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And, of course, there's the KRS-One collaboration, "Hip-Hop Today & Forever." Justus had opened a show for KRS-One in Phoenix, and asked the MC to appear on his record. "He was like, 'I'm not Sony. Make me an offer. What you got?' And I said, 'I have this much,' and he said, 'All right, we'll make it happen,' Justus recalls. "And the first time we gave him the beat, we didn't hear back for, like, six months. And we were just like little kids, all waiting and excited. And he came back for a second performance and we asked him again, and he was, like, 'All right, you really do wanna do this, don't you? Send me the song again.' And so I e-mailed it to him, and we got it within a week."
Justus pauses to reflect on the first time he heard the track. "It was just cool to hear my name come out of his mouth — Jus-tus! KRS-One! It was crazy! I was like, oh, my God!"
"He's the godfather of hip-hop," Justus continues. "Any MC who says they didn't grow up on KRS-One is probably fucking garbage."
Justus says "Hip-Hop Today & Forever" is "my way of paying homage to hip-hop. Shouts-out to [local hip-hop artist] Melanin on that. Melanin was a large part of the process on that song. He wrote the chorus. Deonte and Melanin put that song together, and then KRS did his verse. We just came lyrical with it. It's a very poetic, punch-you-in-your-face type-song."
Other tracks on the album are much more personal. The song "Sagai Po," for example, chronicles an old rift between Justus and his wife, and includes recordings of his daughters saying, "Daddy, I miss you. I want you to live in my house again," and samples of actual, vitriol-filled voice mails his wife left for him. They've since reconciled, but Justus decided to leave the samples on the track. "That's not her," he says, dismissively.
The song being pushed to radio right now, though, is "Get Your A'z Up," and that's all about Justus' pride in his home state. The song references a hand gesture that's come to symbolize the Arizona hip-hop scene — two peace signs placed together sideways to form a triangular "A" shape. Just like the Atlanta hip-hop scene has its "A-town down" symbol, the West Coast has its "W" hand symbol, and Houston has its "fork" ("rock on" symbol), so Arizona's got the "A'z Up." Seemingly every local hip-hop artist from Attlas to Woodpile to Tha Formula has been flashing the sign onstage and in videos and photos.
Justus says he invented the "A" sign 10 years ago, after watching his cousins throw up gangster signs. "A'z up means Arizona love, Arizona pride. That's where I'm from — A'z Up," Justus says. "It's for everyone to show those motherfuckers, 'Hey, don't throw up that dub [W, for West Coast].' You know that's whack — little white kids throw their dub up for no reason. Make it mean something. It's Arizona. Rep your shit, don't rep something else, some imaginary shit — rep where you're from."
Part of Justus' plan for representing Phoenix is to host showcases "to find more acts that might be a good fit with the Rawkus brand." The first will be this Friday at Chasers, which also serves as an EP release party for Justus. Phoenix MC Kavy, also on the Rawkus roster, will be performing at the show, as will Fetti Profoun, Black1, and many more. "Rawkus lives in Arizona," Justus says.
"We're trying to represent AZ like it's never been repped before."