Forces At Work: Glenn Waco + We Take Holocene

Despite having recently relocated to Long Beach, California, activist and artist Glenn Waco’s connection to the Portland hip hop community remains strong as ever through his semi-regular We Take Holocene showcase. With the series, Waco strives to break down the barrier of a local hip hop scene dominated by one or two names, by highlighting under the radar and up and coming PNW artists equally worthy of praise, and putting them in a place to make moves for themselves.

We Take Holocene is back for a fifth installment on Thursday, 12.22, featuring ROBy, Dead Phone Dummiez, US(+), RC Spitta, Leafs, Swiggle Mandela & Timmi Hendrixxx and Woody Beast, and proceeds from the night will benefit Doctors Without Borders in their aid for victims of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti. We asked Waco and his event co-coordinator Lizzy Evans as well as ROBy and US(+) about the evolution of Hip Hop in Portland and how they’d like to see it continue to grow, leveling the playing field for female musicians, underlying themes of the WTH curation, and their connection to the cause of supporting victims in Haiti.

Hip Hop has begun to gain some much-deserved accreditation in Portland over the past couple years. What are some things that could help lift up the genre and black culture in general, even further?

Waco:  I believe a lot could be accomplished If we stopped focusing on gossip, who’s smoking on what, who’s screwing who and who’s biting who’s fashion and hair styles….and instead get to the damn point.  I want to see us help people, help people. Invest back into the places we grew up. I don’t want us to get so far removed from reality just because we have a little money that we forget where we came from and wind up becoming more of what we used to claim we hated. I don’t care what you’re drinking, there’s lead in the water. Flint Michigan still exists. Death is no joke or fun, there are kids that have been blown up half way across the world for their country’s resources, kids who’s lives are spent in holes picking diamonds…there’s places in the world where you could be killed for smiling. This is how much pain people are feeling right now and in America we’re privileged. With that said we have our own deep issues, I know mothers who have lost their sons to unnecessary senseless violence whether it be from the police or some beef that could have easily been settled if handled more maturely. I believe not just black, but American culture needs to start being honest with its self and find its humanity…like we have billions to invest in illegal wars and destabilizing regions but mention investing in the inner city they scream bloody murder, never enough money in the budget. If that’s the case, we need to build our own pyramids, independently and music is a vessel to do that for me in my opinion.

ROBy: Now that the city has seen some success within our hiphop scene, we’re seeing more people listening to our music around town and showing up to shows. A big problem we still have is not having enough all age venues for local hiphop artists. Its a problem we been fighting for years with the OLCC and they won’t budge. Music is for the kids first. If we won’t let them support their city now, why would they be interested when they turn 21? 

US(+): I believe that we need some more affordable all ages venues/shows that people can go to. I know that a lot of the young fans that are really going to help us spread culture aren’t very mobile, and most of the venues are on the opposite side of the bridge. When your a young teen with only a little bit of money, its hard to go to these shows let alone pay for them. 

Where would you like to see things in a couple more years?

Waco: More black owned LLCs, more people of color at the radio stations. More people color in positions of power pushing buttons and influencing policy in the city. Portland is 6 percent black, we don’t have representation where it matters but we’re overrepresented in the prison population. That’s an issue. When it comes to music I think it’s right where it needs to be because we planted these seeds years ago. They’re taking root and growing now, all organic. I think with the more quality artists put out and with more people moving to Portland, all that really equals is more money in rotation. It’s up to us what we do with this opportunity.

ROBy: honestly, I’d like to see at least 6 dope Portland artists on the national radar. We deserve that and the music speaks for itself.

Female musicians are another group that traditionally have it harder, due to the nature of sexism and rape culture. You combatted this head-on in the third installment of We Take Holocene with an all-female lineup, but what are some other ways that music fans, venues, promoters, labels, etc. can do to help level the playing?

Waco: I think with the way society is wired that people are hooked on not only sex, but violence and things that don’t really require much thought. It’s a quick sale. We’re in a male dominated industry and unfortunately women tend to bare the brunt of exploitation but I think in the times we live in Female artists and entrepreneurs have seen the game played so many times that they’re learning how to flip it to their own benefit. I think the art should speak for itself. If it smell like money, taste like money and promoters book venues with an appetite for money, then it doesn’t matter what sex someone is give these artists a fair shake and provide them with platforms so they can get theirs too without the shenanigans. There’s female artists that rap better than a lot of male artists now, what they need to do is invest in themselves and study the business so they don’t need a label. Creatives have the whole world in our own hands on a palette and with the way the internet and the industry is setup now, I believe women can cut through the static and get their product directly to their fans.

US(+): i honestly think its really getting better as time goes by. i would say that the best thing we can do, is continue to book female artists that take it seriously. Pretty much just keep doing what we are doing, because i do see it getting a lot better. 

Beyond striving to put a spotlight on talented NW Hip Hop artists and helping put them in a place to make moves, are there any underlying themes in the curation of the We Take Holocene series?

Waco: There’s always a theme. The first We Take Holocene was about laying the foundation, by artists, for artist. The 2nd had emphasis on the PDX Carpet. That’s one of Portland’s most beloved symbols and for me it symbolized future legends, having Dame Lillard’s nod and having this event be the first time he ever performed is legendary. The third was centered around women because I don’t think Portland is aware of how many dope female artists, especially in Hip Hop, that there actually are. Ever since then Blossom has went on to really put in work and has basically become a face of the city. Karma Rivera has really been on fire. That was Vytell’s first show but her project is gonna be amazing, and Alia was just on ABSoul’s new album. This special edition is the first of an annual charity series I want to do with We Take Holocene. For me this is community building.

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What are you particularly excited about for the 12.21 event?

Waco: I’m just excited to have the community come together and do something for others. That simple thing goes a long way.

ROBy: Im excited to raise funds for Haiti! Me being Eritrean and my parents growing up in a 3rd world country, I’ve seen the struggle and heard those stories. On top of that they really need our help and assistance so we’re going to do what we can to help the Doctors without Borders organization

US(+): I’m really excited for a lot of things honestly. I’ve done clothing drives for people in my community and reached out to people in the town, but its great to have an opportunity to help out the people in Haiti. being a part of the black community, it feels great to be able to extend a hand that far from where I stay. As well as I am excited to get a chance to meet and perform with some great artists from the town. I think this event will be something to remember for everyone involved.

Proceeds from the night go to Doctors Without Borders to help support victims of Hurricane Matthew in Haiti. Can you speak to your connection to this cause?

Waco: Doctors Without Borders is a trusted organization that’s been helping Haiti ever since Hurricane Matthew hit. People need help and as long as I have a platform I will extend it to help people. My connection is connecting with Holocene to provide the platform to help people, help people.

US(+): Being able to help people that otherwise would be unreachable for the average person, is a blessing. As well as being from the black community, there is a really strong sense of family regardless of relativity, so its always a great feeling to be able to help my people.

Lizzy Evans: I’m doing this cuz I’m from Haiti and want to give back to my country. Haiti has always gone through something that has torn them down and made them struggle even more. First the huge earthquake that destroyed everything back in 2010, now Hurricane Matthew that hit and destroyed everything again. Haiti is a very poor malnourished country so when something like this happens, they hurt and I hurt as well. So this show is important to me because we are giving back to my country, and also the community is coming out to help which is pretty dope as well.