The 2017 Phoenix Hip Hop Power List

Trinidad Cardona.
Trinidad Cardona. Neil Bailey

It’s been an interesting year for the Phoenix hip-hop community. While local staples continued to shine and reach higher career levels, a new wave of fresh artists and creative movements began to step into the spotlight and claim their spot in a talented scene still rising on the national circuit. Here’s a breakdown of some of the local hip-hop scene’s top power players in 2017.

Isaiah Acosta and Trap House
If inspiring others and spreading a positive message to a massive audience is considered to be a major goal of an artist, then the story of 17-year-old Isaiah Acosta and local rap legend Trap House rewrites the blueprint. Born with situs inversus, a condition that causes one to be born without a jaw, Isaiah communicates via sign language and text. Despite his inability to speak, he still carries a massive passion for hip-hop music. From writing lyrics to creating beats on tables, it is clear that Isaiah holds the art form close to his heart. When it comes to fully partaking in the creation process, the obvious complication is clear, as Isaiah’s lack of vocal chords makes it impossible to vocalize his lyrics, something that is necessary in the soundscape of rap. This is where well-known Phoenix hip-hop artist Trap House steps in. With assistance from the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, Trap House volunteered his time to help Isaiah finally see his dream through. Offering to act as a vessel to Isaiah, the two hit the studio to make some music, with Trap House voicing Isaiah’s lyrics. The end result, “Oxygen to Fly” is a manifestation long in the making for Isaiah. With appearances at and coverage from the likes of SXSW, BBC, and CNN, “Oxygen to Fly” continues to spread and touch the hearts of millions across the world. Proceeds from the song will be donated to the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals in hopes of helping other amazing children manifest their dreams.

click to enlarge Mega Ran a.k.a. Random. - ANDREW DOENCH
Mega Ran a.k.a. Random.
Andrew Doench
Mega Ran a.k.a. Random
A popular podcast, tours around the country and world, and an appearance on WWE SmackDown were just some of the accomplishments of this teacher-turned-rapper in 2017. Random stayed busy throughout the year by staying on the road promoting his critically acclaimed 2016 release, RNDM, as well as his newest project, EXTRA CREDIT. Random connected with a multitude of fans at various comic book and video game conventions, continuing his reign as a leading nerdcore artist. His MatMania podcast, co-hosted by Teek Hall, opened the rapper to a brand-new audience and had him rubbing shoulders with popular wrestlers including tag-team champs The New Day.

click to enlarge Futuristic at Warped Tour 2017. - JIM LOUVAU
Futuristic at Warped Tour 2017.
Jim Louvau
Futuristic had a quiet year compared to 2016, when he toured the world and appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon (two factors that garnered him the top spot on that year’s power list). This year, Futuristic focused more on solidifying his brand by launching his SheeshWorld clothing line while playing several festivals throughout America. He also locked down a deal with the Phoenix Suns, who have him performing during halftime and doing commercials with Devin Booker. Even while staying busy with new ventures, Futuristic still managed to squeeze out new music, releasing What More Can You Ask For in November. With another project slated to drop before the end of the year, it is clear that Futuristic is setting himself up for a big 2018.

click to enlarge Ali Tomineek performed on BET this fall. - HAILI COPELAND
Ali Tomineek performed on BET this fall.
Haili Copeland
Ali Tomineek
Originally YouTube famous for his “14 year old raps fast” videos, Ali Tomineek catapulted himself to the forefront of the Phoenix hip-hop scene by garnering a first-place victory in Futuristic’s “One Take Rap” competition. Tomineek’s album, World Famous #fridayflow, debuted on the Billboard hip-hop charts at number 40. And the rapper was invited to participate in the BET’s coveted series of cypher videos that air during the BET Awards, exposing the now-20-year-old emcee to millions of people around the world. Needless to say, all eyes are on Tomineek, as 2017 has shown he’s a force to be reckoned with.

Injury Reserve
Still gaining buzz off their stellar 2016 release, Floss, Injury Reserve showed no signs of slowing down in 2017. Hitting the road with popular hip-hop group The Underachievers, the erstwhile Phoenicians garnered attention from the likes of Complex, Pigeons and Planes, and L.A. Weekly, with each publication claiming that the trio is one of the best groups to come out of Arizona. The trio supported the claim by dropping a new EP, Drive It Like It’s Stolen, to rave reviews across the board.

Trindad Cardona has been thrown into the spotlight. - NEIL BAILEY
Trindad Cardona has been thrown into the spotlight.
Neil Bailey
Trinidad Cardona
At only 18 years old, Trinidad Cardona has already been thrown into the worldwide spotlight with his hit song “Jennifer,” which racked up more than 15 million YouTube views and made him an overnight sensation in countries like Brazil. The heartfelt ballad caught the attention of Island Records, home of artists such as Elton John and Demi Lovato, and the label offered him a record contract. With more music guaranteed to drop in 2018 and a major label behind him, Trindad Cardona has made himself a key player in the Phoenix hip-hop scene.

Respect The UnderGround
Though Respect The UnderGround fostered a record label in 2016, the Justus Samuel-led faction put most of their energy into the 2017 Arizona Hip Hop Festival. Still backed by Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, the festival gave a platform to local artists and celebrated the city-sanctioned “Hip Hop Day,” bringing more than 7,000 people to Comerica Theatre in November. While RTU’s main effort was all about the festival, the roster of artists — including Terrorist Angel Babies From Neptune and TommyWill — continued to make noise throughout the year with showcase and festival appearances and music releases.

The Stakes
This jazz-infused hip-hop band laid a lot of groundwork in 2017, playing a slew festivals, including Apache Lake Festival and Tour De Fat. The release of their album, Prophecy, cemented the group as the premier live hip-hop band in town, earned them spots on local showcases, and found them a foothold in the minds and hearts of the hip-hop community.

click to enlarge Odd Squad Family's "Done Did" has racked up millions of views. - MATT CAMPBELL
Odd Squad Family's "Done Did" has racked up millions of views.
Matt Campbell
Odd Squad Family
The strange trio of Nubs, Snowman, and Frosty dropped a few strong singles before releasing their highly anticipated debut album. After Odd Squad signed a deal with Only Dreamers, the same label that helped Futuristic launch his career, the group hit social media hard with comical videos mostly focused around Nubs, a rapper born without arms or legs. The videos pulled in millions of views, exposing Odd Squad’s music to a wave of new fans in the process. The group’s latest single, “Done Did,” currently has more than 6 million views (and climbing) on Facebook.

Under Society
This media/lifestyle brand, spearheaded by Dylan Toon, concentrated on cultivating a general interest in the rising popularity of the new generation of local hip-hop. Under Society achieved that goal by selecting a group of up-and-comers as the “Freshman Class” of 2017, then running a series of popular cypher videos that included fresh faces such as Cuzn’ It, E$cott, and Haze That Saxy Rapper. They racked up hundreds of thousands of views on social media and managed to generate a genuine buzz around what could be the future of Phoenix hip-hop.

Honorable mentions:

The popular hashtag was an idea cultivated by Phoenix rapper Benji Fly, designed to be used as a promotional tool for anything related to Arizona hip-hop. It caught on quickly, as urban artists across the state used the social media weapon on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook as a way to promote their music to fellow AZ hip-hop enthusiasts. The combination of thousands of posts across the internet using the catchphrase and a real-life campaign involving T-shirts and vocal chants proves that the inventive marketing tool helped shine light on and unify the Phoenix hip-hop scene.

click to enlarge Truminati hit the scene with a blitzkrieg-like offensive. - DYLAN TOON
Truminati hit the scene with a blitzkrieg-like offensive.
Dylan Toon
The wildly popular rap quartet of Eddie Wellz, Salty Brasi, I-Dee, and Lamar Crushin hit the scene with a blitzkrieg-like offensive in 2017, playing over 40 shows to packed houses with memorable, high-energy performances. With all of the artists on the roster consistently dropping music and videos throughout the year, the burgeoning rap team was virtually impossible to avoid.

click to enlarge Dela Preme is the most electrifying hip-hop performer in Phoenix. - HECTOR REYES
Dela Preme is the most electrifying hip-hop performer in Phoenix.
Hector Reyes
Dela Preme
Easily the most electrifying hip-hop performer in Phoenix, Dela Preme was sought after in 2017 for his fantastic stage presence and unique vocal tone. As a result, his name was on everyone’s tongue, because it was clear that something special was starting to manifest within the rising star. Dela Preme used 2017 to build a foundation that could set him up to be the biggest rapper out of Phoenix in 2018.
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Jaron is a musician, writer, promoter, videographer, and a founder of the like-minded collective and movement known as Starstruck.
Contact: Jaron Ikner