Young Rappers Join the Oregon Symphony for a New Protest Anthem
Outside the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, cameras are rolling, capturing Portland hip-hop heavyweight Mic Crenshaw performing with two as-of-yet-unknown young rappers: JProdigy, 11, and Corwin Gold, 16. Down the street, six members of the Oregon Symphony watch the performance, bobbing their heads to the hook, “Personal is political, political is personal / Situation critical physical and virtual / Consuming information that it hurts to know / Misinterpretation can be terminal.”
So it goes on the set of "Animal Control," a new collaboration between Crenshaw, the Symphony, and Portland nonprofit Outside the Frame, which engages homeless youth in film production, and Friends of Noise, which advocates for youth-friendly music spaces. The single and video will drop on September 30 at the Hollywood Theatre, during Outside the Frame's annual gala.
The seed of the project began when Crenshaw and Friends of Noise founder Andre Middleton met at an event in Dawson Park organized by Black artists. “Andre said, ‘You know, it would be great if we could get a city-wide compilation with some of these young hip-hop artists, some of the Portland Public School students, and some of these BLM activists,’" Crenshaw says. "And I said, ‘Man, that's a brilliant idea, let's do it.’”
Their idea grew into Rose City Rising, a still-unfinished 8-track EP of hip-hop and alternative rock created by Portland youth. Middleton recruited young talent he'd become acquainted with through Friends of Noise, Crenshaw tapped students he'd encountered through arts workshops at Portland Public Schools, and the pair approached Outside the Frame to help produce videos for the EP. "Animal Control" will be one of five produced this summer.
“Andre from Friends of Noise hit me up and said there was a new project he was working on,” says "Animal Control" contributor JProdigy. “He said: 'Pick one of these beats,' so I chose a beat, and I wrote a BLM song. I wrote one verse to it, and basically, they just started building onto that."
Through an open call, Crenshaw and Middleton tracked Gold down, who finished the track. “[Gold] came into the studio.… and just really blazed his way through these two amazing verses," says Crenshaw. "I was like,' oh my god, this is incredible.'"
Despite their ages, JProdigy and Corwin Gold have been in the rap game for a fair chunk of their lives. “When I was in seventh grade, [Mic Crenshaw] was doing this thing in the library, and my dad was like, ‘You're into rap, go to this workshop,’" Gold recalls of her earliest foray into the medium. "And I was like ‘Okay, fine.’ I think I wrote some rap about bacon."
For JProdigy, rap is a family matter. “My dad [and I], we used to just, like, freestyle at times. So my dad would, like, find a beat up on YouTube or something, and we’d record.” JProdigy and her dad freestyled together often, going back to when she was three years old. Because of her skills, her dad called her a prodigy, and the name stuck. She added a J to signify the first letter of her name.
While the two have the skill to back up their inclusion in the video, there are not many opportunities for minors to perform in Portland. The project provided the young rappers with the resources to create a video and show off their skills. “I can't go to Kelly's and see the Thesis. I can't go into any of these bars and touch on the hip-hop scene in Portland. They will not let me in, I'm sixteen. Friends of Noise’s whole thing is trying to make it so [making music and performing] is accessible to minors,” said Gold.
Respect for young talent, in fact, is what unifies the project. "When you get taken seriously that young, you keep going for the rest of your life,” says Yosha.