In basketball circles Portland is known as a city of missed opportunities. It was Portland that drafted Sam Bowie ahead of Michael Jordan. It was Portland that drafted Greg Oden ahead of Kevin Durant. Comedian Fred Armisen has a hit show on IFC called Portlandia, which depicts Portland as a place where the 90s never died. No one mentions Portland hip-hop. Portland native Luck-One has an inkling as to why–there isn’t very much of it to speak of. Now residing in Seattle, Luck-One recently released True Theory, an album broken up into three distinct acts. Luck-One’s own life has almost been broken up into three distinct acts–his childhood, his half decade of incarceration, and his current status as one of Portland’s few shining hopes in hip-hop. Will Luck-One be able to be the replacement for the Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant Portland missed the opportunity to have? Will he be the one to bring the city into the present day? Only time will tell, but we caught up with him to find out more about his life, his music, his activism while he was in prison, and why he no longer partakes in activism now.

Adam Bernard: What’s been lucky for Luck-One?

Luck-One: What’s been lucky? Man, honestly I can’t really say I even believe in luck. Luck-One is actually an acronym that I took on a long time ago. It used to be MC Lucky One and then I shaved it to Luck One. It means Living Under Capitalism is Knowing that Oppression is Nearly Everywhere.

AB: How did you come up with that, and please tell me you did it when you were 12 and you’re just a genius?

LO: I probably came up with that when I was about 17 and I was not a genius, I was incarcerated and didn’t have much else to do but come up with acronyms. {*laughs*}

AB: Seventeen was when you started serving half a decade in jail for robbery and gun charges. While you were in jail, however, I hear you proved to be a bit of an organizer. What were you doing while incarcerated?

LO: We used to do food strikes, hunger strikes, work strikes. If you understand how the economy works, in Oregon, where I’m from, the timber industry kind of took a hit with a lot of the green people advocating against clear cutting and things of that nature. Around that time, I think it was the 1980s, they began to build prisons in places with poor economy to create jobs. Where I’m from, in Portland, there’s some diversity. These places are all like three hours, at least, out of Portland, so you have a lot of administrators that aren’t very, I won’t call them racist because I think that’s a little bit of a harsh term, but I’ll say they aren’t very privy to interracial interaction. Probably the only Black people they’ve ever seen are on television and if you know anything about the media in general it tends to put a pretty cold slant on how people of color conduct themselves. So there were a lot of problems with being locked up in like Pendleton, Oregon trying to get a job other than wiping down tables, or trying not to get criminalized for everything that we did, so what we did was we began to do hunger strikes and we started to realize that we weren’t the only ones to have those grievances, so we started to go across the board and engage, even the skinheads and the Mexicans and the Natives, and we all started to kinda create a little vehicle. I don’t know how much change we affected, but I think there were a lot of good things born out of just people being able to realize that they have the power to change things if they so choose to take action.

AB: Is this something that was in you and that you were doing before your incarceration, or is this something that incarceration brought out of you?

LO: I think it’s something that was in me and was definitely aggrandized by my incarceration. The closer you are to the flame the more appreciative you are of the rain. I don’t know if that sounds corny, but being in prison, and being directly oppressed, I wanted to take action to change that. Before I was locked up I did little stuff, but I wasn’t really a huge activist. Now I’m definitely not an activist at all.

AB: Why aren’t you involved in activism right now? Is this a conscious decision, or do you just not have the time?

LO: It’s a conscious decision. I think a lot of the activism, at least in America, is very superficial. We tend to try to treat the symptom instead of the cause. People will show up to an anti-child labor march in their Nikes. They’ll drive their SUV to the war protest. There doesn’t seem to be any inner-connectivity of thought, or understanding of the fact that if the world were to change as we ostensibly want it to change, the biggest change would be amongst ourselves and not amongst starving children in Lesotho. People have to curb their own desires because that is what the world is being impoverished for, in my understanding. So I don’t really engage in activism because I don’t really like go to marches and then go home and have 30 pairs of shoes and 600 channels and all this excess. I don’t really think that’s the proper way to challenge things. If I really want to bring about change I need to begin to challenge my own vices first and let that radiate.

AB: What are some the vices you have that you’re sure you’re NOT going to give up? We all have at least one.

LO: That I’m NOT going to give up? OK, I’m gonna say… Twitter {laughs}. I’m not giving up Twitter. I’m gonna say… speaking too much. I’ll probably never shake that one. I’d like to think that I’l be able to give them all up as far as over-consumption. I don’t want to say I’m definitely not giving up anything, other than Twitter. I’m sticking with Twitter. I’m rockin with that.

AB: Moving to your music, you’re from Portland and you currently live in Seattle. Both of those cities are known more for basketball tragedies than hip-hop. How did you go about jump starting your career in these places?

LO: I think Seattle actually has a really vibrant hip-hop scene. Portland is non-existent, but you can’t tell the rappers there that. The other night I was on the radio down there and I said True Theory was the most significant piece of rap music to ever come out of the city and they were like “what are you trying to say?” I was like, I’m trying to say I’m the best rapper here. “What do you mean?” Well, there’s nobody else here. You’re acting like I’m saying I’m the best painter in France. I’m saying I’m the best rapper in Oregon, home of the Gardenburger. Portland is one of those places where people have a very poor understanding of economics, at least in the rap community, so everybody does everything for free and expects everything for free so the economy of hip-hop is depressed because there’s no circulation because the money’s all concentrated in a few people’s hands and they don’t want to share it. I had to get out there because it’s frustrating. I’ve been written up by every paper in Portland probably three times and I’ve opened up for everybody. Then you go to California and you’re small potatoes again. Contrary to popular opinion, Portland is a metropolis, and we have all the problems that every other city had. Growing up where I grew up, people used to always say “Portland’s such a nice place” and I was like what do you mean, there’s all kinds of violence. Then I went past 33rd Avenue and I realized wow, this place is really nice. As far as rapping; I started writing rhymes to express myself. Being black and living in a city that’s pretty white you kind of cling even more to those media images. It was really good to let everything out in a rhyme. I figured out it was the only thing I was really good at. I’ve never had anybody in my life ever call me wack. Nobody’s ever been like “you can’t rap,” so I’ve stuck with it.

AB: Has Greg Oden showed up at any of your shows?

LO: Absolutely not, but at least we have a basketball team, unlike Seattle, so I can’t complain.

AB: That was pretty brutal, and totally undeserved because that city should have a basketball team.

LO: They’re pretty upset about it. I like to bring it up every time I’m on stage here.

AB: Your new album is True Theory, and you set it up in three acts. Why did you decide to put your album together in this way?

LO: I broke it up that way because when I started making True Theory I tried to make a perfect composition, so it had to have a theme. When you get a piece of sheet music from Bach or Beethoven, you get a whole bunch of different instruments, but it’s one piece of music. The trumpets have their dogfight, but it’s mixed in with the violins that are playing background and the syncopated timpani. It’s one piece of music. I tried to make every song extremely significant, impactful, Grammy material, but there’s certain songs that I felt like I have to end the album with. Then I realized, looking at when you try to make your album something amazing, something impressive, something humongous, I felt like it sounded like a movie. I thought about all the songs and if you study a screenplay and you think about how to write movies, in act one you’re introducing the character, you figure out what the character’s about and the plot begins to take form. You certainly get some depth as to who I am. Act two you get conflict. The protagonist is faced with obstacles. So you have songs likes “Palestine,” which is actually two narratives about one Palestinian and one Israeli on opposing sides of the conflict. That went WAY over everybody’s head. In act three the conflict is resolved. You have the climax. You have ideas that come together. That’s why I did it like that, because it made sense. As I got closer to finishing the album I realized this isn’t a piece of music, this is a screenplay.

AB: I notice you said at least one of the things you wrote went over people’s heads. Does that bother you, or is it cool as long as they get most of it?

LO: This is the first time this has happened to me. When I make music I never make it for any other reason than the first reason I started making music initially, to express myself, and I feel like people can sense authenticity. That’s why I do it that way. When I was writing songs like “Palestine” and “Double Time” and third person narratives from two different perspectives with a tri-lingual chorus, it never occurred to me oh, people have been listening to Gucci Mane, they’re not going to be able to digest all this. People would even call me and say “what’s this song about?” I’m like, you have a copy of it, why are you asking me? You have to engage in art to gain context. You have to be an active participant, you can’t just be a passive receptacle all the time.

AB: Do you think including the lyrics would have changed things?

LO: Yes, I do, I absolutely think that it would’ve. Even though most people are just buying it off of iTunes, I think that would have been a good call. I haven’t actually thought about that until you said it, but yeah.

AB: Speaking of ideas, I read you had an epiphany of sorts at SXSW this year. I forget what the exact quote about “if a show gets murdered…”

LO: If a show gets murdered in Austin and nobody hears it does it still make a sound.

AB: Yes! Those shows like SXSW and CMJ that have a thousand artists, what use are they for artists?

LO: The good thing about it is, I really don’t want you to think that I’m bragging, because I’m not, but the good thing about it is my live show is better than anybody that I saw down there. So it’s like you go to those paces and you have all these rappers you used to look up to and then you realize oh, they’re wack. They haven’t been rapping in front of empty audiences and packed audiences and mid-sized venues and weird vegan bagel shops for the last three years, they just kinda got put on, a lot of them are created, and you realize that once I get in front of an audience of people that are actually doing something and can put me in position it’s gonna be a piece of cake because all these years of honing my craft. The sad thing about it is realizing how far you have to go because it’s really easy to be killing it in your region and then you get down south and you see all the dudes that are doing all the things you want to do, they get posts on all the blogs you want to get on, they got a management team that’s really getting it in, and THEY’RE not even on cuz you’ve never heard of them. I’m cyphering on the corner with dudes, go home and Google their name and they’ve got like 100,000 views on their YouTube videos and it’s pretty impressive and I’m like how did I miss this? It was depressing, it was inspiring, it was exciting, it was boring, it was a lot of things wrapped in one and I’m definitely going back next year.

AB: And we’re going back for a second because did you say vegan bagel shops?

LO: I’m telling you, man. I did a show with no microphone one time. I killed that show. There were about 30 people there and I sold about 50 discs.

AB: That leads into my last question beautifully; what moment, or action, from your life so far are you most proud of?

LO: That’s tough actually. I’ll keep it all the way real. My sister and I hadn’t spoken for about a year and I’m pretty proud of reaching out and talking to her. I’m starting to really understand that humility and forgiveness are some of the greatest human traits and characteristics and trying to embrace them has been very difficult so I’m proud of myself for trying to at least take a step in that direction even though it’s not something that’s particularly easy to do.