"I feel like I've come a long way. Not just as a musician, but as a person," says Hanif Collins, who goes by the name Luck-One when he's dishing out his increasingly buzzed about brand of hip-hop in Portland clubs.It's a Monday morning and Collins is getting ready to head to his day job as a marketer for a vinyl window company. But the job is just a fragment of Collins' intentionally busy schedule that also sees him writing and recording music, booking shows, running his own entertainment company, working with a non-profit organization as well keeping up with his voracious reading habit.
Over the past year, the Luck-One name has been attached to many of Portland's big rap shows, including a recent Bone Thugs N Harmony gig and now he's venturing out with concerts here in Bend and beyond. Collins was also the subject of a late-November front-page feature in The Oregonian. But that piece wasn't all about his poetic rapping style or his high-minded, socially relevant lyrics. See, this is the thing about Collins - he's a rapper, and a good one at that, but no one wants to talk about his music. They want to talk about the fact that until a year and a half ago, he was in an Oregon prison, serving time for armed robbery.
"A part of me wants to let it go," says Collins of his time in prison, "It was a really hard time for me in a lot of different ways."
But there's another part of Collins that wants to tell his story, letting people know that he, and other recently released convicts, aren't categorically bad people. He also serves as an example for those still serving time and has received letters from inmates about his music and his new life as a whole.
"People have the wrong idea. These dudes that are in jail are not all bad people. There's ordinary, skinny, nerdy dudes in jail, but people watch Oz and think that's what everyone [in prison] is like," says Collins.
He was only 17 when he was convicted of pointing a gun at a man and attempting to steal his marijuana. He would spend the beginning of his adult life in prison, where he began reading the words of Socrates and W.E.B. Dubois, among others, giving him the sort of diverse knowledge base and philosophical acumen that can be heard in his songs. He also made the decision to begin a new life once he left the prison gates.
And so far he's done just that, and in the process has created an incisive lyrical style that's accelerated the rise of his stock on the hip-hop market. His music is innovative and sometimes inspirational, but he's not above writing lyrics that play on rap music conventions or make the occasional joke. He's currently in the process of wrapping up his forthcoming full-length record, True Theory, which he plans to pair with a book of the same title, which will include essays he wrote in prison.
As if a full-time job and music career weren't enough, Collins also works with Freethekids.org, a non-profit organization that helps impoverished children in Haiti. He says he likes staying busy and prefers living with a full schedule. It's almost like he's making up for the years he spent behind bars.
"I feel like whenever I have free time and I'm not being productive that I'm just wasting time," says Collins, "You know Newton's second law of motion? That's true with life - it's easier to stay in motion than it is to get in motion. I feel like as long as I'm in motion, it's easy."