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Portland Hip-Hop Week brings live performances, rap battles and dance parties to the city

PDX Hip-Hop Week is in its eighth year of celebrating the art form with events happening around the city.

PORTLAND, Ore. — PDX Hip Hop Week kicked off its eighth annual celebration of the Rose City's hip-hop culture this week with events across the metro area. 

The events, which run from Aug. 20 to 27, include live performances, workshops, rap battles and dance parties.

This year's celebration also marks the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. On Aug. 11, 1973, a back-to-school party in the New York borough of the Bronx became a pivotal part of history. Since then, celebrations are held all around the world throughout the month of August to uplift and honor hip-hop culture. 

History of PDX Hip-Hop Week 

In 2015, Portland Hip-Hop Day was founded in part of a collaborative effort to combat tensions between the local hip-hop community and various agencies representing the city of Portland. The goal was to build a bridge with divided communities through hip hop. 

Portland hip-hop emcee and promoter Idris “StarChile” O’Ferrell and Portland Trail Blazers' DJ David “DJ O.G.ONE” Jackson were pivotal in initial conversations with the city of Portland and its leaders. 

"There was just a disconnect between the city and the local hip-hop community," said Portland hip-hop DJ  Cliff "DJ KLYPH" Stanford. "After a couple years of conversations, they decided that if we could do something, that could really show the community that the city is behind you."

The pair, along with the community, banded together with then-Mayor Charlie Hales to proclaim Oct. 15, 2015 as "Hip-Hop Day" in Portland. The event would bring hip-hop performers and creatives, putting on the celebration at the steps of city hall.

"Initially, there was a question of how true the city was in saying, 'OK, we are going to proclaim a day as 'Portland Hip-Hop Day,' and if there was a political move or drive behind it," said DJ KLYPH. "Historically, hip-hop hasn’t always been supported that way. Initially, we had to overcome those hurdles and really show everybody that everything that was being said was true."

In 2016, StarChile cultivated the staple "Mic Check" events with DJ KLYPH, who has continued to carry the torch after StarChile's passing in 2018. 

That same year, Hip-Hop Day expanded as an official week-long celebration.

Celebrating with purpose

DJ KLYPH, along with several Portland artists, joined KGW in studio this week to talk about the city's hip-hop culture and how local creatives are coming together to combat societal stigmas around hip-hop, as well as be more open and inclusive. 

"I think it goes without saying that Portland is not one of the more diverse cities in the country," said DJ KLYPH. "We know that hip-hop comes out of a culture that is very diverse. So, I think as we use the word and talk about wanting to be inclusive, being welcoming to all comers. I think having an entire week dedicated to an art form that is truly about that, that is about unity, that is about peace, that is about four of the principles of hip-hop, which are peace, love, unity and having fun."

Rapper Karma Rivera, known for her fierce and flavorful sound, spoke about women leading the pack in a male-dominated industry, the progression, resources and celebration of genuine camaraderie.   

"Women are killing it. At the national level, the biggest stars are women right now," she said. "Even at the local level, Portland has a great hip-hop community that I'm so appreciative about. The artist development helped me build a foundation. The resources are here, the mentors and the coaching is here. I was able to master my craft, whether it's collaborating with a woman, man or nonbinary person. We have the resources, which makes it possible to master your craft here."

Long-time Portland-native and artist, Swiggle Mandela, co-signed by the infamous New York rapper and original Diplomats member Jim Jones, expressed gratitude and appreciation for the hip-hop space in Portland, which he contributes to his professional growth. 

"Portland has really been like an engine for my creativity and changed my life for sure," he said. "I put food in the fridge by doing music. I've traveled to places I never thought I would go. Portland has shared, and shared, and shared, and booked me, and talked about me to everyone. There's a strong camaraderie among Portland artists, which has taught me a lot. Portland continues to be an encouraging and inspiring scene. It's real community that holds you up."

Juma Blaq, known for his unfeigned and ardent sound, was compelled to make music after being exposed to Portland artist Speedy Gunz.

"I was 19. I had moved to California and I was out there with my mentor. I'm listening to some music and it sounds like real hip-hop — groovy. As I'm listening to it, there's no cussing in it at all. It's actually gospel hip-hop and I'm asking asking him, 'who is this?' He says, 'that's Speedy'  — Speedy Gunz, from Portland, Oregon, my cousin," he said. "Right there and then, I said I wanted to do music. I don't have to be gangster. I don't have to be a thug. I don't have to kill nobody or rob anything. I can still just spit my message and get through to whoever I need to get through to."

PDX Hip-Hop week events are going on through Sunday, Aug. 27. Among them are the third annual Hip-Hop, Wine & Chill, honoring trailblazers dedicated to the empowerment and progression of the culture; Skate N' Shake at the Lloyd Center mall, honoring DJ KLYPH; a panel and networking mixer and "The Close Out" on Sunday Night, which will conclude this year's festivities. Click here for more details. 

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