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The Valley seems to have finally come into its own within the sphere of hip-hop, with nary a night lacking a jam-packed beats and rhymes expo somewhere in town, and national touring acts hitting metro Phoenix all the time. "We're putting Arizona on the map," local promoter Adam "Dumperfoo" Dumper tells me on a recent Sunday night at the Sail Inn in Tempe, at the Flavor Shop hip-hop/jazz/soul weekly he throws. "We want Arizona to be known just as well as L.A."
Much like the wildly successful Blunt Club Thursdays at Hollywood Alley over which Dumper also presides, the Flavor Shop is going off. Hundreds of people are spread through the interior and across the rear patio while Shh, The Baby's Sleeping lays down its avant-garde grooves.
I'm sitting with Dumper and an assortment of the 'Nix's hip-hop impresarios -- Furious Styles Crew's de facto leader, House; Furious Styles member and Ill Phonix MC Johnny Castro; Mike Horowitz of the record label and promotion company Universatile Music; and Barry Goldwater III, of Goldwater Entertainment. Together, along with absent MC Ru-Ski of Morse Code, they're responsible for the mega-ambitious StreetDreams Cultural Festival coming this weekend to the Old Brickhouse Grill and monOrchid.
StreetDreams is bringing together all four elements of hip-hop -- graffiti, breaking, MCing and DJing -- for two days of battles, exhibitions and performances, including the regional DMC turntablist competition on Saturday, with the first day conveniently coinciding with the First Friday Artwalk. It's an unprecedented undertaking -- here or otherwise -- which is why it's taking a significant portion of the hip-hop community's activists and entrepreneurs to bring it off, and it also marks a turning point for Arizona.
As Dumper observes, Arizona's visibility has been steadily increasing over the past few years in worldwide hip-hop circles -- locals Drunken Immortals just returned from a European tour with indie stalwart Awol One, DJ Radar recently played a portion of his Concerto for Turntable in Latvia, and Dumper says that he doesn't even have to chase after acts to come to town and play the Blunt Club -- they're coming to him.
The cooperative effort they're calling StreetDreams is the next big step for Arizona, a chance for all involved in each of the four elements to show their shit at a major event. The plan is for it to be a biannual festival, with this being the inaugural get-the-bugs-out party.
As odd as it might sound to people not involved in the hip-hop community, the four elements of hip-hop don't cross paths as often as you'd expect. That's one reason House, who doesn't ordinarily get involved in event promotions outside of his yearly Furious Styles Crew anniversary party, has thrown his hat in the ring.
"The elements don't usually see each other," he says above the din of the crowd and passing trains. "We don't get an opportunity to be on the same plateau like it's supposed to be."
The blending of the individual elements' cultures, as well as the collective talents of these impresarios, is StreetDreams' most impressive goal. House calls the philosophy, "Each one teach one."
"That's the policy of hip-hop," he explains. "We're all from different villages -- go travel. Go to that other village, see what's going on over there, see how they're making their potatoes over there. Come back and bring it to our village and tell us how."
While the regional DMC competition on Saturday is a huge attraction -- the winner will compete in the national DMC turntablist competition -- there's an innovative reward for the champions of each element's battles: what the promoters are calling Dreambattle. The winners in their respective elements will get to call out a local to battle in public, whether it's a veteran who inspires them or someone they think needs to be put in their place.
Goldwater thinks that the competitive factor will raise individuals' aspirations in the game. "I think it's healthy for the community, any level of competition. It gets people motivated, it creates value on where you are at socially, if you're worse than this DJ or better than that one. It gives you a chance to showcase yourself, find out where you stand, as well as have a good time in the spirit of music and culture."
From an attendee's perspective, this won't simply be local aspiring artists getting up for the first time. Each day has a full slate of performances by the 'Nix's best artists scheduled, including Radar, Drunken Immortals, Cut Throat Logic, and reunion shows by Valley legends Know Qwestion, and Supermarket.
Promoting's always a risky business, as all the people gathered with me know all too well, but StreetDreams seems to me to be incapable of flopping. "We've got the main heads in hip-hop right here working together," Dumper says. "We all know hundreds of people; I know every person here right now."
House is more succinct about the event's prospects and the collective behind its intentions. "I believe in hip-hop. I believe in the love people have for hip-hop. Whether it's a million people or a hundred, it's gonna be a good-ass hip-hop party. It'll be good for Arizona."