Updated: Jan 22, 2021
Vursatyl- a Hip Hop artist, born in Portland and raised on the NE side of town; whose roots in music began when Vurs’s older brother brought home the 12-inch vinyl Rappers Delight in 1979. This infamous album sung seduction to Vurs’ ears; “I was hooked from the jump . . . I was already the type of kid that would just sit in front of the record player and try and mimic whatever it was. . . It hasn’t stopped since that day.”
Vurs’s father was a pastor of the church and is a musician, his oldest brother was also a self taught musician- this foundation curated an intuitive attraction towards music.
Portland is one of the whitest cities in America, the demographics of the city influenced Vurs’s lyrics through the lens of the affects of Oregon's deep rooted racism. “Portland experiences Hip Hop in a microcosm of what’s happening on a global-or at the time, on a national level. So racism kind of permeates the music just based on what the world is experiencing ” Rather than letting Oregon’s inherent racism discourage Vurs he interjected his experience into his lyrics; urging the listener to acknowledge the anguish marginalized people in America experience day-to-day.
Portland’s scene was vibrant from the very beginning- with MC’s performing every night, battles happening at a constant, street dancers performing and graph artists setting the urban tone. “You had Freak Control, The Untouchable Krew, Freshness At Work, Shakim & El Morocco C, and Dynamic Sound Machine- was a huge group when I was younger. It was just crazy, the scene was incredible from the jump and really competitive- anywhere you went in town you may end up in a battle.” Vurs never shied away from a battle and sought to pursue the competitive art form wherever he went; in pursuit to earn his battle stripes by continuously picking 'Hip Hop fights' with fellow artists.
Portland’s street dancing flourished in the 1980’s as well. “Before it was called Hip Hop dance-before breaking really came on the scene. There was a lot of Poppers and Lockers at the time. More Poppers on the west coast and here in Portland. But that as a root for what became the Portland Hip Hop scene. You had Clarky, Bobbles, Tickin’ Ken, Herbert, Emmet and you know- you had all of these hood legends known for their dance abilities . . . You would go to the skating rink to battle. They would be having popping contests at the skating rink.” Portland’s Hip Hop scene’s foundation was rooted in the urban street dance; being that the city hosted some of the most talented street dancers around.
Vurs’s R&B group Izaya fused with the group Lifesavas in 1993; chronologically between the third and fourth generation of Hip Hop. Conjoining efforts to curate a mind-bending and heavy hitting Hip Hop group; who signed onto Dj Shadows label Quannum Projects. Vurs toured with Blackalicious as a member of Blackalicious Live on and off from 1999 to 2015 with and without Lifesavas. Lifesavas member; Jumbo, still currently tours with Blackalicious Live to this day. On the tour in 1999, Vurs handed out demos of Lifesavas music to DJ’s and MC’s he met on the road. “I was in Rennes, France at the Trans Musicales festival and I was giving Lifesavas music to The Beat Junkies and Cut Chemist of Jurassic 5-they was spinning so I had gave them my CD. The fellas were on the bus from Blackalicious and Latyrx and they actually got upset at me for doing that because they were friends of theirs and they hadn’t heard the CD’s that I was giving out . . . They were like; man don’t be giving stuff to people and you ain’t let us hear it- them are our friends, if it’s wack you gotta close that down. So they heard it, dug it and signed us.”
Lifesavas’ career lasted from 1993 to 2015. Their second album released in 2007- Gutterfly, was a huge success that caught critically acclaimed acknowledgements including Rolling stone magazine. When licensing deals started coming through for the group including one with General Motors- Jumbo followed the path into licensing which inevitably concluded the touring career of Lifesavas. Vursatyl in turn continued to write raps and began to focus on his solo career. Leading to his solo album release in 2015- Crooked Straits. Though Jumbo and Vurs separated at the fork in the road in their music endeavors- they continued to sustain a close friendship to this day.
Vurs’ newest single release Let Me Know embodies the entirety of 2020 through the lens of an American that doesn’t belong in the 1% tax bracket. He spits rapid-fire parables that speak truth; from the fake news propagandas, 5G conspiracies, the Trump administration’s handling of Covid-19, crooked politics and the Black Lives Matter movement. Rapping; "Afraid of the uprising and ultimate revolt that will ensue cowards.” Vurs’s hair-rising lyrics in this song puts the experiences and thoughts of many on the ground protesters into words that most of us couldn’t figure out how to speak ourselves.
“It’s been so important that the statement Black Lives Matter began to resonate in the hearts of people across America . . . We’ve been desensitized to the loss of black lives.” Vurs appreciates American’s reckoning of the simple fact that Black Lives Matter but would like to see more action behind the signs people hang in their windows of a condo- condos built as a result of the gentrification that is happening at an alarming, exponential rate in Portland.
“The concept of Black Lives Matter introduces people to the humanization of Black people . . . That’s what I’m still struggling with- I’ll see someone with a Black Lives Matter sign in their lawn and callin’ the police on me for walking too close to their fence. . . making me feel like an alien in my own neighborhood. . . I wanna see a change in how we relate to each other and the way we talk and speak to each other. I wanna feel less like a stranger in my own neighborhood that I grew up in.” In Black Lives Matter discussions you hear a lot of people’s take on defunding or abolishing the police and a call for police accountability but there is less discussion on how to break the cross-cultural barriers and dismantle white fragility- essentially taking BLM from a political issue to a human issue.
“I look at things from the root- like if we can affect people on a human level then that turns into the way we vote, that turns into the way we organize, turns into the issues we take seriously. And again on a community level. . . Take the Black Panther movement- yeah, it resonated globally but it started on the streets in Oakland . . . a need for a stoplight gave birth to a movement that is heard around the world.” The idea of building a strong infrastructure within your community where people not only hold their BLM signs but “to affect you on a personal level so you can actually get beyond your prejudices. . . Get beyond the stereotypes. . . Get beyond the things that you are fearful of- and engage with me.”
Luckily for Vursatyl fans Covid-19 wasn’t detrimental to Vurs’s music career- in fact the pandemic has afforded him time to write, record, create and focus on music as an outlet for the angst that lives within. He intends on releasing a new video or single release, every two months for the next two years. Kicking off 2021 with Vurs’s very first music video of his entire career; “Off the rip- the first thing that will be dropping is a new joint called Let Me Know with a mind blowing video. I had the privilege of working with . . . forgive me I don’t know everyone’s names but- I had Chad (Smith), Martin, Kevin, and Travis . . . They blew it out the water and put an incredible visual together for a song called Let Me Know produced by Jake One. It’s coming out on Inauguration Day. Which is January 20th 2021.”
The first half of the song was written in 2008 but was finished in the midst of the pandemic in 2020. “It really kind of poses a lot of questions to us as a community and as listeners- what’s going on in our world today? And these are the things that I see that are popping up. What can we meet minds on and find out what’s about to happen so we can get prepared.” I can’t help to see how fitting that the song’s journey began under the Bush administration and ends on the brink of Trump’s impeachment; released into the world on a day that will go down in history.
@vursatyl1 (add links)
Producer: Jake One
Director/Producer/Editor: Chad Smith
@chadmicsmith / WeLive.productions
Producer: Kevin Hasenkopf
@kingclinton / WeLive.productions
Co-Cinematographers: Martin VanLonden
@martin_van_londen / WeLive.productions
& Travis Stanton
@travisjstanton / WeLive.productions
Gaffer: Brynden McNew
Assistant Camera: Talilo Marfil
Protest Footage Courtesy of:
Dustin Tolman @sirdustydust
Rashad Floyd @rashadfloyd
Trinity Webber @twebber0409
Special thanks to:
J.U.I.C.E. Crew @j.u.i.c.e_pdx
T.E.A.M. Center @T.E.A.M._Center
DeAngelo Raines @ghtoblst
Jason Campbell @drjcofthedc
Isis Irving @browgoddess.co
Lunden Benard @lunden09
Tristan Irving @artbytk
David Dent @oldavybastard
André Middleton @madsdad67 @friendsofnoise
Jason Lamb @allowjasontoretort
Orlando Vaughn Bey @OV1cutzofchicago
Cornelia Connell @corneliaconnell
Ashley Hasenkopf @ashleythaesty