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Hip-Hop Do Gooder: Portland rapper Braille on faith, violence, and James Brown 

Braille: read him with your ears.Braille, the Portland-based rapper, is playing in Bend on Saturday night and the show is only his third appearance in

click to enlarge Braille: read him with your ears.
  • Braille: read him with your ears.
Braille: read him with your ears.
Braille, the Portland-based rapper, is playing in Bend on Saturday night and the show is only his third appearance in town. One of the two other times was when he opened for James Brown at the Les Schwab Amphitheater. That's right...that James Brown, as in The Godfather or Soul, "Sex Machine", sequined cape James Brown.

The clean-mouthed hip-hop artist was picked by Brown's management to open shows for the Godfather between 2005 and 2006 in equal part for his positive (and f-bomb lacking) tunes and also his high-grade musical talent, both of which were thought to bode well with Brown's diverse and generation-spanning crowd. As Braille (real name Bryan Winchester) says, "You know, you don't want to be saying, 'Get your f'in hands in the air' when you've got somebody's grandma out in the crowd."

Braille hasn't hung his entire career on the James Brown opening slot, although it certainly hasn't hurt him as he's made a name for himself on the Northwest hip-hop scene and beyond. The release this spring of the rapper's album, IV Edition, garnered Braille a write up in The Source magazine (by which we mean the national hip-hop publication of record, not the paper you're holding in your hands) which has helped him spread his name across the country and maintain his 100-plus-shows-per-year touring schedule. He also continues to work with his group Lightheaded, which consists of himself and fellow Portlanders Othello and Ohmega Watts.

The rapper is also a devout Christian, a trait that's not all that common in the hip-hop world. Braille isn't shy about discussing his Christian beliefs, but he isn't necessarily interested in labeling himself a "Christian rapper." He sees himself as a rapper who just so happens to be Christian - but Braille isn't going to make a scene in defending his faith, even if he thinks plugging artists into sub-genres in accordance with their personal identity is a bit on the silly side. Braille doesn't project a "holier than thou" attitude-for example, he himself doesn't drink, but he doesn't mind playing the majority of his shows in bars.

"If people want to put me in a genre and say, 'have you heard Braille? He's pretty dope, especially for a white rapper from Portland who's a Christian and Yugoslavian and French and who's married and has a daughter.' Well, then that's a pretty interesting genre," Braille says.

"If you want to classify my music by what makes me who I am, then I'm not ashamed of that at all, but on the flip side, I don't think that it's necessary," he says.

What's refreshing about Braille is the genuine vibe he provides both on the mic and in person. He's indisputably concerned with relaying a positive message through his music and his personality. For example, this is how he relays a story of trying to break up a fight outside of one of his shows:

"I saw a guy just getting the tar whooped out of him and I go out there trying to break it up and then a gun shot goes off," Braille says.

This might sound like a classic thugged-out moment - gunshots outside of a hip-hop show. Hell, there are probably rappers who would brag about something like this happening outside of their shows. But Braille was more horrified than anything and says that it's the prevalence of violence and other negative influences in our society that influenced his decision to visit after-school programs, youth detention centers and boys homes whenever possible on his next tour.

Braille plays on a much smaller stage than one he occupied with James Brown, but he's sharing it with some well-known local hip-hop names at his free show on Saturday, including Cloaked Characters and Mosley Wotta, among others. Nonetheless, he's psyched about the show. And it's easy to glean from this guy that he's generally pretty psyched about everything.

Braille, Cloaked Characters, Mosely Wotta, DJ Limelight, DJ Harlo
9pm. Saturday, December 13. Old Mill Martini Bar, 360 SW Powerhouse Dr.

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