INTERVIEW: TOPE Talks New Album, PDX Hip Hop, & More With Willamette Week
The career of Portland rapper Tope lies somewhere between the pre-streaming-era giants like Cool Nutz and Sandpeople and the current New Portland ascension of Aminé and the Last Artful, Dodgr. Those who followed Tope's music saw him rise from a local diamond in the rough to an artist being written about in national publications like The Source, all through DIY hustle. Part of what made Tope such an engaging presence was that his relentless drive was his muse. His songs inspired you to work smarter, party harder and not let where you came from limit the places you can go.
And then, he left.
In 2015, a few months after the release of his album BrokeBoySyndrome, Tope announced he was leaving Portland for the Bay Area. With him returning to play the monthly Mic Check party, we caught up with the MC born Anthony Anderson to ask him about watching the Portland scene evolve from afar, staying motivated and why he feels like late-period Michael Corleone. BLAKE HICKMAN.
WW: What brought you to the Bay Area? What opportunities were available there that weren't on the table in Portland?
Tope: For the most part, my opportunities have gotten a little bit smaller because it's such a larger market, with a lot more competition and money as compared to Portland. The Bay Area is the sixth-largest media market in the U.S.; Portland is 24th, I believe. So it's a pretty big jump. I would say the biggest difference is that everyone, and I mean everyone raps here. If you don't rap now, you probably did at one point.
What keeps you motivated as you continue building your career?
To be honest, I've been trying to find that motivation. I think for the first time since I was a teenager, I thought about doing something else for the majority of last year. Sometimes I feel like Al Pacino in The Godfather Part III with music. Like, I want to leave, but I really love this shit; it's in my blood. I had my laptop stolen, with all the music I had made in the last four years, at a show recently and couldn't make music for like a month, which might not sound like anything to some people, but I was going crazy. That kind of refreshed things for me again.
Looking back on it, what Portland artists had the most impact on yourcoming up?
I could do this all day. Proz and Conz was my Wu-Tang growing up. I remember the first time hearing Cool Nutz at Lents Park. Seeing Lifesavas open for De La Soul and bumping Spirit In Stone all summer with my homie Daniel. Buying Sandpeople's first CD from Gold. Being so excited that Sleep watched me rap when I was 19. Liv Warfield singing at my mom's funeral. Tony Ozier and original Dookie Jam, Farnell Newton, Dennis Dove, too many people. That's a lot of names for New Portland to Google.
What has it been like to watch the rise of artists like Aminé and Dodgr from afar?
It's been really, really dope. I remember Luck One and I having a conversation back in the day about him maybe being the one from Portland that could really pop, at a time when a lot people were talking about him and I. I knew it was real when I was living in L.A., and I was walking out to my car and people were driving by playing the song [Aminé's "Caroline"]. I know it's cool to hate on the popular guy, but I'm happy for Aminé. And he has a way nicer Benz than mine, so I have to give him props [laughs].
I think my guy Noah Porter was the first to show Dodgr, and her rise has also been awesome to see, in a completely different way. She's connected with so many Portland people that knew that they liked hip-hop but didn't necessarily see an artist that they could connect with in the local scene. She's going to be really big, like on Ellen big. Shout out to TYuS and Cassow, too. Portland has some stars.
What can we expect from your next full length?
You can expect 90-100 percent of the production to be handled by Stewart Villain. There's a lot of different sounds on this album, definitely some personal songs as usual, some radio sounding songs, songs on police brutality. It's hard for me to really define my music lately; it has a little bit of everything, I feel like. It definitely tells a story.