NOT JUST ANOTHER PRETTY VOICE
Portland rapper Luck-One puts his intellect, social message to good use on new CD
Portland is widely known for its indie rock — so much so that Spin magazine dubbed it “Indie Town, USA” in 2007. But, what many people don’t know is that the city also has a respectable hip-hop scene. Luck-One, also known as Hanif Collins, a 26-year-old emcee born and raised in Northeast Portland, has become the star of the scene in recent years, gaining a large fan base with his high-quality albums. His latest release, the immodestly called “King of the Northwest Mixtape,” demonstrates his ability to give clever social commentary from a candid “street” perspective. He’s a scholar, a passionate advocate for freedom and a realist who sets his views to music. The young rapper’s music is a reflection of his upbringing, which took a turn for the worst when he was sent to prison at 17 for robbery charges — a shock to some, because he was raised by a loving, middle-class, devout Muslim family. While in prison, though, Collins put his intellect to good use, learning new languages, studying philosophies and organizing food and work strikes with other prisoners. Since being released, Collins has devoted himself to creating socially conscious music for those ostracized by society for one reason or another. While he can sometimes come off angry, Collins’ advocacy for drastic change is, in his opinion, more about being a realist than an extremist. Collins took some time off from making music and playing chess (his favorite hobby) to have a fiery conversation with the Tribune about his views on the city’s hip-hop scene, gentrification, Occupy Portland and what he would do if he were Portland’s mayor for a day: Tribune: What are your thoughts on Portland’s hip-hop scene? Luck-One: Dope, but discouraging. It’s dope because there’s a lot of talent, but discouraging because nothing ever really happens. In Portland, you have a lot of people go out and gain success but move away. Tribune: You spend a lot of time in both Seattle and Portland. Seattle’s hip-hop culture seems much more unified than Portland’s. Why do you think that is? Luck-One: There are a lot of different things. There are a lot of young artists that really aren’t driven at all but feel like they’re owed something. Then you have a lot of disconnect from the older artists not understanding or appreciating the younger artists’ movements. On top of that, I feel like we have an oppressive economy; it’s not necessarily a defining aspect, but I think it still somewhat has an impact on the way music is put out and consumed here. Tribune: You mention the economy; we have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. How much does the daily grind of Portlanders trying to find work have an influence on your music? Luck-One: I have to spend $6,000-$10,000 to put out an album that I might break even on, so I’m definitely not insolated from the relative poverty. It’s something that frames my life, and my music is a reflection of that. On songs like “Sounds of My City,” for example, where I talk about riding the train, that’s real talk because I can’t afford a car (laughs). Tribune: What sort of message do you try to convey with your music? Luck-One: I don’t try to convey any message. There’s no particular agenda I’m trying to push other than making music that’s relevant to where I am in my life and that’s honest and genuine. Tribune: You spent some significant time in prison. I’m sure when you came back your neighborhood in Northeast Portland had changed quite a bit. What are your thoughts on the gentrification that’s going on? Luck-One: I think a lot of us that grew up in Northeast are happy that there’s less crime, but the way they’ve gone about systematically removing all the people of color and poor people is ridiculous and pretty apparent. Honestly, I think it’s very racist, because we couldn’t get a permit to do a block party back in ’96, but all of a sudden they have a permit to shut down 15 blocks on Alberta for Last Thursday. It’s like anything else in this city. Occupy Portland: If that had been some black people, they would have been shutdown immediately. You’re talking about an assimilation of people into a culture that up until now has been somewhat arguably Aryan to them and in opposition to their very existence. Tribune: What are your thoughts on Occupy Portland? Luck-One: I have mixed emotions. I don’t ever want to discourage anybody for standing up for what they believe is right. The whole solidarity (of the movement) is very intriguing, and I’m interested in seeing where it goes. But, I’ve been down there a few times and, at least in Portland, it kind of seems like a bourgeois way to protest something that in many ways actually creates us; it’s not like any of us are actually giving up our actual way of life that necessitates things like war and corruption and Wall Street. But, to be honest, I haven’t come to a decision on it yet. Tribune: In recent months, gang-related violence in Portland has gone up dramatically. What do you think needs to be done in order to stop the violence? Luck-One: We live in a system that’s designed to create surplus, so violence is something that’s a characteristic of the lower-class people. It’s always been a problem for lower-class people, and gangs are a symptom of that. I could give you a sound bite and say, “What we need is more community outreach,” but all the community outreach in the world isn’t going to save the fact that there’s always going to be a lower class, they’re always going to be pissed off because they’re lower class and they’re always going to find a way to express that anger and aggression. Tribune: Are you following the mayor race at all? Luck-One: Absolutely not. Tribune: So why do you, someone who constantly advocates for change, choose not to vote? Luck-One: I’ve pretty much lost all hope in politics. I think that politicians are corrupt. I don’t think they’re corrupt people, but I think the system is so corrupt that anyone who participates in it on that level has to take with them a certain degree of corruption. I just feel like nothing is going to change for me or us. They’re never going to stop gentrifying; they’re never going to stop treating me different for work and housing because I’m a felon. I just don’t take any of it seriously. Tribune: If Luck-One had to be mayor for a day, what sort of changes would he make? Luck-One: That’s a good question. I wouldn’t ever really want to be mayor because, like I said, the system is inherently corrupt — meaning it cannot function without the corruption it exists on. If I had to be mayor, though, I would definitely fire a lot of the police officers and cut their funding to make sure those terrorists have no money.