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[Show Review] Tucson Hip Hop Festival

We’re now weeks removed from the festival. What you’re about to read I sat on all this time. I wrote 98% of these paragraphs three days after the festival. I wasn’t sure if I was still “hungover” with excitement from what I had just witnessed so I decided to think about these words. I’ve re-read and re-read these paragraphs. All these weeks later, I still feel the same way.

The defintion of festive is jovial and celebratory. Jovial means cheerful and friendly. Well and celebratory, I think we all know relates to a celebration. The Tucson Hip Hop Festival was all this and more. The Tucson Hip Hop community threw a party and it felt like being at a family reunion. Familial, friendly feelings were in the air, which made the entire event very festive.

The day began with a wish dressed as hopeful optimism. Will.Ara said he wanted the festival to be a success. We always want this for the scene. As he said it, we didn't know what to expect really. We had a list of sets we wanted to catch. We knew we wanted to get some interviews. Other than that, we simply hoped the Tucson community would show up. Not being very familiar with the scene, we were in for a very good surprise.

After getting our bearings straight and finding where each stage was - there were five on one city block with one outdoors in a parking lot at the end of the building. The four that were in a building each separated by walls which meant we had to walk the sidewalk to get from room to room. The main stage was first and housed in a room big enough to fit 500. Next door was the producers stage which was up the ramp of a loading dock nestled between two railed platforms. The next room had a stage where panels were held. This was adjacent to a room called the Studio One stage which was mostly empty except it had a stage and platform in the back where the sound man was. The Studio One stage was the most interesting because the room only fit about 40 people but man would it get packed with what felt like 100. The entrance and walkway to the front was stage right so attendees had to walk past the rapper to get to a place to watch the set. This made for a unique experience where some rappers would be rapping almost in a dudes face as he walked in. Finally there was the DJ stage sitting under a canopy sitting under a huge tree. Oh and next to that tree was the pickup spot for the infamous Rap Van.

Each room and it's small capacity helped make the Fest work. This was the genius of the Tucson Hip Hop Festival. Because the scale was so small everything from the Outdoor stage to each room to the sidewalk connecting each stage felt packed. From start to finish each set, no matter what room I was in, felt packed. Get a packed room with people nodding their heads and waving their hands and the mood cant help but be festive. In turn the artists gave their all and with straight professionalism. There was only one set out of 12 or so that I left because I wasn't feeling it. I won't mention his name anywhere but he was rapping over his vocals. That doesn’t sound professional and is for me is kind of distracting.

Every one else brought their A game and the curation of the festival was dope! I mean how could it not be when the day kicked off (for us) with YNot. (I was bummed I missed Liquid Sound Disciples and Jae Tilt). He played at 2:40 on the main stage and he treated it like a headlining performance. Immediately I knew I was in for something special. For real, it's like YNot kick started a day that went through hyperdrive. We couldn't sit still for one minute, though we tried, because it was set after set after set of dopeness with a few interviews tucked in.

After YNot, Tommy Will stepped onto the main stage and he treated it like HE WAS the headliner. He dropped 21 Questions and the crowd went nuts. YNot joined him on stage and the energy amplified. Tommy Will is an artist. He's expressive with his word and movement, he plays to the crowd, and best of all he spits with so much passion. It was dope and only 3pm and Will.Ara had already proclaimed this would be his favorite set of the day.

Feeling more like the day was going to be special, we walked to the Studio One stage to see Vinney Mendez and Headlock. We caught the last two songs Vinney did. He stood on the floor of the room, which I think was the best way to handle that stage, just rapping. Necks in his vein bulging, he spit like a man determine to win over the crowd. And he did. The crowd dug it and rapped choruses with him. Teriyaki Gold’s chorus was forever cemented in my brain that day.

Headlock is the duo of IllSlur and Tom Johnson. Tom plays crunchy, distorted beats and IllSlur raps like he was baptized by the Beastie Boys. Despite complaining about sound trouble, IllSlur kicked some rhymes. He stretched the mic cord as far as it could go as he walked to the middle of the room surrounding himself with the audience like he was the sun and we were planets gravitating towards him. His energy was magnetic. Poor Tom played beats and yelled in the corner, and it was dope also, but IllSlur demands attention. Their sound is unique like the Death Grips and the small room showcased how it as a setting would impact the performance.

A common conclusion I drew from the fest is that many of the artists there could be stars tomorrow. They have the tracks, they have the look, and they have the charisma. Hopefully they get the breaks. Put those artists in front of a 1000, 5000, and they’re equally as ready to handle the crowd. As Will said, straight killers down there. Tucson has artists just waiting to break out. Cash Lansky was next for us and he was one of those dudes. Straight stage killer. Everything about him is magnetic and crazy. His hair is all over the place like his movement on the stage, and then he stops and hits the crowd with that smile. The crowd also sang along to every chorus and when I Got the Juice dropped, forget about it! It didn’t feel like 4pm in the afternoon. Again, it bears repeating I could’ve hung out at the main stage all day because it was packed full of Tucson’s finest.

I left, however, to the Studio One stage to catch a potion of Doni’s set. Doni has a unique sound I personally enjoy a lot and I wanted to see him live. It was cool. He gave his homies in Adobe House some shine and the sound troubles continued to plague that stage. Doni ultimately decided to throw his mic in frustrated rock star fashion.

After Doni, we recorded interviews with Cash Lanky and Lando Chill while waiting for some food. The food experience was my only gripe. I’ve told Pike what I thought the issue was so I won’t belabor the point here. I will only say I once thought Chinese food couldn’t be messed up. I was wrong.

The second half of the day begun after our interviews and so far I couldn’t believe the day I had already had. Only one set sucked during the first half. Only one. And the evening sets still had:

Rubix; Roqy Tyraid; Chezale; Shining Soul; Black One; EZGoin; Squad Deep; Big Ox; Roch; Jaca Zulu; Elijah Kilo; Marley B; Lando Chill; and of course, Murs, whose solo stuff and Living Legends work has always been some of my favorite.

At this point in the night, I stopped taking notes. This was too good to worry about writing and taking pictures. I just wanted to experience it. I wanted to fanboy out to live music. I wanted to celebrate because this was a festival. Jovial and celebratory. And I did. I remember Rubix going from house beats to hip hop beats to 80s hair metal and it all sounding outrageous on that loading dock. Jabee rapping with conviction and full of soul being the type of artist I want to hear every word and then read his lyrics later to capture the density of his thoughts. Roqy Tyraid following with the same type of lyrics only sped up to 120 WPMs. I still don’t understand how he manages to get out all those syllables without a backing track. But he’s a professional and spits like his life depends on it. Oh and his pop hit full of Disney references is so witty. Also look out for his track produced by Galore. I’m happy to see the Guild and the (Writers) Guild are collaborating. This is good, right?

Hahaha it's crazy I still have so much more to say. The day had already been chock full of memorable moments and straight stage killers. Like Black One on the Outdoor Stage! I like his music but it's an experience live. His track with Blaine Coffee on the hook sounds huge live. I caught EZGoin who brings a soulful, rapping and singing and just being an all around talented dude full of charisma and charm. I'm glad he finally dropped Oh My Goodness cause I've been singing it since the show.

The night for me finished up with Big Ox, who spit grimey in your face bars. I mean literally, he got up in the Doni’s Abobe House cremates and spit witty, dope bars. Put him in a time machine and drop him on Lennon Ave. in 1995 and he’d be right at home. The I caught Marley B on the main stage. He’s a tour de force, rapping fast and causing mass amounts of movement, literally not one head was still. Another memorable moment for me was during For the Likes when on stage we witnessed Marley, Jaca Zulu, Black One, Ripdee, and one other person I can’t remember vibing the fuck out. I mean literally going ape shit on stage, jumping, arms swaying. It was a sight to see. Again, it was a celebration and it felt like it.

For us, Lando Chill close out the night. He is plain and simple a charismatic, magnetic artist. And I mean artist. He's diverse in his sound and he sings and raps beautifully. He smiles, he vibes cool, and he has such a dope sound. Lando is hands down one of my favorite Arizona artists. After his Rap Van and his set at the Tucson Hip Hop Fest, I will never miss another live show if I can help it. You shouldn’t either.

It was truly an amazing show befitting of a festival. I lost myself in the jovial, celebratory moment Tucson Hip Hop was experiencing. The best of the best got on stage and the spotlight was theirs. They didn't mess up in that moment nor was the moment too big. Each deserved the shine they got.

And the brightest spotlight was saved for Tucson itself. The city showed up and celebrated the best artists doing it. Fans showed up to support. This wasn't a showcase of rappers, it was a party with the best doing it being straight killers. A cool moment for me came when I went to grab Cash Lansky for an interview. He was talking to a dad and a son. The son wasn't related to anyone nor friends with any artist. He genuinely liked Cash and was excited to meet him and with having seen him live. He said he loved hip hop and wished he could've gone to the Migos show that night. If he could've he would've went to both shows he said, but since it was sold out, he was happy he could experience the entire festival. I couldn’t concur more.

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