The Thandie Newton of P-town and I plan to stay fly 'til we die just like the Dirty South's Three 6 Mafia, but we also wanna keep it trill, y'all. That's the combo of "true" and "real." And I can't think of a spot truer or realer at the moment than DJ Al Page's The Shop (www.phxtheshop.com), which pops off at the Hidden House every Saturday eve, and has been drawing a dope crowd of lockers, poppers, break-dancers and underground hip-hop heads ever since it began back in January of this year.
At The Shop, the females are fine, the music ill, the libations low-priced, and the cover nonexistent. No wonder the spot gets tighter than Vida Guerra's thong on the seventh night of the week. And there's no end in sight -- knock on Jett's wooden skully for luck.
Normally, the Hidden House has got that blue-collar, pool-playin', beer-tippin' thing on lock, but the steelo arrives with The Shop's keepers: Page's posse of needle-droppers, crate-robbers and wax-wizards, whether they be resident or guest DJs. Page, of course, is numero uno in this soulful store, with various other DJs, musicians and scenesters stopping by to show support. Just while the J-unit and this Flabby-Five Freddy (that be me, Señor Kreme) are in the building, we spy such hip-hop hot-spot habitués as DJ Element -- the subject of a recent New Times cover story -- DJ Skip Skoolnik, Jonas "Foundation" Hurst from the Drunken Immortals with his girl, style maven Camille Messina, and Lorenzo Sepulveda of the Phunky Phoenicians. We even spot our old pal, painter/poet/playa Jules Demetrius, on one side of the room doing the live-art thing, looking as chill as a big-ass swimming pool of liquid nitrogen.
Conversate with everyone, we do, as Yoda might say. But we're also about breaking new ground like Donald Trump, chump. So we rub up on this pretty lady with light brown skin named Kellee. She's holdin' down the fort, or, in this case, a table, as her girlfriends get their groove on out on the tiny dance floor in front of an improvised DJ booth, behind which is a big, gray-and-black, bubble-wrap art piece by artist Brian Wallace: Looks like a bald alien holding his head in his hands. Kellee quickly reveals she's a sales rep/ad consultant, which means she knows how to stack some scrilla as well as look booful.
"So why are you here tonight, angel eyes?" queries the AC/DC Keyshia Cole, breathing heavily.
"Oh, I love this place," enthuses Kellee, oblivious to Jett's advances -- as are most women, unless their bi-dar is up. "They play the best old-school hip-hop, and they have the best DJs in the world. No fights. Just music and dancing. It's all love here."
"Speaking of love, how can we get you up on that dance floor?" wonders the Jettster, moving in for the kill.
"Oh, I'll be getting up there soon enough," confides Kellee, in the dark as to the Jettster's intentions. "But I'm waiting on my girls. They're out there shaking their buns right now."
"Is this your favorite type of music?" I ask, while blocking Jett's advance on Kellee with my meaty massiveness. "Underground and old school?"
"Yes it is," she replies. "It's hip-hop, from the heart. No violence to it, no B.S. Just constant energy. It's not like I'm against more commercial artists like 50 Cent. He's doing his thing. But I prefer stuff like The Roots, KRS-One, Alkaholiks, Mos Def, Talib Kweli. That's pure hip-hop."
"I hear where you're coming from," I remark. "On the other hand, there's a lot of great hip-hop that's commercial. Kanye's one of the biggest names out there, and he breaks all the rules when it comes to image and content. Common's latest album has more of that pure sound you mention, and Kanye produced that. But I guess you could argue that both Common and Kanye are in some ways a reaction to the thuggin' and blingin'."
While Kellee and I have been discussing music, the Jettster's done her David Blaine bit and vanished on me, probably frustrated by her lack of success when it comes to chasin' trim. I start easing my gargantuan frame through all the humanity up near the bar, looking for her pathetic omni-sexual ass, when I bump into this big cat named Eric who's decked out all in red, including a crimson sweatshirt that reads "Brooklyn Lions." Eric's workin' on a small pitcher of suds, and says he's from Gotham, having moved to the Zona to play baseball at a small college in Douglas. Currently, he works at the AAA office across the street, and has been making The Shop his stomping grounds for the past few months.
"I like this vibe," Eric confides. "It's kind of like a New York thing. New York has a lot of spots like this. So when I found this place, it reminded me of home, and I sort of gravitated to it."
"When you say the Apple has a lot of places like this, what do you mean, exactly?" I inquire further.
"I'm from Jamaica, Queens," he explains. "And when I go back to New York, you can take a train to somewhere where you can see break-dancing, and old acts that are still doing shows. I like the underground, man. I really dig it. There's more flava to it. Also, I'm an '80s guy, and they play '80s music here, too."
Just then I eyeball the switch-hittin' Karrine Steffans over near the men's pissoir where she's cornered DJ Al Page and his squeeze Robyn, a petite dime-piece outfitted in a slinky green top. (One of Page's protégés has taken over the decks from him for the moment.) Page's taller and rockin' a gray cap and a black Emerald Lounge tee, which almost makes me wanna shed a tear for that dearly departed waterin' hole. Jett looks like she could swallow either one of them whole, but when I approach and ask Page for an interview, he drags me into the dudes' dumper so we can have some privacy.
"Al, we have to stop meeting this way, people will try to put a George Michael rap on us," I smirk, as he closes the door to the john.
"Oh, fuck that shit, man, what's the dilly?" he says to get the ball rollin'.
"That's what I was about to ask you -- specifically, how did this night get started?"
"Well, I snowboard a lot," he relates. "And when I go to other cities, like Seattle or wherever, they have the coolest places to hang. But Phoenix doesn't have shit! Everything's happening in Tempe and Scottsdale, and the music's really wack. All they play is radio crap. So I was like, 'We gotta do something here.' My friends are all DJs and they're paid very well to play Scottsdale clubs. I used to DJ at one, too, but they had me playing Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. Man, fuck that, I want to play some real music. My friends all said, 'It's not gonna work,' but I'm like, 'It's gonna work because there's a need for it.'"
"Most definitely," I respond. "An alternative is required."
"Everyone in that room is so cool," asserts Page. "There's no attitude. Nobody's worried about their 20-inch rims, how heavy their fuckin' chain is, or how big their damn fake tits are. Ain't no plasticity up in this bitch. I don't care if they're black, white, Hispanic, Asian, whatever. They're all in here -- the breakers, the rhymers, the real people. Because, man, trust me, if it's being played on the radio, it ain't getting played in this motherfucker."
I'm feelin' Page's enthusiasm, but there's also a fella banging on the door outside who's feelin' like he's about to pee his britches. So we cut short the confab and Page returns to the wheels of steel, where he proceeds to drop a wicked assortment of tracks from the likes of Masta Ace, Hieroglyphics, De La Soul, DJ Shadow, Felt 2, N.W.A, Mr. Lif, Common, KRS-One, and so on. He even goes way back in the crates to 1982, when Ronald Reagan was the Prez and kids were still playing with Rubik's Cubes, for "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" off Michael Jackson's Thriller album. Ah, yes, back when Wacko Jacko was still a black man instead of a Liz Taylor wanna-be, and all was right with the world.
But where, oh where, has the Jettster gotten to? Despite her stated affection for both sexes, the easiest way to locate her still is to look for the gaggle of the finest femmebots in the room. And there, indeed, I see her, over in one corner with a cluster of comely chicas, spittin' as much game as the law will allow. The most booful of them is this lass Carolina, who's in a viridescent, Victorian-esque gown, and has her hair up. I soon discover Carolina's a model, and has come from a fashion show where she played catwalk clothes-rack for her roommate, designer Emily Uriarte, owner of a local clothing company called Arte Puro. It's Emily's design that Carolina's wearing, the V-neck of which is showing off Carolina's butter-pecan cleavage, much to Jett's obvious delight.
"It was my first time modeling," Carolina's telling the Jettster as I ease up beside them. "I was a little nervous when I first walked out and saw all the people, but then I just got out there and worked it."
"You're so curvaceous," admires Jett, eyes bulging. "Were all the guys hitting on you afterward?"
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"I did get a lot of compliments, but they weren't all over me, or anything like that," says Carolina, smiling.
I notice that Jett's about to goose poor Carolina, so I jerk her aside before she gets fresh. "Leave that gal alone," I warn her. "She's out of your league."
"Lemme go, Kreme," yelps the J-unit, trying to free herself from my grip. "Carolina's one of those states I always wanted to spend some time in."
"Better get your mind out of the gutter, Jett," I growl. "Otherwise, you'll be in a state of disbelief over the fat foot in your fanny."