Best Rapper 2022 | Mega Ran | Nightlife | Phoenix

As this issue goes to print, the award-winning, Phoenix-based rap artist Mega Ran should be back in the Valley after touring the Midwest and the East Coast. The former middle school teacher turned full-time musician, whose given name is Raheem Jarbo, rhymes about geek culture, and everything from pro wrestling to video games is fodder for his fire rhymes. His latest collaborative project with Penny the Great and Slopfunkdust, Protoculture Season, is a meld of music tracks (on vinyl or digital format) and merch based on the influential Macross (a.k.a. Robotech) anime about robots and vehicles made using technology from a crashed alien spacecraft. But whether he's writing diss tracks about Alex Trebek (may he rest) after the game show host called people who listen to nerdcore music losers, penning a memoir (Dream Master: From the Stoop to the Stage to the Stars came out in late 2020), or lighting up local stages, we're always impressed with what he has to offer.

Jake Stellarwell is uncompromising and outspoken in his beliefs. He doesn't consider himself to be a DJ and refuses to use the title. He loathes the term EDM. And he thinks Phoenix's music scene is populated by artists who have significant potential. While some may disagree with Stellarwell's beliefs, few would argue he doesn't know his craft. Over the past 11 years, he's exposed locals to artists and music they aren't familiar with in his deftly crafted mixes and at events he's promoted. Through previous parties such as Rebel Disco and Push Push, he's featured such genres as deep house, nu-disco, boogie, and no wave. Underground artists like influential house/techno goddess the Blessed Madonna, U.K.-based indie dance duo Psychemagik, and Jacques Renault have been showcased locally thanks to Stellarwell and his cohorts. His moves away from the nightlife scene are also significant. In 2019, he worked with DJs like Julian French and Davina Griego to create Recordbar Radio, a multifaceted project that includes streaming sets by a variety of Valley DJs and musicians. "We want to make sure that Phoenix DJs, [artists], and [producers] are getting an opportunity to showcase their talent, perform their craft, and have it be broadcast on the internet so that it can reach whomever, wherever they are," Stellarwell told Digital Future in 2020. And it's making our scene all the better.

Yes, technically speaking, this album did come out in late December 2021. But it's so good that even we're willing to ignore the realities of the calendar in order to celebrate a true career high for this long-time band of wacky rockers. At the most basic level, the music here is just great; "Steve, Television Salesman," for instance, is a totally bonkers, extra-riotous punk rock jam. But the album flourishes because the whole band taps into the unlikely TikTok career of frontman Robbie Pfeffer, distilling all that post-millenium world-wide-weirdness into deeply political songs. That includes "The Feeling I Get When Petting a Dog," which feels about as close to a modern-day mantra as we'll ever get, and "I Blame You," which is a Devo-esque sendup of right-wing politics. It's all these coalescing ideas and energies that make Toxic Positivity what it is: a chronicle of life in the 2020s, detailing the power and personality it takes just to get by each and every day. Beyond that, it's a clear roadmap for this band's future, and a sign that they're a band of kooky, utterly profound musical gurus.

The best anthems for a time/movement are often entirely accidental. Case in point: "Monica Lewinsky," from Phoenix-born pop singer Taylor Upsahl (who performs as UPSAHL). Did she intend to release it right around the Supreme Court leak and subsequent reversal of Roe v. Wade? Maybe not, but you couldn't have better timing if it was plotted by Michael Crichton. But the song's debut in such a time of great social upheaval only made it all the more compelling and downright catchy. Sure, you could brush this off as just another electro-pop-leaning "you go girl" anthem — and it's certainly got that kind of energy (see the shoutout to Miley Cryus, and the reference to that infamous Bill Clinton testimony). But the song's just as much about how we portray and engage women in modern media, and UPSAHL weaponizes those trite stereotypes to condemn a society that readily uplifts as much as it needlessly condemns the actions of women. All of that together — the blunt and the beautiful, the ironic and the earnest — is why this song is a powerful anthem of our weird little world; the fact that it's from a talented Phoenician is icing on the cake.

Deliver us from rock 'n' rollers who take themselves too seriously. Isn't playing music supposed to be fun? Tempe power trio The Black Moods always seem to be having a good time, and no more so than in their recent music video for "Youth Is Wasted on the Young," a track off their 2022 album, Into the Night. Lead singer and guitarist Josh Kennedy, drummer Chico Diaz, and bassist Jordan Hoffman brought the party to Combs High School in San Tan Valley for the video shoot. All the members of the band play both faculty and students: Kennedy's a pigtailed blonde girl flirting with her classmates, Hoffman plays a gym teacher who gets pelted by dodgeballs, and Diaz portrays both an uptight Spanish teacher and the stoner kid who harasses him. The video culminates with the trio getting chased out of the school A Hard Day's Night style and performing for the students, showing the next generation of Black Moods fans just how much fun it is to be a rock star.

This Westgate Entertainment District nightspot is like the decadent theme park of your boozy dreams where childhood thrills get a grown-up twist. The fanciful lights of the carousel-shaped bar beckon patrons inside the 5,800-square-foot establishment to play carnival-style games or high-end arcade machines while sipping fruity cocktails garnished with cotton candy. Or, they can writhe to Top 40 and hip-hop hits on a dance floor surrounded by video game-themed murals. There's also bingo games on Mondays and beer pong tournaments on Wednesdays, both offering bar cards and other prizes. And the menu includes french fries served in miniature Ferris wheels, fair-inspired snacks like deep-fried candy bars, and overly indulgent milkshakes adorned with churros or cheesecake slices. It's not unlike a 21-and-over version of Pinocchio's Pleasure Island, only you might wind up with a hangover the next day instead of a set of donkey ears and a tail.

Lauren Cusimano

An open elevator shaft, a cage full of dolls, trick mirrors. Were it not for this genuinely bizarre decor, Hanny's would be your run-of-the-mill, stylish-but-straightforward downtown lounge. You can find the restaurant and bar in an austere concrete building on First and Adams streets. It's a spacious hangout, with a kitchen that's open late and a decent steak sandwich. But it's the longtime art installations that draw many curious visitors to Hanny's — and it's worth taking a tour through the space to appreciate the Annabelle-esque ornamentation. The hall-of-mirrors bathrooms are straight from the circus (and don't forget to take a trip down to the basement to visit the dolls). It'll make a date more interesting, that's for sure.

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