To listen to Mic Crenshaw (Portland Oregon) perform is to be drawn deeply into a poetics of Truth in action. For good reason, he is one of the most respected hip-hop artists and MC’s in the Northwest and is prominent on the national and international scene as a performer, educator, and political activist. His work connects artists across geographic and political boundaries, reminding us that we’re all responsible for building a future that works. In his words: “We’re all in this together…It will take all of us” (Earthbound, 2018).
The Oregon Folklife Network had the honor of sitting down with Crenshaw for an interview, and he began by reminding us that, “The MC is the Master of Ceremonies who addresses the audience with a message”. His message is a powerful call to action that interconnects the various social and political issues we face today as a global community. His words are crafted for maximum impact as he ricochets rhymes with an artillery delivery and alternates this driving intensity with slow and careful cadences that enshroud an audience in quiet until all that is left is breath. From this space of breath (which is itself political), he challenges the intersecting landscapes of destruction and violence: the treatment of marginalized bodies within a system of white supremacy and capitalism, the treatment of animal bodies in the meat industry, the treatment of the earth through examining the environmental crisis, and beyond. The time for change is now—he urges us all to work together to create a more just and sustainable world.
Mic Crenshaw knew, from the young age of eight, that the language of rap and hip-hop was the language of his people. He was born on the South side of Chicago and grew up both there and in Minneapolis. He remembers that the first rap song he heard was at the Boy’s Club in the housing project—where someone was playing “Rapper’s delight” by the Sugar Hill Gang (Good Stuff). Right away, he felt that there was “A quality about the sound and energy that I knew was uniquely Black in its expression and uniquely affirming”. He started to mimic what popular rappers were doing and cultivated his gift and skill throughout his young adult years. He started his professional career in ’93.
He gained success quickly thereafter, and beginning in 1994, Crenshaw performed as the front man for the beloved Portland live hip-hop group, Hungry Mob. He demonstrated the African roots of hip hop alongside the late Ghanaian master drummer and National Heritage Fellow, Obo Addy, and is a Poetry Slam Champion and National Finalist (2001). He carries a passion for grassroots mobilizing, and is currently the Political Director for the Hip Hop Congress and Lead U.S. Organizer for the Afrikan Hip Hop Caravan. To hear his reflections on this work, check out his TedX Talk. Mic co-founded GlobalFam, a non-profit project that collaborated with Education Without Borders (EWOB) to create and maintain a computer education center for disadvantaged youth in Burundi, Central Africa. EWOB helps education, music, and art initiatives in Portland, and serves as an umbrella for the Portland Books for Prisoners chapter. GlobalFam has grown into a music label, production, promotion, artist management, and works with production, education, and promotion of entertainment that supports social justice and activism.
His music is inseparable from his activism, and despite the heightened vulnerability of visibility, he makes the choice every day to show up for it. He describes his art as one of many forms of expressing both the cultural ground of African heritage as well as the historical and political realities and experiences that have joined together to form the Black identity and culture in America:
“These traditions are born out of the same need and necessity to use art not only as a vehicle of cultural expression, but they have a practical application based on survival in how we show up in the world, and in that I find that all Black art is political. Because the Black experience is so politicized the act of expression in and of itself comes from a place that doesn’t exist beyond this context that’s been imposed upon our existence.”
Within the political, environmental, and social fabrics of today, it is clear that we are in need of massive transformation and healing. It is also evident that in this process it is vital to center Black empowerment, Black healing and reparations for the centuries of multi-generational trauma and poverty that have disproportionately affected Black communities and people of color. Mic spoke to OFN about Black power and how it connects to the human race reaching its potential. The centuries-long labor exploitation and enslavement of people of African descent has played an unimaginably central role in the accumulation of wealth seen in the Western world. Mic asks:
“What would happen if our contribution wasn’t based on oppression? What if it was something that came from free will and intention? What could we produce if we were not producing this vast wealth disparity? I want to know what our power can look like when the dynamic of violence is removed.”
It is our hope that we will continue to find out. In a TedX article in 2014, Crenshaw said, “I’m a revolutionary living in revolutionary times. And I have a role to play.” We all have a role to play. Let’s continue to lift up the voices of the marginalized who are fighting for the basic human right for their lives to matter. There are real Superheroes (feat Dead Prez) all amongst us who need support, now. Change is inevitable, but it will take work—individual, social, and systemic. It will take commitment—long-term, ongoing, rooted. It will require taking responsibility for the ways white supremacy has touched each one of our lives across degrees of privilege and trauma. And it will take accountability—from those in power and with the most wealth. Do what you can from where you are. Support Black artists and protect Black lives—today and every day. Check out the “Take Action” section below to see what you can do.
By Emily Hartlerode and Sophia Kohl Enggren
Take action to support racial equity:
Go to the artists’ businesses, performances, workshops – Support them!
Buy the artists’ products or donate to their efforts
Learn about and support their home communities
Follow the artists on social media
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