Mic Capes is the best Portland rapper you’ve never listened to. With impressive, nostalgia-induced production and serious storytime rhymes, his 2016 LP Concrete Dreams is an exceptional piece of Portland music and required listening for 503 residents.
Capes is as underrated as he is talented; think J. Cole circa 2012. With quick flow and deliberate lyrics, he constantly educates his listeners while also asking them to question their everyday motivations.
After the album’s prologue, “Chains” is the perfect lead example of Capes’ quick-flip flow and folklore lyricism. It’s hard not to listen and feel Concrete Dreams is effectively a NoPo sibling to 2014 Forest Hills Drive. A mix of inspiration and tragedy rolled into one: “Will I make it, only Lord knows, dreams die quicker than an iPhone.”… “Gotta be bold, success and your goals, are something you mold, you define them yourself.”
The album is layered with ’90s nostalgia and rap reference points. From the codeine-laced “Jansport,” which slows the sax of “Rump Shaker” (originally Lafayette Afro Rock Band), to “One For O’Shea,” which is basically an homage to NWA’s “F*^K tha Police,” the album even has an informal interview session with kids, a la The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. It’s impossible not to see the influences and respect what Capes is trying to portray throughout his debut full-length. “OGK“ samples Erykah Badu’s infamous “Tyrone” while Capes slides in rhyme references of Ahmad’s “Back In The Day.”
In the stand-out track “Five Finger Discount,” Capes informs us he “never had that Huxtable or Winslow life.” He then paints a picture of what his upbringing was really like, doing what one can to get by, including petty theft from corner stores. The track gets an extra boost with deft lyricism from fellow PDX rapper Rasheed Jamal. Jamal shows up again on the excellent and somber “KKK,” which memorializes fallen friends while also shedding light on inter-community violence.
“The Illz” makes reference to both Biggie and 2Pac, mentioning “Sky’s The Limit” and “Keep Ya Head Up.” Capes is well aware of hip-hop heritage and the importance of cautionary tales that can have a lasting effect on a rapper’s legacy. Concrete Dreams is as foreboding as it is reflective, a modern mix of emotions as timeless as America’s history repeating itself.
Sprinkled with spoken-word warnings, even the quiet moments of this album are worth turning up. While he definitely takes time to look back at where he’s come from, he also keeps it current with heavy trap-beat bangers like “Magic 8-Ball.” Even though “Razor Tongue” doesn’t show up until the final third of the album, it’s an excellent and haunting introduction to Capes, reminiscent of Snoop Dogg’s debut feature in “Deep Cover” or the creeping early rhymes of Earl Sweatshirt and Vince Staples in Hive.
After that tour of his debut full-length, it should be said Capes is less than a month away from dropping a new EP. One of the few hip-hop artists featured at this year’s Pickathon, here’s hoping Capes will get the national attention he deserves: 2017 could be a turning point for this ticking rhyme bomb.
– Greg LeMieux