Now, y'all know P-town's bi-Kelly Monaco and I have both got us a sweet tooth or three, myself being partial to a pocketful of Abba-Zaba, and the Jettster having a thing for the eye candy of both sexes. So it's a mystery to me why we took so long to check out the sweetest Tuesday night in Scottsdale, Sugar at Next (www.nextscottsdale.com). Not only does this evening draw a large, stylish hip-hop crowd, it's also got Power 92.3's DJ Fashen spinning a slammin' set that packs the dance floor, makes the squalies bump their humps, and the ballers bounce along with them.
Fashen is one of the best-known wax-masters in town, due primarily to his work with those freaky knuckleheads Da Nutz on Power in the afternoons where Fashen's in charge of the "Drive at Five" mix. But Fashen has also rocked the after-party for the Soul Train Awards, is a member of the illustrious DJ crew the Heavy Hitters, and recently snagged a New Times Best of Phoenix award for Best Hip-Hop DJ. On the radio, you imagine the cat being a cross between Fat Joe and DJ Quik. The reality is he's the Marshall Mathers of PHX DJ-dom: a skinny white dude with a cherubic face who looks like he should be playing video games at Castles-n-Coasters. Appearances are deceiving, though. Because even if Fashen resembles a Real World cast member despite recently turning 34, he gets much love in the club.
Anyway, when the J-girl and I roll up in the spot, the first order of biz is coppin' some vodka-Red Bulls from the bar to the right of the dance floor, which is just starting to move and won't become fully crunktified until about midnight or so. Next has an upstairs, too, but all the action is downstairs tonight in a room that's kinda vaulted with brown roof beams, causing it to look like, I imagine, P. Diddy's Swiss chalet. (You know the playa must have one.) I'm only halfway through my drink, and already the Phoenix version of Da Brat is ordering herself a second round, with a snifter of Grand Marnier to boot!
"Easy, sport," I tell her. "Don't be mixing like that or you'll be doing your Courtney Love impersonation before it's over."
"Stuff it, Kreme," retorts the Jettster, sticking her tongue out. "I'm a big girl, and besides, I haven't had a drink all week."
"All week? It's only Tuesday, fool," I grumble. "Do what you want, but I ain't driving your inebriated fanny home. Or bailing you out when the bulls show you the inside of a drunk tank."
"You got one thing right, chubsy-ubsy," she spits. "You're not doing anything with my fanny, no matter how faded I get."
Since things are still beginning to build, we decide it's time to score an interview with Fashen before the party peoples are whippin' around like Hurricane Wilma in here. Over at the DJ booth, Fashen conversates with us the best he can as he's exchanging platters out of all these crates of LPs.
"Damn, Fashen," I state after we introduce ourselves. "How many LPs have you got?"
"I couldn't even put a number on it," he replies, looking like a big kid in his oversize Kanye West bear-logo tee. "I keep an air-conditioned storage unit that's all full of records. I go in there at least once a month, and I always find at least one crate of stuff I haven't played in a while."
"So what's the big diff between your radio set and club set?" I ask.
"On the radio, you're playing for the masses," explains Fashen. "When people are at work or in their car, they're not necessarily trying to hear the same songs that they're hearing in the club -- they want to hear ballads and a mixture of everything. In the club, it's all energy all night long."
"I love Da Nutz," offers Jett, licking her lips. "Uh, listening to them, I mean. What are they really like?"
"Great people -- actually, they're assholes," he goofs. "Don't print that, I'm playing! No, really, they're good people. Topnotch guys. I'm very proud to be on their show."
"Well, assholes are very close to nuts," I observe.
"Hush, Kreme, no one wants to hear about that!" exclaims the J-unit, walking off in a huff.
Jeez, so sensitive. We leave Fashen to the wheels of steel, and almost immediately bump into Jimmy Harris and Garrett Robinson, the night's promoters. Robinson has sort of an Afrika Bambaataa/Eazy-E thing going on with black sunglasses and short dreads, and Harris is a little more on the Kanye side of the equation, in a preppy shirt with stripes. Robinson is from D.C., Harris from Chicago, and they're both students at ASU -- Robinson in business, Harris in marketing. They relate that Sugar has been up and running for going on three years now, and that Fashen joined the party about three or four months ago.
"This is more of an East Coast kind of a night," Harris tells us. "Nobody has to worry about it being a mixed crowd or a Scottsdale crowd. Everyone's cool. We like to think it's the truest hip-hop night in the Valley."
"I see you got your marketing rap down," I comment. "Still, I'm impressed. This spot's starting to get live now, and on a Tuesday, near midnight."
"That's the thing," says Robinson, who I later learn played a little football for my alma mater, the North Carolina Tar Heels, before transferring to ASU. "You've got to remember, most of these people have to get up at 6 or 7 in the morning."
"Get up for what?" queries the Jettster as if hard of hearing.
"It's called 'a job,'" I stress, making the quotation sign with my fingers. "A concept you're evidently unfamiliar with."
"You know what you're unfamiliar with, Kreme?" she asks me. "How to treat a woman. But you'd have to get close to one first. I'm getting another drink!"
Next is bumpin' now, and most of the sugar is brown sugar, but there's some caramel and white chocolate in the candy bowl, too, and I'm scoping it all from this raised area off to the side. Fashen's droppin' everything from David Banner to the Jackson 5, and folks are feelin' it. That's when I spy this Big Pun-lookin' dood standing on one of the banquettes against the wall, suckin' on a bottle of Moët. Says he's DJ Sosa, and that he's got a gig spinning for dolla-ballerinas at Pantera Show Club, and as Pantera's manager Dante is right beside him, I tend to believe him. Though Dante later tells me Sosa's real handle is DJ CNC, so go figure.
"You ever get friendly with any of them strippers over there?" I inquire of Sosa/CNC.
"I get friendly with all the females, you know what I'm sayin'? I'm one of the hottest DJs in the fuckin' city," he brags.
"I hear ya, playboy, but you sure that ain't the Mo talkin'?" I grin, then start looking at the heavy gold chain with a fat ornament 'round his neck. "Nice midget you got hanging from your necklace. What is that?"
"It's 11 karats, white gold," he shines. "Ran me about $17K."
"I need me one of these for the hood of my Impala," I crack. I'm prolly about to get stomped into oblivion when the Jettster appears out of nowhere.
"Take a look at this, Kreme," she insists, poking the digital camera under my peepers.
"Holy headcheese, those are two of the largest lung warts I've ever seen," I gasp, studying the pic.
"I told her I was with New Times and she flashed me," swears Jett. "Too bad she has a 'butter face.' You know, everything's hot, but her face."
We decide to investigate the patio, and before you can say "birth control," the Jettster's in the corner cozying up to buff MC Mic Wyld, who reminds me of a tanned Mark Wahlberg. The Wyld One slips me a copy of his CD Shut Up and Listen while he's romancing the J-girl, and soon I'm chatting with Steve Valenzuela and his wife, Miki. Valenzuela's a local record producer, and he and his honey came up from their home in south Phoenix after leaving their kid with the sitter.
"Check out this CD," he says, slipping a case-less one into the front pocket of my shirt. "Local stuff. You'll like it. It's a compilation of the dopest guys in AZ. They toured with Eminem, Ludacris, Nas. I produce a lot of shit on there, but there are six MCs and two producers on it."
"Name me some names," I say.
"Ako Mack, Emerg McVay . . ."
"The guys from Bionic Jive? I know them. Emerg was on the cover of the 2004 New Times Best of Phoenix," I state. "Met them way back at the Blunt Club."
"You wanna hear some new shit from Emerg?" he asks.
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"Sure, but here?"
Valenzuela whips out his Verizon Treo, one of those handheld Blackberry-type things that can do about everything but wash your car, hooks up some earplugs and hands one to me. I listen to a track the V-man calls "Southwest Division, Posse Cut," and I have to admit, it sounds pretty tight. Valenzuela says they should hit stores with a CD sometime in 2006.
Over in the corner, Jett's on Mic Wyld like she's found her baby's daddy-to-be, so I give up trying to get her back on the clock, and just keep talking to Stevie V.
"It's hard out here because the AZ scene doesn't support its own talent, like they do down South," complains Valenzuela. "I've never tried to make it happen out here before, but I'm going to give it my best shot. It ain't all about the money. It's about putting AZ on the map and making a hit record. That's all I want to do."