Best Hip-Hop Night 2011 | Blunt Club Thursdays | Arts & Entertainment | Phoenix
Jennifer Goldberg
After nine years of pumping out the jams, Blunt Club is as strong as ever, thanks to local artist Dumperfoo and resident DJs Pickster and Element. The Thursday-night tradition got its humble start in the dark confines of the now-defunct Priceless Inn and, after a couple moves, is currently enjoying its second year at Tempe's premier nightclub, the Yucca Tap Room. Every week, the Blunt Club team brings you the best local and national hip-hop, reggae, dubstep, funk and electro acts. Combine that with some sweet live art, cheap drinks, and an insanely diverse crowd, and it's no surprise Blunt Club is the place to be on a Thursday night.
Revenge may be sweet, but redemption is even better. A decade ago, the property that houses Trinity was home to CBNC, a similarly fly hip-hop hotspot that packed in patrons and hosted celebs like Busta Rhymes and Britney Spears. It also had a notorious reputation, as onetime Sun Devil football star Loren Wade gunned down a fellow ASU teammate in the parking lot in 2005. Even worse, CBNC's owners were eventually linked to a large crime ring. All that infamy is ancient history, however, as the space has gotten a new lease on life as Trinity. It's still a prime place for high-volume hip-hop parties, offering three distinct rooms with separate bars and dance floors, as well as a half-dozen VIP areas. Trinity's thunderous sound system pounds out plenty of beats, including mixes of glammy R&B, high-energy street rap, old-school jams, and hot reggae riddims. The typical crowd here skews toward urban club types and stylishly refined folks opening their wallets for premium bottles of champagne. In addition to the bubbly, tequila shots and mixed drinks with generous amounts of vodka are some of the preferred fuels for those engaging in nighttime fun.
Word to the wise: Don't ever refer to Dusty Hickman as a DJ. The 34-year-old turntable artist, who performs under the moniker Pickster One, is far more talented than the ordinary rank-and-file selectas working the Valley's nightlife scene. First off, his skills at scratching (a lost art, in our humble opinion) are of the highest order. Then there are his prodigious talents at making mixes, particularly those of the hip-hop variety. Download any of the many mixtapes from his website and enjoy the audio ecstasy of Hickman's song selection and mash-up techniques, as he seamlessly grafts together modern-day masterpieces from Jay-Z and Afroman with old-school favorites by KRS-One and Kool Herc. Speaking of old school, Hickman's just that, having worked practically every club in the Valley and serving as long-running resident at such nights as Blunt Club and the Kill Mill for more than 15 years. He also proves you can teach an old dawg new tricks, as he's been working such latter-day genres as moombahton and electro into his sets. And, as always, he does it with style.
Nick Suddarth always looks pretty beat, but there's a very good reason for it. The local dubstep producer doesn't get much sleep these days, because he's always in demand. Whenever he isn't in his Surprise recording studio crafting face-melting tracks to post on his Facebook page, the 20-something is hella busy gearing up to jet off to club gigs all across the country. One week, he'll hit up cities on the West Coast, only to head off to the Deep South the next. Suffice it to say, Sluggo has been blowing up fiercely over the past two years, due in large part to the growing popularity of dubstep in the United States and the quality of his tracks. Suddarth's unique flavor of the bass-heavy, British-born genre is particularly dark, mixing heavy glitches and influences from two-step garage and jungle with brutal grinding rhythms. Sluggo's planning on keeping up his hectic schedule for as long as possible, especially since dubstep has been touted as the breakout dance music genre of 2011. Thank heavens for Red Bull.
James Martin Nelson is hesitant to speak about his killer remixes of indie rock, electro-house, and dance music. A reclusive guy by nature, he generally shies away from both fame and the spotlight. He's one of the Valley's better DJs, but you'll probably never hear the humble 26-year-old, who performs as Death to the Throne, singing his own praises. Instead, you should leave that task up to the scribes of Rolling Stone or Vibe Magazine, both of which have labeled his work remixing artists like La Roux, Edward Sharpe, and Animal Collective as "epic" and "stellar." His fellow DJs also have a thing or two to say about Nelson. For instance, Benjamin Cutswell describes his talents as "extraordinary," among other superlatives. "Jimmy takes pop music tracks, gives them an added kick of energy, and makes them larger than life," Cutswell says. "They become infectious, dancier, and powerful." Nelson's latest coup, which he probably won't be boasting about, was winning the grand prize in a remix contest presented by Canadian indie pop act Metric. His electronica-laden reworking of the band's lo-fi song "Twilight Galaxy" earned his remix a spot on their next album, as well as $1,000 cash.

Best "I've Never Heard This Song in My Life" DJ Night

The Hot Plate

The Lost Leaf
DJ Smite, a.k.a. Sir Smeezy, is an eclectic guy. Accordingly, The Hot Plate, the DJ night he hosts every first and third Tuesday at The Lost Leaf, is an all-over-the-map affair. Smite mixes up everything from jazz, punk, rockabilly, and obscure soul cuts, like Darondo's "Didn't I," to create a listening experience that's as schizophrenic as it is enjoyable. Some nights are themed, such as when he'll bring along special guest John Dixon to play Phoenix-centric tunes or DJ Peso One to spin deep reggae, rocksteady, or dub jams. But even when the songs have a common thread, they are far from the norm, and there are always a few surprises (like downtown Rasta groover Tony Culture hopping on the mic to bring the party to dancehall energy levels).
Things are looking pretty damn good for Arizona music. Bands like What Laura Says, The Summer Set, Kinch, and The Maine are making national waves, proving that the Valley of the Sun has a thriving music scene. So what makes Andrew Jackson Jihad, the folk-punk duo of Sean Bonnette and Ben Gallaty our best local band? Lines like "I wish I had a bullet big enough fucking kill the sun / I'm sick of songs about the summer / And I hate everyone" from "Hate, Rain on Me," from the group's excellent new album, Knife Man, ought to help prove the point. The record finds the group truly coming into its own, bolstered by big drums, punk rock electric guitars, and a twisted sense of melody and humor. Bonnette's strength as a lyricist has never been clearer; not only does he deliver laugh out loud couplets like the one mentioned above, but also he follows them up with deeply humane, sardonic ones like "I want to put on my sweat pants / You know I'm trying to quit / I want to give a shit again." The group's work ethic is tireless, cranking out EPs and records at a yearly clip, and the duo hasn't been afraid to hit the road. Want to know exactly how much of an impact the band has had on a national audience? Do a quick YouTube search for Andrew Jackson Jihad covers. The results — a bunch of earnest, heart-on-sleeve amateur performers — demonstrate how deeply the band's music has connected with kids all over the country.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Ron Diep and Nathan Black send flowery love letters to Daft Punk every time they perform as a two-man tribute to the French electronica duo. And it's quite the tribute, to say the least. Each time the local act stages a gig (usually at such popular hipster affairs as Sticky Fingers and Cheap Thrills), those in attendance probably have to rub their eyes to make sure the real Daft Punk isn't in the house. That's because Diep and Black invested some serious cash in accurate copies of the costumes and masks used by their more famous doppelgangers. Even better, they've also built the same glowing pyramid-shaped podiums used by Daft Punk in concert. Oh, yeah, and they also do a damn good job of re-creating the band's up-tempo electro-funk sound, to boot. So until the day that the real Daft Punk visits the Valley (which hasn't happened yet), we'll be checking out Daft Punk'd instead.
The Rÿche are hardcore about their dedication to the music of Queensrÿche. While many tribute acts aim to nail the superficial aspects of a band's career — the outfits, hairstyles, and mannerisms —The Rÿche keep their goal strictly music, expertly mimicking the sounds of Queensrÿche's biggest albums, The Warning, Rage for Order, and Operation: Mindcrime. Though the members of The Rÿche are fans of Queensrÿche's modern work, they focus on the band's early discography, simply because that's what fans want to see. The band is humble about its gig, but The Rÿche's earned props from the official camp of their source material; when Queensrÿche singer Geoff Tate stopped by Club Red to sell his Insania Wine, The Rÿche was the event's official band, and Tate enthusiastically endorsed the band on stage.
There is a variety of music on display at Club Red, from indie rock to hip-hop, but the bar really shines when it comes to heavy metal. Saturday nights at the East Tempe venue crackle with the smell of Aquanet-stiff hairdos. Rockers like Y&T and Dizzy Reed of Guns 'n' Roses share the massive stage with tribute acts like The Rÿche and Hollywood Saints, evoking a time when guitar solos were king and the coolest dudes looked a lot like the hottest chicks. The fact that there's a Waffle House located in the same plaza doesn't hurt — scattered and covered hash browns are the perfect end to a night of fret-board histrionics and booze.

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of