It’s Hip-Hop Appreciation Week, y’all! It’s actually the 10th annual nationally recognized celebration. No, it doesn’t mean free parking but it does allow us to ask why there’s a hip-hop movement in the first place. Here to help out is Mic Crenshaw, an esteemed slam poet, hip-hop educator and emcee from Portland, Oregon. I talked to him by phone last week.
MAUI TIME WEEKLY: So you’re on your “Feast or Famine” tour right now, right?
MIC CRENSHAW: No, I’m actually back in the Pacific Northwest, working on a Dead Prez concert May 26 I have to organize and promote, as well as get those guys here. I went to Rwanda in 2004 for a conference on youth empowerment and economic injustice… and I’ve since started a nonprofit locally, with these ticket sales going to help ship computers to Rwanda and Burundi. I’ve got a lot on my plate.
Yeah, it does seem like you have a lot going on, with your side projects, solo tour, teaching, etc. You must be hooked to the energy.
That’s really what it is. No one thing really satisfies.
Why’d you decide to come to Hawai`i?
Terms None [Maui MC/slam poet, formerly of Washington] I’ve known for years. He brought me out to Spokane once, we free-styled. There was this Slam Wish I did on election year—a poetry slam for whoever had the best anti-Bush poem, and Terms None won and went on to the nationals. So I don’t know if he’s returning the favor or if he just wants me out there.
Oh, it’s probably both. What’s the hip-hop scene like in Portland?
There’s an amazing amount of talent here but it’s all independent. There’s a couple of guys—Boom Bap and Grayskul—but they’re pretty under the radar. Hip-hop in other cities really respect hip-hop here. But as far as having economic support and resources, there isn’t any.
How did Hungry Mob [hip-hop crew from Portland since ‘94] come about?
I started Hungry Mob with some other cats, playing and promoting, doing some regional shows but we never nationally toured because I wasn’t satisfied—there’s certain limitations with a live band with six members and families—which is why I started other projects that are more stripped down. Suckapunch is just me and another guy, so when I come down [to Hawai`i] it’s actually Suckapunch music I’ll be doing.
What was it like opening for KRS-One?
Yeah, we opened for him a few years ago, and it was one of the greatest shows of my career. We opened for a legend, first of all. And we played a middle slot, which meant the energy of the crowd—they already had their drinks and were excited, not tired yet. It was, like, 500 people. And I just feed off of that energy. Sometimes doing these shows, performing for four people, I really have to pull it out of myself.
How did you get started in poetry slams and do you still do them?
I was trying to get a slam started here, trying to register this restaurant. It’s the root of my lyricism; rap is poetry for me. I competed against Saul Williams in ‘96 in the nationals in Portland. And that’s when I learned. Lyricism should be as good with music as it is without.
Who inspires you, musically and lyrically?
Immortal Technique—he’s a good MC, one of my favorites. Nightclubber Lang from Boom Bap Project, Pharoahe Monch… there’s a girl—Rasheeda Ameera—out here… There’s a definite line between being a consumer and being a creator. I’ve been on the creator side and I don’t get to listen to a lot of new music. I’m busy doing stuff. When I travel I can listen to music, but yeah… people are really kinda opinionated about hip-hop.
Are you still teaching?
Yeah, I’m an independent contractor. I now have an extended residency teaching at a middle school that I once quit to pursue music. So it’s nice to go back as a full-time artist. It’s good for young people, too, to see artists who are determined.
What advice would you give kids trying to do what you do?
Do what you love. It’s not easy. Any young person who has a gift, I try to develop it. A lot of kids in high school are trying to find that voice. I see young people who have gone on to do great things—I don’t claim responsibility, but when they come up and tell me… I’m blown away. The content of what I do is socio-political, historical, cultural—where hip hop came from—we’re channeling our culture, oral traditions, ancient traditions, in an environment that’s kind of forced us to be diamonds, you know, ‘cuz there’s a lot of economic oppression by a white supremacist/imperialist culture. If I can’t get that across, then I’m not doing my job. People will murder you, suck your energy, just to get a dollar. That’s what we’re still dealing with, what my ancestors were dealing with. Now, what it’s about?
For more info visit online at www.myspace.com/miccrenshaw. MTW