In nearly 9 years, The Thesis has established itself as a premier hip-hop and R&B showcase in Portland. Far from a happy accident, the rise of the showcase is a story of collaboration and intentionality.
“We’ve made it a priority to grow with our creatives,” says Grant Stolle, aka DJ Verbz, one of the founding members of The Thesis team. “I believe we’ve had success because we have clear goals and a vision. We don’t compromise for money or social media numbers. I believe people recognize the authenticity.”
The showcase began in late 2014 as a collaboration among Stolle, We Out Here Magazine (run by Thesis co-founder Mac Smiff), the Portland Mercury, Vortex Magazine and Portland State University. A monthly staple at Kelly’s Olympian, it has since gained notoriety both in and outside of Portland as a platform that uplifts not just local performers, but creative people of all kinds. Fahiym Acuay, aka Mac Smiff, notes that the showcase is a reflection of the skills and perspectives of the different members of The Thesis team, all the way down to the flyers by graphic designer Alexander Wright.
“Verbz and I work hand-in-hand on a lot of the moving parts, especially booking,” says Acuay. “My experience with WOHM, community work, and public image give me some unique abilities around artist recruitment and marketing, while Verbz’ technical abilities (dude is a certified genius) lend to our cutting-edge visual design and overall vibe. Journalist Jenni Moore and former radio host Blake Hickman play advising roles within The Thesis team, helping to keep us abreast of hot new artists and business opportunities that we might otherwise miss.”
“It brings a community feel to each show”
The Thesis team recently launched a TikTok page and enlisted Rhaveana Rockette, aka Veana Baby, a celebrated performer and regular in The Thesis community, to helm the project. Rockette emphasizes that what separates The Thesis from many other showcases is the sense of community.
“Performing at The thesis is different from other showcases in town because it brings a community feel to each show,” she says. “They are constantly communicating on how the show runs and if things might change. Not only that, but they take time to curate the perfect lineup so your music blends with the artists of the night.”
Two major factors underpinning The Thesis community are the team’s unwritten “no more straight dude shows” rule and curating an environment that Acuay and Stolle liken to Switzerland. “If you have any beef or issues, they ask you nicely to leave it at home,” says Rockette. “The community understands that it’s a place to dance, find new music, and just support the person(s) on stage.”
As a result of this approach, The Thesis has attracted a strong regional audience and performers from throughout the country. Acuay notes that visuals from the showcases regularly make the rounds on social media, in large part, through the support of local photographers. “We’re also really fortunate to have a rotating gang of photographers who show up just to get high-quality pictures and share them with the world,” says Acuay.
One person who saw those visuals and was inspired to check out the showcase was rising photographer Nate Ilebode. Ilebode, a current University of Oregon in Portland grad student, says The Thesis provided him with an opportunity to develop his skills and build his resume.
“The importance of opportunities like this is practice, helping to develop your portfolio, and recognition,” Ilebode says. “Practice in the sense that once you finish photographing a show/performance and you go home to edit at the end of the night, you can see your mistakes and think about ways you can improve your photos for the next Thesis show. [It gives you] recognition from artists or outlets that you might’ve not connected with otherwise and people appreciating your work to help you build confidence.”
“A beacon of hope for a city on the precipice”
While Stolle and Acuay appreciate the recognition and consistent attendance, they’re most proud of how The Thesis team has built the showcase. “Early on, we found that people from other cities were drawn to what we’re doing with The Thesis, as it’s unique to find a consistently well-attended showcase of local artists, let alone one that pays its artists,” says Verbz. “When people look up hip-hop in Portland, we’d be hard to miss. Though The Thesis will always focus on platforming artists from Portland, we fully intend on shifting the narrative for up-and-coming artists, that Portland isn’t a city you should skip on tour.”
“This is something that we don’t take any money out of,” adds Acuay. “All of the money goes to the artists, so to see a product of our passion become something that inspires artists, promoters and fans alike means a lot. We’ve worked hard to create an atmosphere that encourages solidarity, diversity, and respect for the culture, so the success of the show often feels–at least to me–like a beacon of hope for a city on the precipice.”
The May 4 edition of The Thesis will feature The Dutchess, along with Jabee, MacMFBillz with Drae Slapz, Saint Alex and special guest Jayme Fortune. Doors open at 8:30 pm. For tickets, photos and videos from past shows and more info, check out The Thesis PDX on Instagram.