9 Live

Dino Hawkins, a.k.a. "Volume 10," has dedicated his life to the art of hip-hop in its purest form. Spending late nights at the Good Life Café in Los Angeles' Crenshaw district, Dino saw bands such as Jurassic 5, The Pharcyde, and Freestyle Fellowship take off and make names for themselves.

After releasing his hit "Pistol Grip Punk" (on Immortal Records), Hawkins decided to bring his talent to Arizona. He approached A.J. Sulka, co-owner of Majerle's bar in downtown Phoenix, and asked for a shot at producing a freestyle hip-hop night called "The Volume Zone."

"I knew Dino had a history in the industry, and he was well-known already," Sulka says. "I was just really impressed by his passion and his vision of creating a freestyle performance night that was open to all types of performers."

Majerle's now hosts Hawkins' version of the Good Life Café in its back bar, The 9 Lounge, on Saturday nights. The Volume Zone includes opening beats by DJ Smite, who makes Panjabi-MC, Nas, and Thievery Corporation sound like they were made to be heard together. At some point in the evening, a freestyle rap contest ensues, and several local performers take the stage to do their thing.

Because Majerle's and Hawkins are committed to keeping the vibe relaxed and the format open, this contest doesn't focus on rappers battling. It's all about the talent and, on a recent Saturday night, we saw a lot of it. Freestyle rappers Classic, Anonymous 1, Pete Roy, and Optimal impressed us the most, and are apparently regulars at the event.

A sign hanging at the back of the establishment reads "9 Lounge, the smoothest music downtown," and we have to agree. Sulka and Majerle have given us another good reason to get our butts downtown on the weekends.

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Maidi Terry