Published on July 14th, 2020 | by Marilyn Reles0
A Q&A With Keary Kase On Pioneering Hip Hop In Portland
Trenton, NJ born rapper Keary Kase is now pioneering hip hop from Portland, Oregon. After having been involved in a Nike ad campaign that featured him on Billboards across the US, Keary’s singles began to top the radio charts. He began to work with artists like The Wutang Clan and producers Bosko and Non-Stop Da Hitman. Most recently, he partnered with Adidas designers in Portland to develop ‘Reder’ – an athletic apparel brand with focus on CBD delivery systems for athletes who are recovering from injuries.
We had the chance to sit down with Keary Kase to talk about Portland’s thriving hip hop scene, his Nike campaign, and what fans and followers can expect in 2020.
Tell us a little bit about the hip hop scene in Portland. We’d love to know more!
Portland hip hop has so many facets, I’m not sure where to begin. We do have a solid foundation of originals, like Mic Crenshaw, Cool Nutz, Mellenium (Kenny Mack), Maniac Lok, Bosko, Vursatyl, X-Kid, DJ Wicked, Pete Miser and myself, who are still active.
Having strong artists, who have made careers in Hip Hop, as role models and idols allows the kids to aspire to become musical artists. Without these examples, the endless call to normalcy and job security (which we all now know is B/S) by pretty much EVERYBODY, would lead these young Ore-guns to self doubt and failure.
Mike Capes, Swiggle Mandela, Drae Steve’s, JR Patton and Keith Canvas are a few Portland artists to check out.
Right now, a lot of artists are showing support to the BLM movement using their voices to speak, rather than rap to those participating in protests, rallies and such.
How do you feel being originally from the east coast has affected your musical style?
In my embryonic years, I saw myself as an east coast rapper. I felt like, with the exception of rappers like Ice T, Too Short, NWA and The DOC, west coast rappers were mostly basic compared to east coast rappers. They had KRS, Big Daddy Kane, Slick Rick (my favorite golden era rapper), Special ED, Kool G Rap & Polo, RAKIM!!! Plus WBLS used to play all the hot new shit off the block.
I was enamored by east coast swagger and tone. The slang and accent was natural for me because my entire family spoke with it. My ability to slip in and out of the style made me different in Portland.
In the early 90’s I started spending time in LA. I was slanging FIMO beads to tourists at Venice Beach in the daylight and going to clubs and shows at night. I met this dude named Self Jupiter at this summer festival called The African Marketplace, where I was selling jewelry and celebrating my black youth. Jupiter was a member of a rap group called Freestyle Fellowship. He gave me a tape. After I listened to it, my entire opinion of west coast hip hop was turned upside down. I witnessed west coast rappers like Volume 10, WC, Divine Styler, Cypress Hill and E40 change the game. I became influenced by them and my style was set free. I became open to all influences, no matter if they came from the east, west, northwest, midwest or south.
Tell us more about the Nike ad campaign you were featured in. How did that come about?
One day I was leaving my boy Tommy Hestmark’s studio in downtown Portland. I was walking down the street with my back straight and my chest and chin up, as all men and women should. This guy approached me and said “excuse me, can I talk to you?” I looked at him sideways and he says “no, no. It’s just…. Your face is CRAZY!” I squinted as if to say “do you hear yourself fool?” He pulls out a card and explains that he owned a modeling agency and he thought my look was money. He asked me to call to schedule a test shoot. I called and scheduled the shoot. When I went there, he asked me if I was wearing boxers. I confirmed, then he asked me if I would take some test shots in my boxers. I’m thinking this dude is either going to proposition me for sex or he wants to see if I can be the next face of Calvin Klein. I gambled on Calvin Klein and agreed to take the pics. We walked into a hall and he said “you can get undressed here,” then walked away. So there I stood baring all that my boxers would not cover, with my clothes in a small pile on the floor. I heard footsteps, then an attractive woman appears holding a camera. It was his wife. She told me where to stand , took a couple quick pics and said “Keary, you’re a machine,” then allowed me to get dressed and walked me out.
A few weeks later they called me back and said a photographer knew of me and wanted to do a martial arts shoot. There was no pay, but the photographer was well known and really good. I had no portfolio, and no published work so this was an opportunity to do TFP to add to my comp card.
The photographer, Marcus Swanson, wanted me to do a flying sidekick, which is a classic taekwondo photo kick. When I got there, there was nowhere to get a running start so I improvised and pulled it off. While I was there, a Nike scout was lurking. As I was leaving, Marcus’ assistant, Amber Geiger, mentioned a potential shoot for Nike and asked if they could do a quick polaroid. Snap snap and I was out. A few months passed by before I got a call back from my agent about the shoot. In those few months, I became a black belt, won a gold medal at the the regional national qualification tournament in the black belt dividion, then a silver medal at the US National Championship, and was leaving in a few days to go whoop everybody’s ass at the invitational US Team Trials. It didn’t play out that way but I believe being so active in the few months between the martial arts test shoot and the paid shoot is what influenced their decision to go with me for the ad campaign. We agreed on a date and time, after my return, for the shoot.
When I got back, we did the shoot. I thought it was going to be light work but it was brutal. Modeling is hardcore. I remember seeing myself on a billboard for the first time. It felt like a distant relative to masturbation. I also remember it taking forever to get my money. Agencies can be gangster. I had to make some very firm promises before I got the check. After that, our relationship became square.
You have worked with several platinum artists and producers. Do you have any memorable stories about your experiences that you’d like to share?
Hmm. I don’t like to deride or D-RIDE anyone, but there was an interesting encounter with a Wu-Tang Clan member named Cappadonna. Cappadonna, Killa Priest and a small crew they were touring with were staying at my house when they stopped through Portland. My roommate, MyG, was helping them do some business in Portland while they killed time before their next tour date. At the time, we had a lil 5 bedroom spread with 2 recording studios in it, so we let their whole crew crash at the spot. The house was already like a revolving door for whoever was on tour in the NW. Artists could come through while in town and collab, get local pub through us and be blessed with some Oregon grown greeneries for the road.
So this was the first time we met (Cappadonna & I). I was taking acting classes at the time so I was gone when they pulled up. When I got home after class, Cappadonna was in the booth. I walked in the room and he started talking wild like “aye yo break that nigga watch!…stab that nigga!” I’m standing in a room full of dudes, with New York energy, that I don’t know, so I assumed he was talking about me. I dip out to my room and get a screwdriver just so I have something in my hand incase things go left. A few minutes pass, then MyG tells Cappadonna to move on to the next part. At this moment I realize he’s in character and not talking about me at all. Killah Priest enters the room. We introduce ourselves and dap up. He asks me what I do and I tell him that I’m in acting school. When Cap comes out, KP says “this is Kase, he’s an actor.” They gave each other a look that, to me , expressed what he spoke as “this is Kase, he’s a fake nigga.”
Granted, I’ve been a skater since day 1, so I understand that some black people (especially at the time) associate being a black skater with being less black or more white. With that in mind, I let what he said breeze by.
After we blessed up, we got to the business. Bosko had let me hold a beat that I wrote a sticky verse to; Cappa liked it so I let him put a hook on it. Me and KP did a DOPE song on a track that this dude named Smoke produced. It sounded like some official Wu-affiliate shit. MyG lost the session so none of that material was ever released.
The next day the energy still felt suspect. Like they thought I was a suburban negro, lol. I took them to the block, which is now gentrified, but was still hood at the time. Cappa called my whip a 666. It was the same Denali XL with the same 26” Trump Spinners that was in the video for the song he was promoting at the time, but mine was cleaner. It seemed like he felt a way about it. We went to my mom’s restaurant, where Cappa requested a Psalms verse from my mother. She said “how about a Revelation,” and laced all of us.
I dropped them at the barber shop to get faded and bladed. When they came out, the energy was different. Cappadonna got in and said “you know your hood and your hood knows you. He said you put your moms in that restaurant, didn’t you?” I just looked at him and put my hand out. We dapped up and the respect, which was first being given by me and received by him, suddenly felt mutual.
Cappadonna is a wise dude and a beast MC. I asked him questions related to his lyrics. He explained to me what “God Degree” and “7:30” meant and told me the story of the origin of his name. You might be able to detect that I’m most definitely still a Wu-Tang fan, although I liked his earlier work. KP knows what I mean by that.
Tell us about your involvement with the CBD industry and your views on how it can be a therapeutic tool for people?
CBD is my go-to treatment for a number of conditions. If I am anxious, I use a non-psychoactive tincture. This gives me a general sense of well-being, without making me feel altered or high. I feel like myself on a good day. If I need to restful sleep, I employ a cannabinoid rich CBD blend that allows me to drift off into REM without jumping up 100 times to make sure the garage door is closed (or whatever). Using CBD is like taking premium vitamins.
In 2019, I started a company called Nina Botanica with a material designer who works for Adidas in Portland. I began researching how to use compression technology as a CBD delivery system for athletic injury rehabilitation. There are some products on the market that offer a similar product, but none that fully address the issues of muscle strains, tears and associated pain that can knock an athlete off of their game. What sets us apart is, our CBD compression system has a lifetime guarantee. You can use it until you’re tired of using it.
We also designed a pod based delivery system, called the NINA , with Shenzen based technology company Smoore. The smart hexagonal pod + cartridge system uses inductive charging in place of the industry standard USB to power up.
Due to COVID-19 and our current bout with systemic racism, the techy products will be in preliminary production until mid-late 2021.
Tell us about your latest project “Craze”. Who is involved and what inspired it?
I was a week back on after being off music for years. Just getting my lungs back, not planning on dropping anything yet; just warming up. An artist named Uneek, who had been my mentee for several years, reached out. He was talking about how he blew all of his savings on medical expenses for his seed and how William, Lil Willi and Big Bill were all coming for him at once. He had just got robbed in Atlanta, so he was shy about who he could trust in Portland.
Uneek asked me to help him to rebrand himself and act as a manager, as I did in the beginning of his career. Since he had just found the strength to come out about his sexual identity, he wanted to look to the LBGTQ community for support. Since that was outside of my sphere of influence, I decided to help him generate some traffic in his home studio, offering tracking and mixing as an engineer. I told him we could put out a mixtape to re-introduce him to his followers and the rest of the world. I got 15 tracks from producers, Sixteen and J Doe. I wanted to see how serious he was about his career so I told him to put hooks on all 15. He would send me a rough lyric or melody, then I would write or rewrite the lyrics then massage the melody and coach him on how to execute it. After he did it, I would chop it and arrange it in a Logic, while I was on the road.
Once the mixtape concepts were in the bag, I told him we needed a real record to kick it off. There was a lot of material in his catalog, but nothing that sounded like a hit single to me.
He got a track from this lil dude named 64 and put a hook on it that had us laughing. He was like “yeah this track sound like something Da Baby would get on.” It wasn’t my style, really, but I kept getting drawn into the drums. I let the first line go off the top then it seemed like the rest of the lyrics were just there. We called it “She A Thot.” It dropped on all platforms back in April of this year.
Craze, the follow up single, manifested itself off of the vibe we were on after “She A Thot” dropped. 64 had sent us a 3 pack of beats so it had some of the same feel as the others, however, the “Craze” beat was much more elegant than the other two.It was like the bigger, sexier, more mature and pondering sister of the “She A Thot” beat.
When I started writing, I felt the beat asking me to confess. It was saying “tell your truth, Kase.” The melody in my head was so balanced that I just let it drive through the first verse. I remembered, as a young man, being so caught up in hustling that I lost my compassion for people. I reflected on how I had spent the last decade, since my first daughter was born, re-approaching life with more compassion.
Whatever you have done in your past does not define you. But sometimes it’s good to talk about it. Black people have traditionally been afraid of counseling or therapy. Mostly because of our trust issues with the people providing those services. I strongly suggest talking to someone about the things that trouble you. My uncle Jeff calls it “dumping.”
Music is my therapy. Dumping is my new craze.
What artists are you listening to right now and why?
I like listening to new music. I’m listening to Lil Durk, Pop Smoke, Amine, Jack Harlow, etc. But that’s like research for me. I like to see and hear what the big dogs are investing in. But right now, I’m developing a K-Pop artist, so I’m listening Big Hit Entertainment’s people. I’m about to go over there and liberate some musical slaves. (*artists)
But I still listen to Sade.
What’s next for you in 2020? What can fans look forward to?
I’m dropping a mixtape later this month. I may be doing a record + video with Compton artist, AD in the next few weeks. We’re still working out the details, but he’s doing real good right now.
Other than that, I’m developing a young K-Pop idol named Kiari. That genre is making big waves. I’m also looking at television as a next play. I have a pocket ace in the Chinese market that I’m keeping tucked. Oh I’m doing business with China. Sorry Chump…I mean, Sorry Trump. No, wait, I had it right the first time.Tweet