Activism & Hip-Hop: An Introspective Interview with Glenn Waco

Photo Credit: Renée Lopez at Ms. Lopez Media

Glenn Waco is Portland’s newest breakout hip-hop artist, as well as a present day civil rights activist. Born in January of 1992, Glenn is 23 years old and a Portland, Oregon native; more specifically a Saint Johns native to those familiar with the North Portland neighborhood. Glenn’s mother has been a long time activist in the Portland area; currently she is working as the founder of the Youth Turn Around Program, a safe place for children and families to seek mentors and have someone to talk to during difficult times.

In the past few weeks, I have had the pleasure of watching Glenn perform twice. First on May 6, 2015 at Holocene in East Portland with fellow hip-hop artists Rasheed Jamal, Mic Capes, and Fountaine. And on May 9, 2015 at the annual Saint Johns Bizarre, Glenn performed along Mic Capes in the Saint John’s Plaza. Having seen him in action, I can affirm that Glenn’s performances are seriously outstanding! He’s widely known in both his protests and his performances of having a special type of charisma that gets the crowd involved. His emotions run deep and he wears his heart on his sleeve; a great recipe for a good performance.

After seeing his performances I had the ultimate opportunity to get an interview in with Glenn. I have protested police brutality along side Glenn in the past with Teressa Raiford’s Don’t Shoot Portland before learning his role in our community as a local hip-hop artist. Glenn explains to us some of his reasons for activism work and how he incorporates the reality of his life experiences into his music. This is a man who really puts his soul into his music and is good at what he does!

All photos by Renée Lopez at Ms. Lopez Media

Photo Credit: Renée Lopez at Ms. Lopez Media

CYM: When did you start your musical career?

I want to say it was in the 8th grade, the summer of 2006 at the height of the snap music era. That’s when I recorded my first song. The summer before that, I’d just started playing around with writing to random beats, rapping them to a few of my friends and having them laugh because the songs were so weak [Laughs]. Now we all laugh because of how dope they are and the success that’s stemming from them. In high school I pretty much was the school engineer, my music teacher Margolis showed me Pro Tools and I pretty much grabbed the wheel and taught myself the program, recording myself Vinnie, Mic and everyone else when I got the chance. Music was therapy, it was probably the only reason I graduated.

CYM: When did you start your activism work?

I’ve always had a deep admiration for people like Malcolm X, The Black Panthers, Fred Hampton, Tupac etc. so that spirit has always been burning inside me. Officially I’d have to say in August of 2014, the day of the Mike Brown verdict but there have always been moments where it has seeped through. I remember back in middle school they took away my class’s school dances because of the shenanigans of 7th graders. I wanted to stage a walk out with signs and the whole nine but students were afraid of getting referrals, same thing happened in high school when they wouldn’t let my school go off campus for lunch because of things that happened way before my class, again people weren’t willing to take a risk because of consequences and we pretty much just snuck up to McDonald’s anyway, there’s tons of stories I’m sure my teachers would be able to tell.

CYM: What specific event caused you to go into activism work?

There’s a lot to put into context in answering that question…besides being in the streets protesting police brutality I’ve also been at the forefront of addressing the city’s storied history of discrimination. For those that are unaware, Portlandia has a hip-hop problem. Downtown venues that cater to hip-hop culture and really anything the city deems “counter-culture” are under siege and have been enduring economic warfare inflicted on them for a few years now by the OLLC, an assembly specialist Rob Cruser who people mistake as the fire marshall and of course everyone’s favorites, the Portland Police Bureau. Buzzfeed covered it and many local newspapers have been documenting it. As far as full fledged activism, that started the day of the Mike Brown verdict. I had been going through the motions at work for a while being frustrated with miscellaneous things and was already looking to quit but the last straw was the day of the verdict. I was leaning on a counter at the register like many of us do (I’m 6’4) and one of the assistant managers came with a stone cold look in his eye, pointed to the ground, demanded that I come to him and stand where he was pointing then went on to talk to me like he was commanding a dog; I quit after I finished my shift. I remembered Teressa [Raiford] telling me about the protest a few days prior, so the next day I headed out but missed the first one. At the next one I found myself in an awkward position, I was just looking to support her and the movement but she handed me her megaphone and urged me to be a leader – the rest is history.

Photo Credit: Renée Lopez at Ms. Lopez Media

CYM: How do you feel your environment growing up aided you in your music and activism work?

I’ve always been the underdog. I’ve always been the youngest out of any group. I’ve always had a burning passion to prove my doubters wrong. I was raised by some very nurturing, powerful women who endured a lot of pain and struggle but were very selfless and put everyone else’s needs before their own, which rubbed off on me. I haven’t had much mentoring or male role models in my life, I’ve been winging it for as long as I can remember and because of this I’m sensitive, but I couldn’t be as passionate or have the moral compass I have now for humanity if it wasn’t for this sensitivity. I’ve always seen the bigger picture and always wanted to get to the point of ‘Where is this all stemming from?’ ‘Why is this happening, and what can we do to fix it?’ I grew up in some pretty unstable situations but my family has always put us first no matter how bad things became. I get my sense of “It’s bigger than just me” from my upbringing and that’s bled into my mission with music which is activism within itself. I have the power to change the way people think and live their lives, I don’t take that lightly.

CYM: What is the number one thing you wish to achieve for Portland (and America) through your activism?

I want artists to be able to express themselves without being systematically shut down and pigeonholed. I want things to get to a point to where artists have the avenues to really make money and build their brands in Portland. I want artists to see the power that they have and really take advantage of it and build community and opportunities, it’s imperative to our future. I want America to realize that it’s a walking contradiction of hypocrisy, and in order for anything to truly change, it needs to humble itself and really take in the constructive criticism it receives, there’s nothing worse than an out of control ego with power. Everyone is so divided now; we scream at the top of our lungs over each other and focus so much on semantics that we forget why we’re doing what we’re doing to begin with. Majority of conflicts stem from miscommunication, two people can be saying the same thing but because they disregard how they communicate, things go bad fast. We invest double the energy and money into things that kill us physically, mentally and spiritually when it literally takes half of that to solve many of the world’s issues. This needs to change but no savior is coming out of the sky to save us, we need to save ourselves. We need to change it. We are change overall period.

Photo Credit: Renée Lopez at Ms. Lopez Media

CYM: How do you feel others perceive the way you incorporate your activism work into your music?

It’s weird, I walk around and have random people come up to me and give me these big hugs or who shake my hand and thank me for what I’ve done….and I personally don’t think I’ve done nearly enough yet to warrant all that, it makes me paranoid and feel awkward but I appreciate any positive energy I receive. I have the power to bring together Black Panthers and members of the Nation Of Islam that speaks for itself and I again don’t take that lightly. Others can feel how they want about me but I have shit to do.

CYM: Who are some of the other artists you work with? Do any of them do any activism work?

Mic, Rasheed, Vinnie, Talilo and I’m pretty sure there’s many more artists in the city that work with and inspire kids, that to me is a form of activism. The thing people get misconstrued is they think protesting is just marching down the street. Protest comes in many forms whether it’s through music, where you spend your money or something simple as teaching kids real things rather than regurgitating dated bland history, as long as you’re affecting change against systemic oppression that is a protest to me.

Photo Credit: Renée Lopez at Ms. Lopez Media

CYM: What can we expect to see from you in the future?

You can expect me to be associated with some very powerful people, making very powerful moves and affecting very powerful change, timing is everything though and seeing is believing, you’ll see in due time. My next album is dropping next year, the label FRSHTRB is about to shake up things and everything is falling into place.

CYM: What would you like to see the communities of Portland do to improve our city?

Listen to each other. Listen to what people have been telling you forever. The problem is people do too much talking and not enough listening. People are much too passive and complacent because they’re scared they’ll actually have to do something – it’s uncomfortable. Hold these politicians in power accountable for what they say, what they vote for and their actions. The mayor should not be allowed to look any of you in the eye, tell you he’s going to commit to your demands and then go on pretending like he never said any of it. We must remove these politicians who aren’t for the people whether that’s through vote or physically but peacefully, there’s just too much corruption and it’s getting to the point of no return.

CYM: What would you suggest people can do to help with the cause?

The single most powerful thing anyone could do is simply educate yourself. Education prior to action is absolutely crucial. People need to know what it is they’re fighting, who it is they’re fighting, what it is they’re fighting for and what the end goal for the cause is. If you don’t have this cemented and things in place that prevent the repercussions of this not being implemented, then you will have people coming in and projecting their own agendas onto the movement and next thing you know the oppressed are taking on traits of the oppressor.

Photo Credit: Renée Lopez at Ms. Lopez Media

CYM: Who inspires you?

Tupac. Malcolm X. Martin Luther King Jr. Fred Hampton. Assata Shakur. Teressa Raiford. Angela Davis. The Black Panther Party. Jay-Z. Kanye West. The principles Christ stood for. These are all for the most part people but really it’s not the person I’m idolizing it’s their messages, their hard work etc. I don’t idolize people, I idolize ideas because no human being is infallible, we all have character flaws but it’s the ideas from imperfect human beings that have the power to truly change reality. Adversity also inspires me, I’ve learned and grown the most in life every time through facing adversity.

CYM: How can we follow your events?

For right now through my social media accounts but I will have a website that will make it easier for folks to see what upcoming events I have.

    Follow Glenn Waco on Facebook or Twitter for upcoming shows and announcements. Glenn is currently working in the studio on a new album to be released next year. Stay tuned for more on Glenn Waco of the Resistance! All photos by Renée Lopez at Ms. Lopez Media

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