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From hardship to headlining act: Chris Lee to take the stage of UO Campus Block Party

Chris Lee was 16 when his parents kicked him out of their home.

But Lee is now 21 and a junior at University of Oregon, he’s planning on going to law school and he’s the headliner for this year’s UO Campus Block Party.

So how did he go from homeless teen to up-and-coming rap artist and 3.5 GPA student?

His hard work started with his hard-working parents. Immigrants from South Korea, they opened a grocery story in Southeast Portland and worked fifteen hours a day running it. Lee respected his parents, but he was obsessed with not being a burden to them; with being “self-sufficient”–and that’s what got him into trouble.

Lee’s parents would ask him if he needed new clothes for school, and he’d say “No.” But behind their backs, Lee would steal new clothes from stores and, when his parents asked where they came from, say “You bought this for me, remember?”

His parents knew what he was doing, but it took years and Lee getting into deeper trouble for them to kick him out.

Lee was fortunate enough to be invited to stay with a friend whose parents were adamant that he stay in school.

“They were like ‘get your ass to class,'” Lee said.

Lee did, and he got good grades and at the same time began developing his love for music. Lee developed a deep love for Tupac Shakur and the Chicago rap and hip-hop scene, many of whom (like Chance the Rapper) are among his biggest influences now.

Lee found something in music to throw himself into–to work hard like his parents. He began rapping, then recording, then performing. Lee calls his brand of music “cruising music” or “euphoric music.”

Lee became a Duck and brought his music to Eugene, where the scene was different and less developed–though no less appreciated, Lee said.

“People (in Eugene) love the hip-hop, but they don’t really know about it,” Lee said. “We’re trying to make something memorable.”

And that’s Lee’s goal with this show. He’s been trying to land a spot at the campus block party for as long as it’s been around, but now he and some other Eugene rappers he’s paired with have opened for bigger artists (most recently Sammy Adams) and have experience with bigger crowds.

Lee will be performing with two guests from the STRAY music project (a group the three of them and other rappers from Eugene perform as), Donte Thomas and Deontre Curry.

“(Deontre) and Donte are pretty much family,” Lee said. “Without them I wouldn’t have been able to come out of the depressions and hardships like I did and am.”

Thomas says their show is going to be more than just them rapping.

“When you give them a show, you give them a show,” Thomas said. “You can’t make an impact as an imitator.”

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Scott Greenstone

Scott Greenstone

Rehabilitated ex-homeschooler, former Emerald Senior News Editor, editor-in-chief of The Broadside at Central Oregon Community College, and freelance blogger for Barnes and Noble.

Now I write campus politics. Easy conversation starters include Adventure Time, Terry Pratchett novels and Arcade Fire.