On November 19 at 10am, right after doors opened to the Arizona Hip Hop Fest, an attendee approached the Flotivity Media booth. He wasn't an artist (although he claimed to have some interest in going to CRAS). He was at the festival because he loved rap music. In the most traditional sense of the word, he was a fan. Not necessarily a fan of any particular artist or artists, he told me he was there because he loved rap music and the show was billed as THE Arizona Hip Hop Fest (his words, not mine).
Smiling and energetic, he seemed genuinely excited to be there. He was the person I wanted to speak to. This was my first AZ Hip Hop Fest and I had already heard the perspective of artists and fans both for and against it. I wanted to experience it myself and talk to a fan who was there to experience a show.
See I love festivals and I am very critical of festivals having been to a bunch over my lifetime. I was going to and will write about my thoughts on the festival. But I wanted to speak to a casual fan. I wanted to discuss the festival with someone who loved or liked rap music but who wasn't there to support any particular artist. The guy who people don’t talk about. The one who didn’t purchase a ticket from an artist because the artists and him are related or friends.
People like him are exactly the folks that we all want attending shows. The scene is already full of artists supporting artists and artists friends and family buying tickets in support. We need more casual fans. The Arizona Hip Hop Ecosystem needs fans. It was great meeting that one and I hope the Fest offered enough to bring him back. Even more I hope it left such an impression on him that he told his friends. And in turn they attend next year. There is very little more in life that I want more than for this scene to grow and for the dope artists to see their fanbase grow.
Unfortunately I only caught him at the start of the show. He never came back to share his thoughts. But in that interaction, I could tell he was genuinely excited for the festival. It was the place on this earth he chose to spend his time on that day. He used his hard earned money to see a show and I'm willing to bet he had a good time running around to the various stages seeing all the rap music offered on that beautiful Saturday afternoon. And that's dope. Those are the people the AZ Hip Hop Fest is for, or at least who it should be for.
Me on the other hand, I am an overly involved fan. I support Arizona Hip Hop through Flotivity Media. I attend shows, talk to artists, listen to pretty much only AZ rap, and have a more than general understanding of the politics and economics and issues in the scene. And for me, the Fest was everything I expected it to be, which left a really good taste in my mouth, and a hunger for things to come.
In my opinion, before the Fest started it was lacking. Why Furious Styles had its own event and the two events couldn't be one in the same and both still make money is an issue. To not have the longest established AZ breakdancing crew represented means the AZ Hip Hop Fest wasn't truly a Hip Hop event. Though I saw breakdancers, Furious Styles is Arizona’s breakdancing crew and they should’ve represented at the Fest. Second, a long list of the most talented and successful rappers weren't in attendance let alone performing. A true representation of Arizona Hip Hop should include the biggest names in the scene. For example, Mr. Miranda (who just came off a tour in Japan), Roqy Tyraid (who chose to go on his own tour at the same time), Mega Ran (currently touring), Teek, (listed as artist but not attending), and all the younger artists who do big things like Cruise and Loh, were notably absent. (By the way, I didn't purposely choose 3/5 of Writer's Guild, they were the only ones I could think of off the top of my head). Trust me when I say other big named artists were in attendance, I’m not saying they weren’t. I’m only saying many other incredibly dope, hard working, well-respected artists were missing.
I don't pretend to know their reasons for not performing. But I suspect it had something to do with the requirements to perform. I heard it mentioned that it cost performers $300 to take the stage. Not money the performers were receiving but money the artists were paying to play. Literally, in order to perform in their slot the artist had to hand over $300.
I understand the business side. I know an event of that magnitude is expensive and the organizers want to make money. I understand the artists performing are mostly grown ups and thus they understand they're making someone else money in order to perform. This makes it all fine for those involved. But as a fan, it's not fine. We all lose when the cream of the crop is not at the festival. And it seems to me, it is cost prohibitive or against some artists belief system for them to pay to play. Until the best Arizona has to offer is represented, the Arizona Hip Hop Fest won’t be what I as a fan know it can be.
The flip side of course is the artists are choosing not to perform despite the ability to grow their fan base and potentially make money (ticket sales, merch, etc) . So there is some blame to be laid on both sides. And until compromises can be made, fans will never get the festival they deserve.
The last issue I had with the fest is the schedule. Artists were not given locked in time slots. Instead groups of artists were scheduled in blocks. Sometimes even 3 hour blocks. So there was serious difficulty in planning to see an artist. At festivals I expect some conflict but this is unacceptable. With so many dope artists and so much uncertainty as to when they play, apathy set in and I just ended up walking around catching almost no one I really wanted to except for the Truminati Gang. This is fine now but I hope it does not continue because casual fans deserve that festival experience.
The issues aside, I must say it was a good day. On an absolutely beautiful Saturday afternoon, downtown Phoenix became home to a portion of the hip hop community. The atmosphere was lively and the artists that we spoke to were seriously pumped to be there. Regardless of the hip hop politicking or the beef with business practices, the artists made the fest something to enjoy.
And it was truly the artists’ in attendance playground. They all talked about loving the opportunity to perform in front of that crowd, on that stage, on Arizona Hip Hop Day, at the Arizona Hip Hop Fest. People were proud of their moment. Their energy was infectious. It was seriously hard not to appreciate the excitement being projected. It’s the type of event, for the artists who we spoke to, that will drive them to push harder in 2017 and which will make the scene better. Despite the issues and complaints, the concept of the event matches the beauty of Phoenix on that Saturday afternoon - crisp and cool. The type of day where the air fills lungs with a sense of satisfaction about the present and belief in the future.
It’s a dope event, and one I’m rooting for to be better in the future.
Oh and shout out to Benjamin Fly and Truminati Gang for killing their sets. Both stages were absolutely lit, like a million sticks of dynamite in a nuclear bomb, both set to explode in the epicenter of the Death Star. Lit, I say, absolutely lit.