah, behaviors are learned, attitudes are ingrained. You know what I mean? Just in my work life, and different stuff like that. I’ve dealt with all kinds of levels of discrimination and bias, and all the five-dollar words we can throw around that amounts to “Man, you’re racist bro.” No matter how bad it hurts your feelings, you’re racist. So yeah, you’re right.


AK: Do you think that underlying tone is pervasive in the audiences that go out to see music in Portland, even if they’re not aware of it?


RJ: Nah man, actually. It’s a predominantly white audience here. They cool though. I’ve gotten all kind of support. Supporters are supporters. But what it turns into is, you have to back off of being offended as a business. You have to back off of being offended, and you have to look at the demographic and you have to look at what’s really going on. What you have is, several different people have different cultures. There may be certain stuff that people in my audience, they do. Or people that’s not in my audience, there’s like a certain thing that you’re interested in. For instance, on our phones we get hit with all these algorithms, and now it’s like to the point where you think of something and you pick up your phone and you’re seeing an advertisement for it. I don’t know what kind of sorcery that is, but it’s crazy. But it’s keeping you locked in to what you’re interested in, and what you think about to pretty much everything you’re kind of getting. I don’t know if this is reality, and this is where it gets “Doo loo loo, doo loo loo.” I don’t know if it’s reality changing – like we went through some kind of portal or something like that and didn’t know about it, and we woke up one day and it’s like this. But what I’ve come to realize is all that shit from The Secret and all that shit, whatever you think about starts to manifest in your life. And I’ve been seeing that a lot. So, a lot of times most people don’t hear nothing about hip-hop. 


The same way most of my life growing up I didn’t hear nothing about Alice in Chains. You know what I’m saying? I didn’t hear nothing about Red Hot Chili Peppers. Like I heard Red Hot Chili Peppers, but I didn’t listen to their music because it wasn’t something that was culturally relevant to where I was. So like there may be people that know me, so they fuck with my music. Or they heard about me, or they just like hip-hop every now and again, but they’re not necessarily somebody like… I’m a fan of Alice in Chains, right? But I wouldn’t necessarily go spend $50 on a ticket to go see Alice in Chains. I’d rather just listen to Alice in Chains, and let my friends know, “Yeah man, I like this shit right here.” And they, “Really?” Yeah man, this is tight bro. Listen. Listen to what he’s saying man. ‘Cuz I’m a fan of songwriting. I’m really a fan of songwriting. So I appreciate good songwriting and use of melody and instrumentation, because I want to get more of that in mine. But it’s not culturally relevant to somebody in Hot Springs, Arkansas to be listening to Alice in Chains. You’re more likely, when I was growing up, to be listening to Juvenile. Or 8-Ball and MJG, or UGK, or something like that. Like that made more sense – cultural relevant sense. So whenever the radio’s promoting Alice in Chains, I got pretty much blinders on. I don’t even here that. But whenever Twista’s coming to town, like back then… Now it’s more like probably if Jay-Z is coming to town, I’m gonna go, “Oh shit, hey bro let’s go to the Jay-Z concert fam.” I think it’s a lot of that. Now exposure is another thing. So I have yet to meet anybody, or speak to, or hear about anybody who got exposed to my music who didn’t like it. So then you remove your emotions from the situation, and you be like well okay – if somebody from Korea, if you’re a Korean immigrant, I’m not gonna expect you to be in tune with hip-hop like that. Not American hip-hop. Maybe K-Pop, something like that, but it’s kind of doing things that are culturally relevant and really getting away from the mainstream media. I’m not trying to sound like a hippie either, but it’s like the mainstream media model of it’s a law of large numbers. If I put this in front of 20 million people, I know for a fact I’m getting at least 5 hundred-thousand of these people’s money. And that’s what makes them important. So if you can get your music – the more people you can get exposed to what you do, and the easier you can make it to get exposed to it, the more people you reach, and maybe you will convert people over to your way of thinking, and listening to your sound and like, “Ah man, I like this. This kind of caught me off guard.” But it’s interesting man, because it’s really about what people like. And it’s really about what people are already into. It’s really hard to tap into a certain audience here now, because they’ve been migrated. 


AK: In that sense then… like before I moved here, around the same time you did actually, I lived in Vermont.


RJ: About the same, but cold.


AK: Burlington, Vermont is a small town – it’s like the college town there. But there’s like three music venues in town, which means you get these bills on a Friday night where it’s like a hippie jam band followed by a huge horn funk-soul band, followed by like a live hip-hop thing. Since it’s the only thing sort of going on, everybody’s…


RJ: …going to it.


AK: Yeah, they go and support it. And so existing in that for so long, coming here it was so weird to me that those bills don’t exist at all. Those sort of cross-cultural bills.


RJ: I’ve done those man. Those are the funnest ones to do actually. They don’t really happen enough, but I’ve had probably some of my funnest shows have been those cross-genre shows. Just because it’s a different kind of energy. Everybody appreciates one another, and maybe it’s the lack of competition that makes that happen. ‘Cuz you get a bunch of hip-hop and everybody’s trying to outdo each other. And that can be fun too, that doesn’t necessarily have to be competitive. But you kind of carry yourself a little bit different when you get around guys that are in different genres, just because their mind is somewhere completely other than, “Ah man, we about to kill this shit tonight. Everybody’s gonna remember my set.” You know what I'm saying? But even if they do feel that way, it’s cool because they’re doing them and you’re in your own lane doing your own expression. So I think that’s why those things work out the best in my opinion. But they don’t happen as much here, and it’s weird man. It’s kind of like this strange level of absence on the part of the musicians. I’m one of them. I’m probably the leading cause. This sense of absence from just constant participation, but it’s hard to participate constantly when your choice of venue is so limited.


AK: So like you played Pickathon last year, was that a noticeably different crowd for you?


RJ: I did a show at The Odditorium, like December of 2017.That’s where the Dandy Warhols have their kind of like musical headquarters, down in the Pearl. Now that was like the whitest shit I’ve ever done in my life. That shit was uncomfortably white. That shit felt like I was… I don’t even want to say that; I don’t want to offend nobody. That shit was fucked up though. I was mad as a motherfucker, like I was really mad about that. Like the guy that had me to do that, there was a few reasons I was offended by that show. The offense that I had; it didn’t have nothing to do with the audience honestly. And nothing to do with the Dandy Warhols. And nothing to do with The Odditorium. I think that shit is dope. I want my own version of that. 


AK: Was it like the intention of why you were there?


RJ: It’s the intention of why I was there. What I was doing there. The fact that hip-hop… I didn’t have no fucking business rapping up there that day. I still made the best of it, and walked out into the crowd and was shaking people’s hands and looking at folks and rapping all in people’s faces – having a good time. But that was like the most uncomfortable upper-middle class, white audience that don’t know shit about hip-hop. Like the lady that introduced me said my name wrong, and said “Jay-Z has nothing on him.” And I was like, “What?!” [laughs] That shit was rough. So like Pickathon, it wasn’t that bad. The hardest shit about Pickathon was my allergies, and all the dust, and the horses, and the hay, and the grass being kicked up, and the dander from people’s dogs and shit. It just got really hot at certain times and I couldn’t breathe, ‘cuz I was congested. But I’m still in the middle of an hour-long set, so I’m trying to catch my breath and I’m thinking I’m bombing. Like the whole time, you imagine yourself drowning in water and fighting your way to the top. Like I was drowning in the 808’s of my music, if that makes sense. So I’m on stage sweating like hell, all my dreads are wet, I got sweat in my eyes. It’s fucking hot. It’s like 95 degrees in there. Everybody’s in there bouncing around – it was a good time. I had a good time at Pickathon. 


I don’t really mind having a huge white audience, because I’m not afraid to say what I’m gonna say anyway. Like, y’all are here. Shit, you already here. You should have went to somebody else’s show if you wanna hear somebody say something else. But I don’t always use my platform to try to preach against certain stuff. Sometimes I’m gonna just have fun and talk my shit. Especially during my shows. If I have a moment where I want to say something, then I do. But there’s a lot more going on in my inner world than my relationship to white America. And I think that in the quest to be understood, and also just get a level of equity and a level of understand that I’m human too, that the quote-unquote “black community” in America we’ve been trying to educate people for a long time as to how we suffer and how we feel, and the different levels and nuances and the way that it affects us over time. To the point to where I know several times when I get approached by the media, or talk to the media, at some point that question’s gonna come up. And it’s really asking, “How do you feel about white people?” Man, I’ve had white friends my whole fucking life. I grew up in Arkansas. Some of my best friends was white growing up. I had a lot of gay friends, I had a lot of girl friends, I had a lot of everything in between. A full-blown childhood. Like my first friends, one of my homeboys, he was light skinned with freckles. He’s a black dude with freckles. I had two friends like that. One dark skin with freckles, one light skin with freckles. Another kid he was like a chubby kid, a little black girl who was my first girlfriend, and then my homeboy Wa-Wa – he was a first-generation Vietnamese immigrant. And then Con, my man Condo was first generation… like when I was two and three years old, these were my first friends. I remember them. I still talk to them to this day. So racism isn’t my problem. It’s my problem because other people bring it to me. Sexism, classism, all those things. I’ve never really been in a position to tell somebody, “No, you can’t have that job. No, you can’t do this. No, you can’t marry that person. No, you can’t move in over here. No, you can’t get this home loan because of this.” There’s so many different layers of where trying to pinpoint, “Oh how does it make me feel to perform in front of a room full of people like this?” Fuck, did you pay me? Am I here for free or am I getting paid? Because if they cheer and they like that shit, and they want me to do some more, then they want to buy something else from me, then you’re a satisfied customer. As long as I don’t get disrespected, you don’t get disrespected, you don’t feel disrespected… cool. That’s how I look at it at this point.


AK: What sort of motivated you to stay away from the stage for the past year or so?


RJ: Personal stuff. Personal things. I’ve had quite a few close deaths in my family over the past two years. I don’t really want to talk about that. I’ve had like five or six close people pass away over the past two years. And then there’s just other things that go on behind that, but a lot of that is grief, you know? Like really grief, and just going in and out of just really not wanting to fuck with people. You don’t feel good, then you really don’t want to be around people and put on this happy face. Or put on the intense face. Or put on the melancholy face. I was just, I don’t feel like being around people right now at that capacity, and having to keep up that level of communication right now. I just don’t want to do that. And it’s not like I’m missing out on an extra hundred thousand dollars a year when I do it, at the time right now. A year from now that might be different. It’s like okay, I don’t give a fuck how you feel you better go get this money. That’s different.


AK: Well in that sense though, what would you say other than money – what do you get from performing?


RJ: A good sense of release. I have a lot of energy. A lot of energy. So I like to use it. ‘Cuz if you don’t use it, it’s kind of like when you eat a lot. You gotta get rid of it. When you eat, you gotta go to the bathroom. So I think that energy is the same thing. Exercise. Good conversations with people. Having a sense of belonging. And then also for me, writing, recording, and performing – they all give me this renewed sense of balance, and then also connecting with a wider audience of people. And just kind of feeling that comradery when people like what you do. I like that. I like it when people come up to me and say, “Yo that was a good show, man.” “Hey fam, I saw you perform at dada-dada-da. Keep going!” And it’s like people tell me that. Like somebody stopped me in Fred Meyer the other day. “I’m one of your biggest fans man…” And I was like, “Oh shit, really. You see this?” ‘Cuz I’ve been so shut in lately, but it’s been across the board. It hasn’t just been music. Like I had month or two where I was telling people, “Hey man don’t ask me about no music. Don’t ask me to do no songs with you. Don’t ask me to do no shows. I don’t wanna do nothing.” I almost quit. That’s what grief will do to you. I’ve been taking my time, and really just wanting what I do to count.


AK: Do you consider yourself a Portland musician?


RJ: Hell yeah. Goddamn right. If I’m not, who is? [laughs] ‘Cuz I done worked with some of everybody man. If I ain’t worked with you, I’ve been around and I kicked it with you. I really sat down with you and told you something trill about your stuff. I pride myself on not being a hater. And if I am a hater, it’s for a good reason. But I try to find a reason to like everything, even if I don’t like it. Not everything, but you know what I mean. I try to look at both sides of the coin as much as I can. So yeah, I’m a Portland musician. I’m an Arkansas native too, so in an Arkansas musician. The world is way bigger than the designations we give. I’m an Earth musician. I don’t play any instruments, but I’m really good at songwriting, and composing full length projects and stuff like that. So yeah.


AK: Do you feel like Portland has a direct effect on the kind of music you make?


RJ: Yeah, ‘cuz I got a fresh start here. I was young. Shit man, I was 21 when I moved here. My dad had just passed away when I was 20. I didn’t do well in college. I wasn’t a good college kid. So when I came out here I was really trying to find myself and rebuild myself into this idea of who I had, and I didn’t realize how much time, and how much effort, and how much the day to day of that journey would be, but it’s eleven years later and in a lot of ways I’m the same, but in a lot of ways I’ve changed.


AK: So do you think if you were somewhere else – if you were in Oakland or if you were in L.A. that you’d be making different music?


RJ: Yeah. I think it’s because of the environment. I think Portland is a place of delayed gratification. Portland is definitely a place of delayed gratification. So I really think the level that I’m making music right now, just the projects that I’m working on right now, I don’t think that if I had not come from the combination of Arkansas and live in Portland and be in Oregon, where both places don’t necessarily have a centralized music scene; they don’t have just like this robust history of creating stars, I think that it makes people, like them cats in the early 90’s was and in the late 80’s when you had Rakim, and Grandmaster Flash, and KRS, and Public Enemy, you had all these groups that was coming out, and you had different people that could rap but there was only certain cats that was really getting on, even though they all in the same circles. While they home and Run-DMC is running the world, you got people in Queens and they’re making their music better and better and better, and they’re making projects that you can really sink your teeth into and dance. So I think that kind of feeds it. If I was in Oakland, I would probably, definitely,still be making some cool music, but it would probably have more of an Oakland sound. Or I would kind of take in mannerisms of people from Oakland ‘cuz that’s where you live. That’s what humans do – we adapt to our environment. L.A. – I think that… I never been to L.A. so, but from what I’ve heard about L.A. and what I see in L.A., everybody is trying to get on. It’s Hollywood. Everybody’s trying to do something. Everybody’s getting ready to be somebody, even if they’re not. So I think that would at some point rub off in the music, and I probably would have tried to start making some type of club songs just to go crazy in the club. Do that. And then at the same time, I probably would have tried to make more introspective music, but L.A. is like, from what I hear, it’s pretty shark-ridden territory so you gotta be careful. 


But what I like about Portland is the very open-minded… What I got from here when I got here, never mind how it actually is, but when I got here the full impression of what I took on was this place is open-minded, this place is outside the bible belt, this place is pretty safe for the most part, and this is a place where it’s small enough to where if you know a decent amount of people, you’re pretty cool everywhere you go. But then it’s big enough to where you don’t have to have people in your business all the time. And then with social media doing what it’s done now, you can kind of project this image of yourself like Batman and shit. It’s one of those small places where people might recognize you if you do something consistently over a certain amount of time. So I think it definitely has, ‘cuz that quality aspect I brought up earlier… When I was growing up, cats used to rap over the top of their vocals during their shows. Like they just rap over the songs and get up there and do their thing. But like it’s extremely frowned upon. From the time I got out here, it’s always been frowned upon to rap over your vocals. That’s something that “Oh wow,” that changed me. The sound quality thing. I used to record a lot of my music at home, but my equipment wasn’t up to par with what other people had been doing stuff with. And once I started going to a different studio, and paying for studio time automatically that completely changed the game for me. Yeah Portland has definitely affected my music. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t. 


AK: Do you think that if you were blindly flown around the world, or didn’t know where you were and walked out onto a stage that you didn’t recognize, and let’s just supposed that you didn’t know anybody in the crowd, do you think you would know you were in Portland if that’s where you were?


RJ: Uh-uh. Nah man. Nah. I don’t think so. That sounds really fun! Actually, that shit sounds retardedly fun. Honestly, imagine that. We need a TV show like that. That would be tight. We should pitch that to somebody. Where you like just get this guy – you grab somebody like me and a couple other acts, and have Red Bull or somebody sponsor it. And we just do these pop-up shows in somewhere, and there’s thousands of people there who don’t know what they gonna get. We don’t know who we gonna see. We just gonna hop up on stage and perform. You end up in Zambia. You end up in Indonesia, or Singapore. Like these little places where people like music but don’t nobody ever come. That would be crazy. That would be incredible. But my bad, back to the question. If I knew I was in Portland? Nah man, ‘cuz Portland crowds are always different. Like literally, over time, there’s people who come to shows on a regular basis but there’s also always somebody different in the crowd who I ain’t never met before. Always. And they know all my shit. It’s like, “When did this happen?” Okay, that’s what’s up. That’s what’s up. That’s what’s up. How do I get more of this to happen like this? Portland usually has like pretty diverse sensibility at shows. I think… I don’t know. If I pop up on stage in Oakland, or New Orleans, or somewhere that has a larger so-called black population, then I’d probably have a lot more fun. Or I might not have a lot more fun ‘cuz they might not want to hear what the fuck I’m talking about. They might want to hear something like bullshit. They might want to hear something like Young Dolph, or they might want to hear Young Thug or Lil Baby, something like that. There’s gonna be a demographic of people that like what I do, but they might not like my music. They might be more in tune with the autotune, trap kind of sound where that’s what they listen to. That’s what they fuck with. So I don’t know man, as long as I’m in front of an audience that’s listening, that’s attentive, that put their hands up when I say so, and scream when I say so, and for the rest of the time they just have a good time, I’m happy. That’s pretty much what I had to come to grips with. 


AK: Are there things about scenes in other music communities that you wish were happening here?


RJ: To take a note from Oakland, I know that Oakland people support Oakland artists. ‘Cuz they really like their homegrown feel, and there’s a level of exclusivity that I’ve heard about over the years that Oakland has for their artists – I wish that that was here. But that has to happen naturally. It has to be generations worth of that happening naturally, and it kind of seems like Portland is fighting to become from a Tier 1 to a Tier 2 city, and then eventually from Tier 2 to Tier 3, or whichever way it goes. I think that Tier 3 go to Tier 2 and then get to Tier 1. And then that happening, you’re gonna lose a lot of soul. You lose a lot of soul. And that’s kind of what’s… it’s in this weird kind of prepubescent phase. You know when you like 11, 12, 13 and shit, you start finding hairs in places you didn’t know you had ‘em, and you start having feelings for that girls you always thought was ugly, and she grows titties and it’s like “Oh.. hey… Caroline…” Portland is kind of, in my opinion, in that space and it’s not good for us. But it’s good for people that are into development, real estate development. It’s good for people in real estate development. [laughs] And banking. Tech companies. Startups.


AK: So would you say you’re pessimistic about the state of Portland music?


RJ: Nah, I’m not pessimistic. I just think I’ve seen a lot, that’s really what it is. I’ve seen a lot and had a lot of good conversations with people. I’d just rather see shit for what it is than what I want it to be. But it’s not pessimism because I know that being an artist is like being a super hero on some level, because you can put out some art and change the direction of stuff. You never know man, one of us might put out something so dope that it hits a lightbulb in somebody’s head like, “You know what? I think we need to do this.” And that would be cool. But if it doesn’t happen, you gotta go on the road. You go on the road. You get other people talking about you in other places, and then when you come back… I’ve seen it happen for a lot of people, when you come back around that’s when you start selling out shows. That’s when unfortunately what happens at the same time is by the time everybody here catches on, the person got caught onto is like “all right well I’m ready to go back over here, ‘cuz I won’t be able to sustain myself just staying here.”


AK: So as someone who you say you occasionally get recognized around here, and you see yourself as a Portland musician, do you feel like you have a responsibility to sort of support or fight for the music scene here?


RJ: I’ve done it. Like, I’ve done it. There’s been a lot of behind the scenes little things that as an artist, like a lot of times I’m the only rapper there. And I’m also not a quiet person in a room either. So I think I’ve done my part. [laughs] There’s only so much stress I can take on. I’ve definitely done my part from a personal level, and then from a trying to get involved in the behind-the-scenes of all these other people that people don’t know live here, and sitting down and talking to them about stuff. And they have connections with different people. They can do different stuff. But at the end of the day, it’s also a money game. I keep bringing up money, because that’s what the fuck capitalism revolves around. I don’t want to be so avant-garde that we don’t realize that yo man, if you was making a million dollars it’s different. So like it’s a money game, the music industry in general. You can hop over so much shit if you just had $250,000 liquid. Do whatever you want to do at that point. Have a tight budget, and use it correctly, and you can skip over all types of shit like it doesn’t even matter. It don’t matter who you’re performing in front of at that point because I have marketing dollars, I have market share power, I have the ability to put my song on the radio in twelve markets. I have the ability to fly over here and do this interview, you know pay for the promo. Pay for promotion. Put myself in front of all these people and then use the other tools that I have to put myself in front of that. Whoever hears this – take notes. [laughs] 


But a lot of times in the music industry, it’s the label that’s giving you that money. And then they give you that 5-10% advance and you spend that money, so you owe that automatically, and then the list goes on for expenses. Now the album comes out, it’s time to pay that money back. It doesn’t do as well as we thought it was gonna do, so now you’re kind of at the mercy of the label and at the mercy of the people to what’s gonna happen with your career. Are you ever gonna put out anything else if this doesn’t work? And that’s the gamble that you take as an artist that doesn’t have anything to negotiate with. You signed a contract and that’s a wrap. You stay independent, you gotta find your own money to get out there and do your thing. And that’s really what it’s all about. If you had enough money, you could billboards up on the Burnside Bridge, on the Max, on bus stops, on… people would know who the fuck you are. But are they interested in what you’re doing? It’s interesting when you really think about it. It’s a lot of problems that are easy to solve. You can make the hit record but then do you go back to making the record that you like to make? You got this one record that’s going crazy but then you follow up with something that’s from the heart and people don’t fuck with it. So now you’re back to doing some other… You know what I’m saying? It’s just really weird. It’s so many fixable problems, but then it creates other ones potentially. That’s the way I like to look at it. I think what’s always cool is stay true to who you are, and stay true to what you believe in and that is the key. That’s the key if you want longevity and have people that really support you. You take the long road. 


I think Kendrick Lamar, even though he signed to Aftermath, he was signed to a label before that with TEEENY E, and they were signed to a different distribution deal, they took the long road. They really made substance. They made music of substance for years and years and years, and then once they got their look they didn’t change the formula. They kept doing what made it happen. But when you’re independent, and even with them, you want to make that transition. You’re ready to see more, and see more return on your energy investment. Sweat equity. And also money. The equipment doesn’t… studio time, and wardrobe, promotions and all of this stuff. All of that costs something, ‘cuz you look up and you’re 40 and you’re like, “Fuck, what the fuck have I been doing?” [laughs] So not really pessimistic about it, I’m just like very a realist. But I’m also creative, but I’m a realist. So it like I’ve really taken my music, I’ve gotten it back to a place where it’s an emotional investment for me when I make it, but then I’m really just trying to focus on making projects that are like cole-ass projects, so then when I’m 50 I can look back on my artistry and be like, yo I made these ten albums, twelve albums, and they was all dope. And nobody can ever say my shit wasn’t tight. And then I also made some money from it. But I probably had to make my money over here somewhere else. That’s kind of what it is.

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