By Nicki Escudero
By Amy Silverman
By Brian Palmer
By Chris Parker
By Troy Farah
By Lauren Wise
By Lauren Wise
On a recent cold and rainy Thursday night, my girlfriend CooKie and I plan to hit a hot hip-hop weekly but not the one most people think of, which is "The Blunt Club" at Hollywood Alley in Mesa. With a crew like Emerg McVay, Pickster One, and Brad B, along with the constant crowds, Blunt Club seems pretty unassailable. Not many promoters book other hip-hop weeklies on Thursdays, let alone book them at a punk dive bar.
So when I heard there was this Thursday hip-hop thing called "Mic Fights" at J-Heads (formerly Jugheads) on East McDowell Road, I had to check it out. J-Heads is where I go to see raucous punk shows, guzzle 25-cent Pabst Blue Ribbons, and read walls covered with stickers that say things like "Keep America safe. Stab ravers in the face."
It's not exactly a hip-hop haven.
Security searches us at the door of J-Heads, even though CooKie's just wearing her glasses and a hoodie, and I resemble half a waif drowning in a leather jacket. "Yeah, I'm a bad motherfucker," I tell the guy as he waves the wand over my bony hips.
There's a cover charge option at the door. We can pay a $20 cover and get 25-cent U-Call-Its all night, or pay a $6 cover with usual bar prices.
I hate math, but I like drinking, so I opt for the first choice. We get bands of yellow "Caution" tape around our wrists, marking us as the only two people in the bar who think they'll drink enough 25-cent U-Call-Its to balance out the $20 cover charge.
Inside, CooKie and I meet Danielle Morgan, a short, robust brunette with twinkling blue eyes who runs a local hip-hop production company called Topp Notch Records. Morgan says she started booking these hip-hop weeklies at J-Heads about four months ago.
"You know that Blunt Club has pretty much had a monopoly on Thursdays for a long time, right?" I ask her.
"Yeah, I know," she says, with a bit of a blush. "We're trying to change that."
Why anybody would want to compete with Blunt Club is a mystery to me. I called Morgan later to clarify, because after the event, I still couldn't figure out why she'd go head-to-head with the Valley's longest-running weekly. Morgan explained that she'd been given a choice of Thursday or Sunday nights, and opted for Thursday because "Sunday is the end of the weekend and people don't really want to go out."
"Sure, we lose some people because of Blunt Club," Morgan said. "But Blunt Club is a whole other crowd of people they have more of the backpacker set, whereas we have more of an urban soul vibe in our hip-hop. The mood here is what makes it so great. There's a lot of love, and it's a supportive atmosphere; there's no gang bullshit or anything like that. It's a whole different scene here."
The scene here tonight is pretty low-key about 20 people, including J-Heads staff and the Topp Notch folks, linger around the bar and pool table, nodding their heads to the hip-hop beats on the sound system. A slender blond woman in a black dress is hunched over the jukebox. A mysterious bearded man in a suit is wandering around the bar with sunglasses on. J-Heads owner Tonya Copeland is walking around in a black-and-white-striped dress, greeting people.
Tonya's been trying to both preserve and expand upon the J-Heads reputation built by her late husband, staunch punk scene supporter Sid Copeland, and she's got a lot of faith in Topp Notch. "I'm open to all kinds of music," Copeland tells me as I finish off a vodka/Red Bull. "And these hip-hop nights give people a chance to see some local artists they may not have heard before."
Copeland's also a big fan of local R&B/hip-hop artist Bobkatt, who hosts the Topp Notch weeklies and has a debut album, Thug Seduction, coming out on the TN label early this year. Bobkatt's a charismatic crooner who sorta sounds (and looks) like a cross between Usher and Ice-T, and he also smells really good. I have plenty of time to chat with him, because it's 10:30 p.m., and the four acts slated to perform haven't shown up yet.
Bobkatt does his best to keep people entertained, spinning hip-hop hits by the likes of Eminem, Jibbs, and Snoop Dogg, and occasionally rapping or singing over some songs. Bobkatt's got a great, smooth R&B voice and some decent rhyme skills, but the energy of the crowd is ebbing quickly. Except for one huge black guy in khaki pants, dancing around and lip-synching on the empty stage, people have already retreated into their own amusements.
By 11:30, the crowd has dwindled even more, and Morgan informs us that the show won't start until midnight. At this point, our alcohol buzzes have come and gone, and CooKie wants to take a detour to the nearest Castle Megastore so I can pick out a late Christmas present. We arrange to leave J-Heads and come back around midnight.
I was confused by the hip-hop vibe (or at least the hope of a hip-hop vibe) at my favorite punk bar, but I didn't expect another of my hangouts, Castle Megastore, to hold surprises, too.