Danny Sky performing at the Thesis

Image: Michelle Lepe

For a year and a half, hip-hop showcase the Thesis has been out of commission. That’s about to change.

“I don’t think I’ve met an artist that’s in the city that wouldn’t be dead-excited to take the show Thursday. [The Thesis] has been a regular part of all of our lives,” says Portland rapper YoungShirtMayne.

As the pandemic restrictions ease, the Thesis will return to Kelly’s Olympian on Thursday, July 1, for its first show with a live audience in over a year. Headlining are rappers YoungShirtMayne and Mat Randol; Scooter Rogers, Kingsley, and other special guests will also perform. 

Started in 2014, the Thesis began as a response to Portland’s anti-Black racism, says local producer DJ Verbz. Police would break up smaller, less centralized shows; venues would restrict audience sizes, not book rappers, or charge higher insurance fees for hip-hop performances.

After establishing itself, the Thesis became a key node in Portland's tight-knit hip-hop community. "I think most of the people you see getting shows and doing things other people aren't are the people that do the Thesis," says YoungShirtMayne.

When the pandemic hit and the Thesis was no longer able to continue as a live shows, Verbz (for whom performing had been his main source of income) looked for new ways to keep the hip-hop community connected, some of them unexpected. "I enjoy cooking and baking and things like that. So, one of the weird little things I did was make bagels and drive them to artists' houses in the morning and hand them food. I just wanted people to feel good and reconnect and say, ‘Hey, I’m thinking about you, even though we aren't performing this year,’" he says. YoungShirtMayne spent three months of the pandemic ignoring music and working his day job. “Everybody had to do what they had to do.… Especially as people started getting put on unemployment, music gets thrown out the window,” he says. As for the Thesis itself, the music showcase hosted a couple of live streams but didn’t keep a consistent schedule.

The lack of live shows meant that Portland’s hip-hop artists had to get more creative to promote their music. Kingsley—who will be a Thesis first-timer when she takes the stage July 1—created a cocktail book with drinks named after the songs on her recent album. George Floyd’s death also galvanized a new wave of Portland rap artists. Jordan Fletcher and MARZZ (who have performed at the Thesis) are Portland rappers who have foregrounded politics in their music. “It is really impressive seeing this new group take hold, because political hip-hop was not at the forefront right before all this,” Verbz says.

The future remains to be seen, but this week’s show could set the tone. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., and $15 tickets can be purchased on the Kelly’s Olympian website or at the door. The Thesis will return to its regular schedule and begin hosting shows at Kelly’s Olympian the first Thursday of every month.

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