The Old Pueblo is proving itself to be a home for hip-hop with innovative events, a bunch of great artists, and its own Tucson Hip Hop Festival (formerly known as the Tucson Hip Hop Summit).
For great hip-hop shows that showcase local and national talent equally, the Scratch Shack is the place to be. Monthly, the city hosts a beat-maker showcase (Pushing Buttons), and there's even a concert series that takes a select few on a van ride around town while a rapper performs in-vehicle — most notably, Count Bass D made a Rap Van appearance.
So, buckle in and check out some of the best in Tucson hip-hop right now.
10. Cash Lansky
There's something so endearing about Cash Lansky's commitment to his self-prescribed "ugly and gifted" aesthetic. With that mantra, it shows he goes music first, and, with that, you'll find an almost dizzying drive on each track. It's not all a barrage of bars, though. On his most recent album, S.E.E., Lansky enlisted producer Jet Taylor to smooth things out. Live, Lansky is backed by
Of course, Phen is a pivotal element of the keystone Tucson hip-hop group Jivin Scientists, who honestly deserve their own spot on the list. However, Phen founding the monthly Pushing Buttons producer showcase, and his standout work as a producer in
8. Jae Tilt
It's hard to not be impressed by this 22-year-old up-and-comer. Jae Tilt's Product of 93 was advertised as an EP, but served up 11 tracks that offer a completely unique voice and identity, both in Tilt's style and the production.
Meeting somewhere at the intersection of concept art and hip-hop, rap duo Headlock is a well-loved slice of Tucson's rap community. While the fuzzy, almost abrasive production screams intensity — think Beastie Boys meets Death Grips, live elements like a washing machine on wheels show that Headlock isn't so serious about all of it. Or, maybe that's all part of the exhibit.
6. Marley B
With his July 2016 release, Grow, Marley B acknowledged his own development as an artist, and kicking off with the song "Bonsai," the album quickly established itself as the rapper's next step, creatively. Big flourishes, howling vocal samples, saccharine strings, and Marley B's trademark staccato-laden flow all meld together to make one complete statement. It says not just that he's grown, but that he's growing.
Working with the likes of the list-mate Lando Chill is one thing, but Lasso's appeal is that he's a pioneer. Case in point, the producer hosted about a dozen other producers in a one-of-a-kind live collaborative performance of Terry Riley's "In C," transforming the composition into a bevy of beat-making at Tucson's Museum of Contemporary Art.
4. Sui Blue
While it seems all the other hip-hop artists in town dip their toes into each other's work, Sui Blue is an entity all on his own. With a buttery smooth flow akin to spoken-word poetry and emotive, sincere verses placed over deep bass and ornamental production on his 2016 release Lucky Me, Blue took his work (this time with producer
It's almost impossible to listen to B3BNI's compositions and not immediately connect his jazz influence. In fact, B3BNI used that inspiration and applied it to jazz master Buster Williams' work on the Touching Bass compilation. Outside of that piece, you'll find a confident, masterful producer who's somehow bafflingly still just a local artist.
2. Lando Chill
While Lando Chill's debut release, For Mark, Your Son, earned him a spot on the Mello Music Group roster among artists such as Open Mike Eagle and Oddisee, what you should really be excited for is catching this rising star live before he gets big. Why? Four(ish) words for you: live band-backed hip-hop. That's right, Chill typically performs with a full band backing — like if Kid Cudi got in with the Roots. If that doesn't get you jazzed for this rapper, who is the perfect blend of infectiously optimistic and passionately political, maybe nothing will.
1. Jaca Zulu
Watching Jaca Zulu perform is, essentially, the musical equivalent of love at first sight. Magnetism doesn't quite cut it in describing the inescapable draw this charismatic rapper accomplishes. While his onstage stamina makes for an engaging show, his most recent release in August 2016, titled Signals, showed that Zulu has endurance as a recording artist. Don't get it twisted, though: It's not just endurance. It's more of a leap forward from his 2014 album, Meaning, and if he keeps making moves like that creatively, he'll be a big name in no time.
DJQ might be kind of the new kid on the block, but with the release of his [sin ti] tape, it was immediately evident that he was one to keep an eye on. The bright and mellow vibe of his production combined with instantly recognizable samples from Michael Jackson, the Beatles, and more create a pretty addicting, soulful groove. Chances are, there's a lot more good stuff to come from this new producer.