At one time, specifically a few decades ago, Public Enemy used to loathe Arizona. Vehemently. (Shit, they even dropped a notorious diss track putting our entire state on blast.) You really can’t blame ’em, given the hip-hop group’s rocky history with Arizona.
Back in the late ’80s, former governor (and all-around bigot) Evan Mecham nixed MLK’s birthday as a paid state holiday. Years later, voters did the same via a statewide ballot measure, leading Public Enemy frontman Chuck D. to dub us a “muthafuckin’ racist-ass state” and pen the controversial song “By the Time I Get to Arizona.” (The equally controversial music video infamously depicted a Mecham look-alike being offed by a car bomb.)
And while Public Enemy maintained their grudge for years afterward, including walking offstage while opening for U2 at Sun Devil Stadium in 1992 after only playing “By the Time I Get to Arizona,” it’s softened considerably since then, especially after an official MLK holiday was enacted weeks later.
Public Enemy’s been back here multiple times since, including packing the Marquee Theatre last summer. Their wildest and most memorable Valley gig didn’t happen at some cavernous venue, however, but rather at the now-defunct Mesa rock dive Hollywood Alley exactly 10 years ago this week.
On December 7, 2006, Chuck D., Flavor Flav, Professor Griff, and the rest invaded long-running local hip-hop night the Blunt Club. It was an impromptu gig that saw Public Enemy perform many of its classics for a crowd of more than 500 that crammed into the 200-person venue.
It was raucous and unforgettable, and remains the biggest night in the Blunt Club’s 14-year history and the greatest “get” ever for any Valley hip-hop event. And a decade later, Blunt Club’s promoters remain amazed they managed to pull it off.
“It still seems pretty fucking unbelievable,” says the Blunt Club’s Adam Dumper.
In honor of the show’s 10th anniversary, New Times spoke with those who were in attendance for an oral history recounting how it all went down. (Note: Some quotes have been condensed and edited for brevity and clarity.)
Adam Dumper, Blunt Club co-founder: It all started when me and Doug Quick saw that Public Enemy was going to be at the old Atomic Comics by Metrocenter.
Doug Quick, former Blunt Club booker: Public Enemy had a comic book out at the time and had an in-store signing. It was a big deal because Flavor Flav’s VH1 show, Flavor of Love, was big at the time, and they were also performing out in the parking lot.
Mattlocks, DJ, The Beat 101.1 FM: There were just all these people there that came by to meet Chuck and meet the guys. It was packed.
Pickster One, longtime Blunt Club DJ: Their concert at the Marquee [Theatre] that night wound up being canceled, but they were still doing this signing that Doug, Dumper, and me went to check out.
Quick: We really didn’t go down there with the intention of hitting them up; we just wanted to see Public Enemy. And as we’re sitting there, I went, “Man, Public Enemy’s in our town, they’re not playing a show, and we run a hip-hop night that’s going off tonight.” So I started asking people who the tour manager was and got sent from one person to the next until I got to the actual manager and told him, “We have a weekly and it’s gonna be packed.”
Dumper: Doug handled most of the talking because he’s a gift of gab dude like that.
Quick: The manager seemed pretty into it and said, “Lemme get back to you.” Then he found me later and said, “Lemme introduce you to Chuck to talk about this.” And I was like, “Damn.”
Dumper: The guys from X Clan were there and they’re homies of ours, so they kind of smooth-talked [Chuck D.] on the bus before we got to talk to him.
Quick: The manager took me behind the shop to meet Chuck and we talked.
Dumper: We offered them what we imagined we could pull out of our ass that night, a couple thousand maybe. We’re like, “You wanna play instead of driving to the next city? When’s the next time you’re going to be able to do ‘By the Time I Get to Arizona’ in Arizona in front of a hip-hop crowd?”
Quick: [Chuck] was like, “Yeah, yeah, that sounds good, only problem is, we’re traveling with a full band and we wouldn’t want to just do a few songs.” Well, we already had that covered.
Pickster: It just happened that Drunken Immortals were playing that night already, so we had the setup for an eight-piece band going. It just worked out.
Dumper: So they go and do their set and still haven’t told us whether they’re in or not, and halfway through Chuck announces, “Hey, after this, we’re going to be at the Blunt Club.” And me and Doug went, “Oh, shit.”
Quick: While I was talking people up, Dumper had been calling up friends in Tempe to get a bunch of MySpace posts ready in case I pulled it off.
Dumper: We just hit everybody up on MySpace, because it was that era, and put out the word, and we had telephones going and calling everybody and telling ’em to text everybody else.
Mattlocks: We were in the car coming back from Atomic Comics when Dumper texted me about how [Public Enemy] was going to be at the Blunt Club tonight. And I was like, "No way."
Tricky T, local DJ: I was working another gig when got a text from Dumper and was like, "Oh, shit." And I told them at that other gig, “Sorry, I gotta go." Because how often do you get to see a group like Public Enemy in a small dive like Hollywood Alley?
Mattlocks: I was working for what was then Power 92.3 at the time and I immediately texted a bunch of the jocks and said, "Hey, there's going to be a surprise show with Public Enemy" and I vaguely remember them saying they were going to talk about it on air. It was spreading like wildfire.
Todd Minnix, vocalist/guitarist of Tempe band Fred Green: I was working at the Alley then, and didn’t hear about it until I got to there that night. One of the other Blunt Club guys came in early for setup and said, “I think [Public Enemy] is going to show up and play.” I was like, “What?”
Ross Wincek, co-owner, Hollywood Alley: It was like four hours’ notice. I think Dumper had called the day staff and I didn’t find out until about 7 p.m. I used to sleep ’til then.
Dumper: By the time we got from Atomic Comics over to the club in Mesa, word had already spread. There was a 300-400 person line out front and we were like, ‘Here we go.’
Minnix: That line was insane. It went across the parking lot and down Baseline [Road] all the way across the [Loop 101] freeway.
Mattlocks: You really didn't know the enormity of it until you pulled up.
Quick: Ross pretty much high-fived us when we walked through the door. Security looked like they wanted to punch me, going “What did just you do? We’re not prepared for this.” It was so crazy packed, people on shoulders, people standing on the booths. Probably double capacity.
Dumper: We couldn't let any people in after awhile. There were still lines down the road. I'm surprised we didn't get shut down.
Michael "Mic Cause" Cosentino, vocalist, Drunken Immortals: When we got there at 9 o’clock, the place was wall-to-wall with people. It was hard to believe. Like, “Public Enemy’s going to show up here, really?” People might’ve thought it was a prank.
Pickster: We had no idea if they’d show. Everything happened so quick, it didn’t seem for real. We were DJing ,and Drunken Immortals were there, and I didn’t think it was going to happen. Sometime after 11 o’clock or so, there’s pounding on the back door and in comes their security, the S1W’s, with flashlights, and they start moving people out of the way, and we’re like, “Oh, this is really going down.”
Wincek: It was funny, they had a bunch of big, muscular security dudes worried about people rushing the stage because we didn't have a fence or anything between the crowd and the stage. I told them it was okay, my crowds behaved.
Cosentino: And then in walks Chuck D., and he starts doing all those old-school joints: “Nation of Millions,” “Fight the Power,” and “Bring the Noise.”
Dumper: It was amazing. They did all their classics from beginning to end, even “By the Time I Get to Arizona,” which they hadn’t played in Arizona since with U2 at ASU. It was a trip.
Minnix: It was just electric in that room.
Dumper: They introduced Flav a quarter of the way through. Chuck D. did a couple tracks and then said, “Let’s bring out Flavor Flav,” and everyone went bananas. People see Flavor Flav and they bug out. Some chick even fainted.
Mattlocks: Nobody could really believe that Chuck and Flav were really going to show up. And when they hit the stage, it was just crazy.
Quick: I remember Flav was just super weirded out being that close to the crowd for the first song or two. And I remember Chuck walking over to him and going, “Chill out, man, chill out. It’s gonna be good.” They just weren’t used to people being all on ’em like that.
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Dumper: It was amped but everybody was cool, just rapping along to every word. Flavor Flav actually jumped on the drums and did a 10-minute solo, which was fresh.
Quick: Afterwards, I was behind the venue talking to Chuck about it. He hugged me three or four times and thanked us for putting it together. He’s like, “This is so unexpected. A couple people tried to talk me out of doing this, but I felt good about it and gave it a shot.”
Pickster: If you ask anybody what the craziest night of Blunt Club ever was, the first thing they'll probably say is that Public Enemy show.
Dumper: It was definitely a high point for the Blunt Club. Definitely a highlight of a lifetime.