I’m going to be clear from the jump. The 2017 Arizona Hip Hop Festival was dope for one reason. The Fest had a bunch of dope artists who have songs I want to hear live and those artists know how to perform them. Plain and simple. Respect the Underground put together a lineup of artists who can deliver on stage with the goods. From artists I planned to see to those who surprised me, from the moment I got to the festival I was entertained. And from my vantage point, I wasn’t the only one.
The biggest surprise to me was the number of fans. This year’s Fest appeared very well attended. Whereas last year a handful of fans, 10 to 20, would be at any given stage checking an artist, this year there were a lot more. I actually had to excuse my way through crowds of people at multiple stages to get to the front to take pictures. As a result, the energy was palpable.
The first act I checked was the Color 8 on the main stage. The Color 8 is a super tight 5 person band with rapper Ashton Vaughn Charles leading it. The 8 in their name stands for infinity and represents the genres of music the Color 8 performs. True to form they start with what can be described as a metal song complete with growls and solos. The guitarist at one point during the show leapt into the crowd and played a few chords. The crowd enveloped him, photographers rushed to take pics, and a general excitement ensued. The fest was off to a great start, I thought, as the guitarist ran and leaped back onto the stage while holding his guitar. Showmanship and musicianship and skills would be present at this years Fest.
Next, I walked through the back of the Comerica Theater seating where numerous vendors were stationed. One vendor sold a pair of Vans with ODB painted on one shoe and the Wu-Tang logo on the other pair. Various paintings on canvasses of rap artists, pop culture icons, and cultural figures were on display. All dope, all for sale. Culture was definitely on display at this years Fest.
Outside on the Timeless Vapes stage, I caught a couple of Delly Everyday’s songs. Delly is a straight up rapper. Alone on stage, Delly pressed play on his beats and used his voice to propel bar after bar of heat. The energy and passion in his voice and delivery was dope to see and hear. The stage was packed with a bunch of people rocking out. This packed stage near the entrance of Comerica on the sidewalk on 4th avenue and Washington was a bit of a problem area however. The area the crowd stood in, and that people walked through, to get to the stages on 4th ave and on Adams would get mad crowded because it was sandwiched between the Timeless Vapes stage and a vendor booth. As people walked by they would stop to check a performance causing a backup as others were typically trailing. I did so once as well to catch someone later lol. YOG Westwood, with a bunch of people on stage, performed a very impassioned version of Life, a track and video he released this year. The lyrics on Life are so specific and real and ones I feel. I put down my camera for most the track and just vibed out.
Around 7pm, the night kicked into another gear as the dopest acts began. The next couple hours included so many heavy hittas, I literally could only catch a couple songs and then I had to run to the next stage. Trugang hit the stage bearing the Truminati name. If you don’t know, Trugang is their name when they perform together. Truminati is their label run by Larry Lynn, of 10-missed calls on his cellphone fame. The gang of Lamar Crushin, Salty Brasi, and I-Dee (missing Eddie Wellz as he’s in Michigan recording an album with his band, I think) are bad-fucking-ass. Taking turns, they delivered cut after cut. Salty Brasi, with his usual hilarious self, told the crowd to flex during a track and then yelled at the crowd to fllleeexxx. Lamar Crushin dropped Neva Gets Old, which true to its name sounded as fresh as the day the video dropped many months ago. And with his hat flipped up bearing his name, I-Dee did what emcees do, he ripped verses and moved the crowd.
I exited after a couple songs from each dude because Cash Lansky had already started on the Gldn Artist stage located on Adams street. I got there in enough time to catch Juice, Cash’s most fire song off his 2017 release, The Cool Table. Cash came into the crowd and spit most of Juice with people jumping all around him and singing the chorus. It was super tight. Juice, if you haven’t heard it, should be Arizona Hip Hop’s anthem in 2017. AZ has the juice. I’m not talking attention, doing big numbers, or making mad cash – though some are doing alright. I’m talking AZ has something fun and exciting and that has a ton of energy behind it. It was definitely apparent at the Fest, as this year just felt different. Other years felt like a showcase for other artists and artists’ homies. This year felt celebratory.
Next on the same stage was Marley B who ripped through Grow, For the Likes with Jaca Zulu, and another track I didn’t write down in my notes. As Murs said at the 2016 Tucson Hip Hop Fest, Marley does this super fast rapping thing, but it’s delivered in this tight stop and go rhythm. And he’s a bloody murderer on stage. If I told you he could rock any stage from a couple hundred to 50k, you’d might not believe me, but I believe it.
I wanted to catch Delquan/Iroc and Mega Ran on the 4th ave stage but when I got there I learned it was running behind. Typically this is problematic but on this night it gave me a chance to catch Will Claye. I had never heard his music but I knew from hearing it on Nick Norris’ Cleanup Crew radio show that Will competed in the Olympics in track and field. It wasn’t a fact that made me want to catch his set but man I’m glad I did. He had one of those bring my whole crew on stage and have them turn the fuck up type performances. The song bumped. The crowd was into it and his crew provided the rest as they bounced and swayed. It was a dope performance to catch and one of those moments where the Festival felt like a festival - a moment where I wandered past a stage and discovered a dope artist, who I had no intention of catching.
As it worked out, this lateness allowed me to go catch Benji Fly and De La Preme on the Truminati stage. I watched Benji’s performance from the back while chopping it up with Larry Lynn and Pike Romero. From the back, I had the vantage of seeing the crowd was densely packed for Benji. He rocked through the Come Up, a track he made with Bouji. Later he brought UPRHND on stage for a track. Benji’s music translate so well live and as I’ve said before, he’s so energetic and tall it’s hard not to watch him. After Benji, De La Preme came out and started with Necessary, a track with enough bass to wake the neighbors. DeLa is a star in the making. With a dope voice and delivery, his trademark “skrrrt” and a super amped live show, he brings it all. The crowd was wild. DeLa matched or exceeded that energy throughout and did what he’s been doing consistently for all of 2017, killed the stage. The man is an AZ treasure and like Lil B must be protected at all costs.
I ran outside hoping that the lateness of the Cloud 9 stage would allow me to catch Mega Ran. Boy was I lucky as I made it in enough time to catch the last two songs. The first isn’t a song as much as it’s a showman showcasing his skills. See Mega is such a dope rapper that he can literally rap on the spot about anything the audience holds up. He tells the crowd just that – put anything in the air so he can include it in a freestyle. And the crowd does – Darth Vader keychain, a shoe, anything. Over the Bodak Yellow beat, Mega kicked verses concluding bars by naming the item. It’s a dope skill that involves the crowd in the performance and it hits. So many ohhhhs and ahhhhs after each bar were yelled. After this Mega Ran performed Push. I’m not sure if it was intentional or simply Mega’s favorite closing song but Push made me think about the entire Fest. First, the song is about pushing through everything to do what you love. Specifically, it’s about all the things Mega Ran pushed through to become the living off rap and touring/internationally recognized artist he is. On it Mega raps, “Yo I change for work so I can work for change / And make the change work for me, its a hurtful thing / Getting paid on Friday and broke by the weekend / Depressed, I cant do much else but sleep in.” This is something I know a lot of artists can relate to. I know it’s not easy following a dream. But this night, I thought how cool it must be for artists rocking the Fest to be on stage, rocking a crowd at Comerica Theater. It must’ve felt for some like they were a step closer to fulfilling a dream. I know it would’ve for me. Mega Ran finished Push with all it’s realness and deep lyrics and I could’ve been done. The night had won me over.
But I had a couple more acts to catch on the Gldn Artist stage. Jaca Zulu was the first and he did his thing. I don’t think it was received well by the crowd but he jumped around stage and gave it his all as emotively as he always does. I’ve seen him rock stages in front of hundreds and on this night despite it not being as packed, he brought the same energy and intensity. Consummate professional, for real. After Jaca came Woodro, a 17 year old rapper from Tucson, with serious rhyme skills and charisma. He invited the crowd forward, came to the front of the stage and started rapping his face off with a smile. The crowd grew as he rapped. With their cellphones out taking pictures, recording, and heads nodding, they were totally eating it up. Woodro brought them in with funny stage banter and a delivery that while fast, was very accessible. He’d end bars with a woah at times like he was celebrating how dope what he just said was. And it was. His music is good but it was the type of performance that made me appreciate Woodro the artist more and want to go back and listen to everything I had just heard live to relive the moment. Definitely a standout performance to me amongst so many dope artists. And then I thought I was done. End on a great note.
But I went to say peace to Pike and he asked had I ever heard Mike Checks. I know of him I said, but no, never heard him. Pike said, “you gotta stick around.” If you know Pike at all, you know he has a great ear for music. He doesn’t co-sign bullshit. So I was sticking around. The set time sheet said Mike Checks but like 10 dudes jumped on stage, including Rey who's a super dope lyricist. What happened next is again why festivals are great. Mike Checks and Rey and the rest of the crew made the corner of 5th ave and Adams feel like any block in America where rap is the universal language. It doesn’t matter where people come from, what socioeconomic background, or what language they speak, rap is a language we all understand. With raw emotion and serious skills, the crew passed mics back and forth and back again and spit with the vigor and passion of all their rap predecessors.
As I was walking out of the festival, I passed by a stage where the Terrorist Angel Babies from Nepture were performing. I’m not a fan of their music. But plenty of other people are. The stage was packed with people wildin’ out so I decided to stay and listen. Still wasn’t something I’d bump but the crowd was into it and the dudes were giving a shit ton of energy. It started to become fun watching them. Their music translates well to a festival stage because it’s basically party music around all kinds of craziness. I then went back to the Truminati stage where Vibelane was closing. Their music is in stark contrast to Terrorist Angel Babies. They kick jazzy raps. It's also fun music but it's introspective and observational. I left thinking about how diverse rap is now a days and how beautiful that makes it.
As the number one music genre, rap has become so diverse and meaningful to people on so many different levels. As one of the four elements, rapping is one of the most important aspects of the culture. So to put on a hip hop festival, one important thing to do is to put on dope rappers. Simple, right? Now I know the word dope is subjective so at a festival keep things diverse. Make it easy for any type of rap head to find something they’re in to. Personally I’m into everything, which makes covering the hip hop mostly easy. Respect the Underground embraced that diversity and in the end succeeded in putting on a good festival for one reason and one important reason alone – the quality of the artists who performed was dope on many different levels to many different people.
I know there’s room for improvement but isn’t there always? I can nitpick about this or say RTU can do that better or that artist was missing but it’s not necessary here. You know why? Because I went to the 2017 Arizona Hip Hop Fest and was entertained. And from what I saw a bunch of others were too.