Dodgr is The New Hip-Hop Emcee You Need To Hear
For Alana Chenevert, a buzzing rapper, singer, and all-around artist from Portland, the story starts in Los Angeles. It’s where she grew up, back when she went by the doting nickname Lala and gazed from the windowsill as the surrounding storefronts smoldered during the ‘92 L.A. Riots. And it’s the first of several references in her full nom de guerre, The Last Artful, Dodgr—or The L.A. Dodgr. Visiting L.A. cements her sense of nostalgia, recalling the more violent and vibrant days when she lived in the city. “My neighborhood has been gentrified so much it’s not even the same place,” she tells me. “As much as the gangs have a reputation for running L.A., so do the hipsters.”
Perhaps it’s the yearning for a far-removed time that drew her to Portland, the perennial “dream of the ‘90s.” Dodgr announced her arrival to Oregon with a hometape, 2013’s 199NVRLND. The demos are tinny and the beats are a tad undercooked, but they still serve as Dodgr’s clearest statement of purpose, a tab of hip-hop laced with Disney snippets and reams of literary references. Conceptually, the mix is an homage to her time living in Humboldt, CA as a student and a couple of years after, where Dodgr worked as a graphic designer for a weekly newspaper. “That house [in Humboldt] was pretty much like my childhood all over again but as an adult, able to act a fool and live my life without any inhibitions,” she recalls. 199NVRLND’s cover shows that Humboldt house amid a wash of psychedelic clouds. It reveals the draw of that life, how easy it is to get stuck in a college town. Eventually—”fuck it,” as she put it—Dodgr decided to move to Portland to follow the dream.
It took nearly three years, but Dodgr is finally finding the following her music so clearly deserves. Under the watchful eye of Fresh Select’s founder and talent scout Kenny Fresh, Dodgr has stacked 2016 with an array of jams. Her biggest hit, “Squadron,” is a two-minute buffet, showing off the emcee’s dynamism on and off the mic. The Soundlapse-directed music video matches the song’s industrial rhythm with sharp cuts and factory houses. The song’s brevity, too, teases the listener to rewind. “Run it back man. People play that song five times in a row.”
“I just think now’s the time for people like me, queer black women, to get their recognition. I’m trying to go beyond where Missy could go, go beyond where anybody has seen anybody go.”
No matter the verse, Dodgr is omniscient on the track. Her immediately-identifiable voice is bolstered by sharp, layered wordplay and a surprisingly smoky set of lungs that recall the great Missy Elliott. Understandably, she balks when the comparison arises. “It’s like why, because I’m thick and chocolate and I rap and sing?” But it goes further than that—it’s the emcees’ shared ability to dominate a song, to pick an earworm beat, to effortlessly glide from a hard verse into a haunting, owl-like hoot that most brings out the resemblance. Still, it’s important not to muddy the metaphors when talking about Dodgr. For all her references and the critical comparisons—the Ender’s Game callbacks, the Danny Brown flow—Dodgr has found her own niche in the hip-hop world. “ I just think now’s the time for people like me, queer black women, to get their recognition. I’m trying to go beyond where Missy could go, go beyond where anybody has seen anybody go.”
In Portland, Dodgr has found a tight-knit group of collaborators and motivators to help her accomplish that goal, and is not taking any of her hard-earned days off to do so. It’s tough to relax when you’re studying music as rigorously as Dodgr is. She rattles off a list of musical inspirations that doubles as a “Best in Class”: Sufjan Stevens, Prince, Queen Latifah, Carole King. This isn’t off-the-cuff rapping; behind every one of Dodgr’s bars, verses, and melodies is a purpose. “I’m not the girl who’s gonna be like, ‘Yeah, let me drop 32 in a cypher!’ I want to sit there and think about what I’m going to say.’”
To everyone tuning in, the talent among Dodgr and her peers is evident. The trickier question is whether a hip-hop scene will truly blossom in Portland. Will it become a hub for hip-hop music, like L.A., NYC, and, current hip-hop capital of the world, Atlanta? “I’m not the only [rapper in Portland]. It’s just a matter of people paying attention. Like Toro Y Moi lives here now, he hangs out with my friends. He knows what’s going on.”
Dodgr’s story may have started in L.A., but in less than three years she’s already made Portland her new home. “In the next 12 months, my name is gonna be everywhere. Everywhere,” she says before breaking into a smile, “…And not in the way that Lil Wayne’s name was everywhere in 2008.”
Then, the topic of conversation slowly transitioned to Drake; after all, Dodgr’s Instagram page features an awesome phone-recorded interpretation of Drizzy’s “Still Here.” “I’m a huge Drake fan. I’ve been one since 2006. He’s like a family member to me at this point…A family member I’ve never met before, but I have all the love for.” When she mentioned that Drake is fast approaching 30, she noticed me shudder. “It’s not scary [to turn 30] when you’re Drake. It can’t be scary when you’ve done everything you’ve set out to do. I’m looking forward to that day, because I know by that time I will have at least started doing what I set out to do. Shit, I’m doing it now.”
Photos courtesy of Tiki/Fresh Selects.
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