The Arizona Roadhouse Brewery, situated prominently at the corner of Apache and Terrace in Tempe, is an aesthetically pleasing and fairly sophisticated brew pub -- copper tanks staring conspicuously out of the glassed façade, an oak bar with brass railing, expensive cigars resting enticingly in a bar-top humidor, award-winning beer on tap. Certainly not the type of joint where one would expect to find Arizona's new-school hip-hop community convening weekly. But appearances are deceiving, and on Tuesday nights, the Arizona Roadhouse is transformed from a normally placid, somewhat yuppified environ into the latest epicenter for a new generation of burgeoning Valley hip-hop artists.In January, the bar known for its Tempe rock acts and staid open-mike nights introduced turntablists into the mix. To amplify its already popular "1-2 Punch" discount drink night, owner Shawn Kelly and sound engineer Devin Kelley conspired to initiate an entirely new facet of the Roadhouse's entertainment agenda. Two relatively unknown DJs -- Stefascope and My Friend Andy -- were recruited to put a new spin on the Roadhouse's repertoire.
Four weeks ago, the "1-2 Punch" night landed its second jab in the hip-hop arena -- the addition of the five-piece outfit (two MCs, one DJ, plus bass and drums) Drunken Immortals to the regular lineup. The Immortals had been playing at Boston's on Tuesday nights for some time, but with its members spending most of their preshow hours at the Roadhouse checking out the turntable wizardry of Stefascope and Andy, the move was logical. "I come here anyway when we're not playing -- I enjoy the food, the ambience," drummer Jonas Hurst explains. "And I like that it's not a dance club, it's better than the previous bar we were playing at, plus we're making more money and getting cheaper drinks."
Any bar that puts on hip-hop acts on Tuesday nights has one major issue to contend with -- the popular "Funky Cornbread," the brain child of internationally acclaimed DJ Z-Trip featuring DJs Tige and Tricky T at Nita's Hideaway, also on Tuesday nights. Hindsight being 20/20 and all, the Roadhouse would have been exponentially better off putting their DJs on a different night, but the idea that the two hip-hop night showcases are at odds is a notion that the artists and the owners of the bar reject. "I know they do an awesome job over there, and that's probably the most established hip-hop night of the scene," Kelly says, "but I guess we're just glad to be mentioned in the same breath."
DJ Tige, who until beginning his recent stint at Nita's was both a supporter and collaborator with Andy and Stefascope, has nothing but props for the competition's skills. "It's just kind of lame that we play on the same night, but it's not really competition, though." Prior to the introduction of Funky Cornbread, Tige was a regular guest at Roadhouse Tuesdays, and Andy and Stefascope would show up at Tige's former Thursday night residency at Tempe's Adriatic Restaurant to throw down on the Technics.
In the last year, Arizona's hip-hop kids have come out of the woodwork like a cockroach invasion. Aficionados like Morse Code (the DJ/MC collective that hosts the "Wicca Wicca Wednesdays" at Billy Gordon's in Tempe); the Drunken Immortals; and DJs Tige, Tricky T, Drunk Jeff, Rik the Mole, Mattallica, Megadef and Fact have been in attendance in recent months, a sign of respect and unity that's helped cement a movement that's both self-supporting and intertwined.
On a "1-2 Punch" night, there's no telling who will show up and jump on the turntables or microphone. Andy and Stefascope frequently collaborate with the Drunken Immortals onstage; Drunk Jeff and Rik the Mole are regular guests; two weeks ago, Morse Code showed up to bust rhymes alongside the house DJs; there's even been talk of collaboration with members of Tempe trash-rock kings the Daggers, who are never absent from the "1-2 Punch" (though we suspect that has much to do with the dollar-beer factor).
MC Cause of the Drunken Immortals explains that "we're trying to make a community out of it. I really like seeing this unity. We're pushing positivity; we're not talking about big ballin' G shit, we're coming as the new generation of Arizona hip-hop." Every artist interviewed for this story expressed similar sentiments. "We like for everybody to be at everybody else's nights to see what's going on," My Friend Andy explains. "It's more than just inspirational, it's about supporting this whole Tempe DJ scene."
Because of the time conflict with Funky Cornbread, Roadhouse management is pondering switching the "1-2 Punch" to a different weeknight, a move that would be pragmatic for all involved. "I'd definitely be showing up constantly if they changed nights," Tige says. "I've known them (Andy and Stefascope) for a while, and they get better and better every day. They play some wacky shit; they keep people guessing."
The skills on display at the Roadhouse Tuesdays go beyond conventional definitions of hip-hop. My Friend Andy and Stefascope's chemistry is innate -- the two bought their first turntables together three years ago and live in the same house. Though beats and rhymes are definitely a vital element of their show, everything from Rush to Built to Spill to the Cure gets thrown in the mix, as well as jazz, soul and blues. Andy laughs at the mention of their offbeat sets: "We're not trying to be different just to be different . . . we're just different, y'know?"
Similarly esoteric, the Drunken Immortals combine elements of jazz and funk in their hip-hop mix, with a drummer who rivals most DJs' beat-dropping skills, coupled with MCs Cause and Brad B, who bounce lyrics back and forth like Ping-Pong balls. "The crowd down here is so diverse, it's not necessarily a hip-hop thing. We love hip-hop, we do hip-hop, but the whole thing is unity," Cause explains.
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"It's a whole other generation coming up. The difference is that it's not such a selective group of people doing it and going to see it. We brought together the Sub Society (a Tempe skateboard shop) kids, the hip-hop kids, the punk kids; more and more diverse people show up every Tuesday," says sound engineer and behind-the-scenes mastermind Devin Kelley.
With the evolution of Tuesday nights and the constant introduction of new and unexpected talents into the mix, what happens next is the obvious question. Kelley is talking to the bar's management and local artists about collaborating on an art and music festival, and he'd also like to introduce Tempe artist/anarchist collective Mob Action's projects into the mix. "Politically, they've got a lot to say and they're so on-point -- people need that. It needs to be brought out."
Stefascope has his own ideas for the bar. "We want to see this place progress, bring in more than hip-hop, bring in more local rock talent, more stuff like the fuckin' Daggers. And I was talking to Shawn about putting an electric bull outside. We'd really like to see that happen." Thoughtfully, My Friend Andy adds, "Our music would go perfect with riding an electric bull, I can totally see that."
"1-2 Punch," featuring Stefascope and My Friend Andy, and the Drunken Immortals, is held Tuesday nights at the Arizona Roadhouse Brewery in Tempe. Showtime is 9 p.m.