A Hot Ghetto Mess of Hip-Hop, Art, and B-Boys: The 10-Year Journey of The Blunt Club
The current Blunt Club crew (from left): Pickster One, Element, Thriftshop, and Adam "Dumperfoo" Dumper.
See also: Tempe's Wet Paint Artist Supply to Close in July If Adam Dumper is feeling a little melancholy right now, there's a good reason. This week has a bit of a "best of times/worst of times" vibe for the local hip-hop impresario and street artist, who's better known by his alter ego Dumperfoo.
Three days ago, his longtime employer Wet Paint announced its closure after 11 years of selling graf art supplies and functioning as an epicenter of urban and hip-hop culture in the Valley. Meanwhile, Dumper will be celebrating the triumphant 10-year anniversary of The Blunt Club starting tonight, which served as Phoenix's premiere hip-hop night for exactly a decade. Leaning against a rack of canvases inside Wet Paint, Dumper reflects on the event's longevity and how it contrasts with the impending closure of the art store.
"Yeah, it's pretty gnarly," Dumper says. "This place has been like my corporate headquarters. It's been intertwined with The Blunt Club and has been a big reason why the night has gone on as long as it has. This is where I took calls to book artists, I had stuff sent here and met artists here. It blows that it's getting shut down."
But after the doors at Wet Paint close, The Blunt Club will keep going strong. It's been the Valley's pimpest hip-hop joint and a showcase for rap artistry, turntable wizardry, and fly street culture that's survived financial peril and moving to four different venues. You could fill a novel with a list of all the influential artists and acts who've performed at the event, illustrated by all the dope art that's been created over the years by Dumper and others.
In honor of the pair of 10-year celebrations that will take place over the next two nights, New Times recently interview Dumper and longtime Blunt Club DJs Pickster One and Mr. Hyder about the history of the event and all the crazy shit that's gone down over the last decade.
The old Priceless Inn in Tempe.
Back in the Day Adam Dumper: Keith Nichols started Priceless Inn right before the Blunt Club started in '02, was on tour with Emerg [McVay] and Eminem, because Keith used to manage Bionic Jive and they were opening for Eminem. And they were talking about starting this club night with spoken word, because it was big at that time with Def Poetry Jam on TV. So Keith and Emerg came at me and were like, "Yo, we gotta do this trip-hop night with spoken word and live art called The Blunt Club." I was working at Wet Paint at the time, doing shows and promotions, and was like, "Cool." I booked all the DJs and acts and went with it and have been running with it ever since.
Mr. Hyder: I was one of the first resident DJs there, one of the original four with Dumper, Keith, and Emerg. Back then, we wanted it to have a lounge vibe, like something cool for people to come chill out at that wasn't necessarily a show. And it stayed in the form for a couple years before we turned up the heat on the music. Back in the day though, it had more of a creative vibe, like a lot of people would go there and write and draw. Me, Organic, and Rest in Peace Eskimo would hang out and play dominoes for a couple hours while DJs were spinning Portishead, Massive Attack, and like downtempo kind of grooves.
Pickster One: It was raw. I went to The Blunt Club for years before being part of it, but I remember it being all downtempo, jazzy, trip-hop with poetry. And then it slowly began shifting to hip-hop. They started booking live acts to go along with the poets, and the hip-hop began taking over. The DJs started out playing dancey breakbeats and the b-boys started performing and it evolved from there.
Bionic Jive member and longtime Blunt Club host Emerg McVay
Emerg McVay...The Host With the Most Dumper: He's definitely been a big part of this thing. We had Bionic Jive there a few times. Or we'd have Emerg rock a solo set by himself, or me and him would host the poetry together. That was fun just talking shit with him to the crowd. He's an awesome host. Merge brought the whole vibe of it [back] in the day, keeping everybody happy and making sure they're into the show. I miss not having Merge there, cause I don't want to talk to the crowd. I just want to sit behind the turntables and hide.
Pickster: He's the kinda person that just demands attention. If he talks, you listen. He's a funny guy. He's traveled all over the world with Eminem and Proof and a ton of other tours. He's just a seasoned pro. You don't tell him what to do, you give him a list of what we've got going on that night and he handles it like a professional. A good host is like gold.
Poetry and Rhymes Dumper: A year into it at P.I., I started bringing in stuff I wanted to see, like my friends and groups that I knew. Just throwing in DJs and people I saw at hip-hop shows. "Hey, I heard you have The Blunt Club going on, can you throw me on?" That was before Doug Quick was working with me in the booking. Most of the poets that we had doing spoken word were MCs spitting poetry one night and then come back and rap on other nights. So it went hand-in-hand. Our crowds started getting more hip-hop, but for a while there we had a mixture of old school folks to hip-hop dudes to punkers. It's always been a melting pot of different kinds of people.
Collaborating With the Hip-Hop Scene Dumper: In the early days, I was frequenting club nights like Kill Mill and collaborating with Drunken Immortals. And some of those nights evolved from what we were doing, and some of what we did evolved from what they were doing. Even Z-Trip and his stuff back in the day influenced what we did at Blunt Club. It also was inspired by a night I was doing with [artist] Jim Mahfood called Move 98 and I'd buy art supplies and spray paint and everybody would paint the back of the fence line at Boston's. And there were DJs and hip-hop. That was probably how I met Keith and Emerg and how they got me to do The Blunt Club.
Pickster: There's been a few Thursdays that popped up but none of 'em were in direct competition with Blunt Club. Even when like Groove Candy moved to Thursdays, people tried to make that a big deal out of it. But we've always been homies and play each other's nights, it's a whole different scene.
Blunt Club residents past and present: Tricky T (left) and Pickster One.
Turntable Titans Dumper: We've always had great DJs over the years. Tricky T, Element, DJ Daddy Rich from 3rd Base was a resident. And Hyder and Organic were in the mix for years.
Pickster: Each resident always brought something different to The Blunt Club. Hyder is the dude that always surprises you. You may think you'd know what to expect from him, and then he'd just pull something out of nowhere and you'd be like, "Where the fuck did you get this?" He was the dude who never played the typical hip-hop classics. He'd bring out some funk, old school stuff, or cater to the b-boys at any given time.
Dumper: Definitely Pickster brings a lot of variety of music to the table, but he's still playing stuff that's the core of our night. He can play from moombahton to reggae to dancehall to hip-hop to b-boy stuff to funk or whatever and mix it all together and it seems like the perfect ride. I can say, "Hey Pickster, we're gonna do an '80s thing tonight," and - boom - he's got it. Or a '90s night, or an all dancehall set, he can handle it. He's got tons of styles, but there's always something fluid to the whole thing.
Pickster: Element's probably one of the best scratch DJs in Arizona. Him and M2, those dudes are the cleanest scratchers around. I'm okay, but honestly, those dudes are way better. We had D-Styles, who's one of the best scratchers in the world, and he saw Element and was like "Woah!" And Tricky is one of my favorite to watch because he has these crazy transitional mixes and a real unorthodox way of mixing records. I don't know if he picked it up from [his mentor Z-Trip], but he's really clean. We were lucky to have Radar as a resident and he was awesome. He's always fun to play with.
Souls of Mischief perform at the Blunt Club
The Alternative Hip-Hop Tip Pickster: We've always had that classic hip-hop feel that everyone grew up on and loves. We've just always kept that. We never really went for the mainstream, newest Top 40 stuff. We occasionally mix it in because once in awhile there is good Top 40 songs, but for the most part we've always maintained a focus on good hip-hop. Really it's our crowd who want to hear that stuff and come back because they know what they're gonna get. It's funny because we've had some of the best DJs come through and they try to do what they're used to, like rank-and-file shit, and we tell 'em, "Just play some hip-hop." Sure enough, by the end of the set they say, "I haven't been able to do that for years." Its just classic party hip-hop you don't hear elsewhere, man.
Dumper: And we do a lot of live stuff too that's the newest in underground hip-hop every week. You never knew what to expect, whether it's a jazz band coming through or a reggae group, or electronic stuff. It's been a mixture of all different types of stuff. We had a symphony violinist [Daniel Bernard Roumain] last year who was killer and did classic hip-hop songs on violin.
B-Boys and Nunchuks Pickster: We've had some of the best b-boys in the world come though, because they know if they show up at any given time the DJs at The Blunt Club can throw it down. Furious Styles Crew have been big supporters over the years and still come out.
Dumper: One of my best things to happen there was when a wushu kung-fu team came in with swords, staffs, knives, and nunchuks. And they did a whole show in the middle of Hollywood Alley, where dudes were kicking the ceiling and like flinging these friggin' staffs with swords on the end. It was the craziest night. There were people were gathered around in a b-boy circle while they're knife fighting at the bar.
It was the coolest shit I've ever seen. Those guys are like Buddhist monk ninjas who were killing it for like 20 minutes. Luckily no one died. It was our first couple of weeks at Hollywood Alley and I tried to bring in the weirdest shit imaginable back then, like "I want a kung-fu team at The Blunt Club." We were kinda worried about things, like if we had the right insurance. Ross loved it and was laughing the entire time.
A typical Blunt Club crowd.
Theme Nights and Special Guests Pickster: The theme nights are fun, like we did A Tribe Called Quest versus De La Soul [one week]. That was dope. We did East Coast versus West Coast with basically two sets of turntables. One setup would play East Coast and the other setup would do West Coast. And Dumper drew and shit, like some big giant Eastside and Westside hand signs that battled it out.
Hyder: I really liked it when Grupo Fantasma, a 13-piece Latin band from Texas came out and gave the Blunt a whole new vibe. And a whole bunch of new people came to check out the music.
Dumper: For me, it's always been about some of the classic hip-hop acts we've hosted like Souls of Mischief Or Jeru the Damaja, that was a great night. I could go for days. Digable Planets was one of the biggest for me. I knew when we started this thing out I wanted to bring out Pharcyde and Digable Planets, two of the groups from the 90s that I grew up skating to and listened to every day.
Pickster: We had Black Sheep and became friends with Dres and DJ'd for him a couple times and we became homies. That was awesome. And he'd call up Doug and want to come out go golfing. It was like, yeah, I'm going golfing with Dres. Wild stuff. Afrika Bambaataa came through and was all over the place had a great time. He was playing electronica and Baltimore club music. It was so funny. It's like these icons you looked up to your entire life and they're down to earth good people.
Chuck D. of Public Enemy at Hollywood Alley in 2006
The Night Public Enemy Stopped By Pickster: Their concert at the Marquee was cancelled and they had a signing at Atomic Comics on the westside and Doug, Dumper, and me went by to check it out. Doug was like, "Hey we've got a night we've been doing for years and it's the real deal hip-hop spot in AZ. Would you want to come down?" Their guy was like, "We only have to ask one person," and he whispered in Chuck D.'s ear and he said, "We'll do it."
We didn't know if they were going to show up, it was all on Chuck D.'s word and we were a little worried. We sent out text messages and put it out on MySpace and by the time we got from Atomic Comics over to Hollywood Alley, the club was completely sold out and there was like 200 people lined up outside. And sure enough, around midnight there was this bang on the back door, it swung open and Public Enemy's security came in with flashlights, started moving people around and swatted cigarettes out of people's hands. And Chuck D. came in with 'em. It was crazy. Oh my God.
Dumper: It was like people were literally standing on the tables at Hollywood Alley. They played for like an hour and a half. It just so happened that Drunken Immortals were playing the same night so there was a whole band already setup on stage so they played with a live band. Flavor Flav did like a 10-minute drum solo. And they played "By the Time I Get to Arizona," which they hadn't done since a U2 concert back in the day. I saw a girl in the front faint, like Beatles style.
A packed house at The Blunt Club
New Venues and Big Problems Dumper: Because of the venue size we had to get a bigger venue we moved it to Hollywood Alley in 2005. Ross [Wincek] is an awesome guy. We had some of my favorite times there. It was good food, good people, and an anything goes kinda thing over there. Some of our best times and our best shows. Crazy people showing up all the time. You never knew what was gonna happen. It was sold out every week. The reason we went to Club Red in 2008 was because it was around the time that Ross' mom passed away and they were having some financial problems [at Hollywood Alley] and we thought it might be smart to move. We probably should've stayed there.
Pickster: We've coulda thrown in the towel a couple times if we wanted to. For instance, when it was Club Red. It was just a big venue to fill. And for a year and a half we filled the place with 800 people every week. It went good at that spot for a while. I lost count at the number of times we packed the place. Some of the shows, the line was all the way to the Jack in the Box. And then when the economy started dipping, people couldn't afford to go to big name shows every week our attendance started dropping. And now we're a free night at the Yucca.
Dumper: There's been a few times when I wanted to. Me and Doug went into debt bringing in a couple of big shows. We were trying to do a national acts every week and fill an 800-person venue and that started hurting our pockets and our pride. We were trying to do something cool that people weren't supporting. And we were trainwrecking as the economy was getting really bad.
The Legacy of the Blunt Club: Hyder: I would easily say we were the premier hip-hop night in Arizona. There were some other cats out there doing some things, but the amount of people we brought to The Blunt Club -- from Black Sheep to the Hieroglyphics to Roc Raida -- nobody else in Arizona was doing that. I've had DJs worldwide tell me there's not vibe like at The Blunt Club. Just the art, the b-boys, and the DJs, and the way that way that everyone's cohesive with one another, whether you're a painter, or a breakdancer, or a rapper...it doesn't compare to anywhere else. We booked internationally known artists and gave them a taste of Arizona. "Hey, Arizona is not a sleepy pudding, we get down out here too."
Pickster: It's got this special vibe that doesn't happen anywhere else [in Arizona]. I'm sure there are other nights somewhere in other places in the United States that are similar, but most people who come through Arizona say there's nothing like it.
The Blunt Club's 10-Year Anniversary celebrations take place tonight at Yucca Tap Room in Tempe and on Friday at Hollywood Alley in Mesa. Both events start at 8 p.m. Admission is $5.
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