Portland, we’re told, is a magical place, but nobody can say exactly why. It’s cool, except it isn’t at all; it’s already over, or is it on again? We haven’t heard the latest. Defining Portland is pointless: The fact that you would care enough to do it means you’re already there. Portland is a real location. You can mail physical objects there. But it’s also a state of mind, a stage where fantasies of style proliferate without apparent end.
At first glance, it makes no sense why the 11th track on Drake’s More Life should be titled “Portland.” True, the city is mentioned by featured artist Travis Scott, but only in passing as part of a scheme to get his girl to go snorkeling and to allow him, in a bizarre, Cronenberg-esque turn of phrase, access to her “organs.” How can you snorkel in a city with no coastline? How can you surf with no waves? Only Travis Scott knows.
Meanwhile, the hook (and second verse) on “Portland” belongs to Quavo of the Migos; centered on a jaunty admonition against wave theft, Quavo’s counsel takes on an ironic zing, given the relationship between Drake and the Migos began when Drake borrowed Migos’ mixtape hit “Versace” for his own ends while jumping on the fashion the Atlanta trio inaugurated for triplet-based meters.
There’s something gleefully cavalier about warning against passing others’ styles off as your own on a track with Drake and Travis Scott, two artists whose aesthetic, such as it is, is an ever-shifting collage of the aesthetics of others. Drake and Travis are real artists. They make actual hits and serious money. But they’re also states of the imagination, curatorial platforms where fantasies of being stylish can substitute for style itself. Where else would they be, if not “Portland”? And why would anyone hold it against them, so long as the music is a joyful hoot and everyone’s being properly paid?