Local monthly hip-hop showcase the Thesis has been going strong since December 2014, and in those nearly nine years has become an integral hub for local artists making hip-hop—plus, expanded its circle to include performers in other genres like pop, dancehall, afrobeats, and more.
On September 7, the showcase threw an epic farewell to summer party, chartering the 150-foot Portland Spirit yacht to host a two and a half hour music-filled cruise on the Willamette River. The Thesis had done this once before, in 2015, so we expected a party, but it ended up being more: a representation of that diversity—not just cultural, but diversity of sound.
Full disclosure, years ago I handled the guest list for the series, and I've attended it since the very beginning. More than once I stepped away from the hot, crowded stage on the yacht's middle deck to take in views of the South Waterfront and bask in the surreal feeling: the Thesis on a summer yacht excursion!
The evening's highlights began before we even boarded, as we could hear DJ Verbz booming on the ones and twos. Sets from Prince Hyph and Izzy Baba Melo followed, with Izzy's afrobeats getting the middle deck lit. During Izzy's last song, Afro-pop singer-songwriter Garbe J joined him onstage, and the two vocalized on a so-far unreleased song, “IDK,” which I can’t wait to play on repeat when it hits streaming platforms.
Alana Rich’s bubbly onstage charisma and pop-powered setlist was definitely a cruise high point. She got the crowd dancing early on in the night, with catchy songs like “Light the Way,” “Shangri-La,” and newish single “Savor.” Portland rapper Chain Taylor joined her to perform their smooth collab “Something to Remember.”
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The evening headliner Karma Rivera performed with extra fierceness, even as the boat docked midway through her set. She opened up by lighting into the crowd for being “too stiff,” or otherwise not hype enough, then rocked everyone out with upbeat danceable songs, from “Like U Did (Me)” and island-infused “Sirens,” to electronic and catchy “Miss Pressure,” and “U So Nasty,” (which we chanted in unison). The event's art director and a special guest Cassow laid down a couple songs as the show’s finale.
It was truly a very cool and unique thing to see the Thesis community at sea—well, at river—mingling with scenesters like Jai Baby, Sotae, Chain Taylor, Donte Thomas, Bocha, Veaba Baby, and even my boo Bryson the Alien. And while the tickets started at $50 (easily double the showcase's regular $15-20 door) Portland Spirit lent a feeling of indulgence and a lot of perks.
Drinks were more expensive than at Kelly's Olympian, but the snacks were complimentary and robust: chicken satay skewers, caprese sliders, steak bites, caramelized onion and goat cheese crostini. It was a cut above the typical Thesis dinner of going out to the bar and buying a basket of chicken strips, mac and cheese balls, or tots.
However, speaking of snacks, there were some hiccups to do with the evening's cannabis use—including a moment when the ship's captain came out of the bridge to bellow: “Please don’t smoke marijuana on the boat. Please don’t smoke marijuana on the boat! The Coast Guard doesn’t allow it.”
The request met limited success, as there were souls aboard still intent on entering the smoked-weed-on-a-yacht club. According to legend, unauthorized weed smoking also caused problems at the first Thesis yacht party. Here's hoping the Portland Spirit will have the showcase back next year—it would be wonderful to celebrate hip hop and local music on the Willamette more frequently than every eight years.