By Niki D'Andrea
If you’ve looked at the forums at Web site www.arizonabeats.com, you already know that my cover story on Phoenix hip-hop, “Raising Terrazona,” has ignited quite the firestorm of criticism from members of the local scene. For those who haven’t seen the forums yet, there’s a whole section titled “Arizona reacts to the New Times article ‘Raising Terrazona,’ wherein people in the forum level several complaints, including that the story was “racist,” that I tried to create tension that didn’t exist between two scenes, and that since I’m not a hardcore hip-hop fan, I had no business writing about the local hip-hop scene.
Initially, I wasn’t going to respond to these comments. I believe that readers should have their say, and I usually don’t find it necessary to defend myself. In fact, I found some of Power 98 deejay Karlie Hustle’s jabs at me to be pretty damn funny (love the FUBU shirt pic). But since I discovered that the local hip-hop community is talking about picketing at the offices of New Times the morning of Tuesday, January 15 (an asinine idea, but c’mon down), I would like to respond directly to some of the complaints.
It’s true that I’m not a huge hip-hop head. I am, as I told a lot of the people I interviewed, a rocker chick, but I listen to all genres of music, including hip-hop, and I always have. The first rap album I bought was Ice-T’s Rhyme Pays when I was 12, and that was because friends had already made me copies of N.W.A.’s Straight Outta Compton and Too $hort’s Life Is…Too $hort. True, I hadn’t been to a ton of hip-hop shows when I started reporting for this story, but it’s not like I’d never heard a hip-hop record before. But I knew I needed to learn more about the local scene. And I’ve learned a lot.
My goal when I wrote this story was to show people how hot the local hip-hop scene is, and to spread the word across state lines. I talked to 50 prominent (and not so prominent) people in the Phoenix hip-hop scene when I was reporting this story. Initially, I wanted to include everyone who was doing anything and make the story a huge, overarching scene piece with a photo essay. And of course, every single I person I talked to had their own ideas of how the story should be written and what it should say. As I talked to more people and continued reporting, I was told things off-the-record that would’ve made for a great story about what’s all wrong with Phoenix’s hip-hop scene. Nobody in the scene can tell me there are no beefs between anybody, and that a few incidents of violence have not happened because of them. I know otherwise, and I elected not to make those things the focus of this story because I wanted to focus on the music. There were a lot of details I omitted from that story. If I’d really wanted to intentionally spin the story to make Phoenix’s hip-hop scene seem like some kind of a war zone, I would’ve included those details and gone after certain police reports, too. I didn’t do that because, for one, I do see a conscious effort across the board to bring peace to this community and heal rifts, and secondly, that wasn’t the real story to me and I didn’t want to feel like I was blowing anything out of proportion. But I have been accused of doing so because I didn’t write a story about how everybody in the local hip-hop scene loves and respects each other and is working together to put AZ music on the national map. I didn’t write that story because, frankly, it would’ve been bullshit.
What I found most interesting when I started reporting this story was that there was a unique faction of Phoenix hip-hop that few outsiders seemed to know about. I definitely didn’t know about it, at least not its scope and depth. Having worked at New Times for almost four years, and having been Music Editor there for the past year and a half, I think that when it comes to local hip-hop, the local media has primarily focused on white hip-hop artists, when they’ve paid attention to local hip-hop at all. So there really was this prevalent mindset that Phoenix’s hip-hop scene was all about “underground rappers that perform with white rock bands,” as one anonymous reader wrote in the comments of my “Vibe magazine doesn’t know crap about Arizona hip-hop!” blog back in November, or the Blunt Club weekly in the East Valley, which I’ve actually been editing stories about and writing stories about for years, including a 2005 write-up in Spin magazine. Having been familiar with Blunt Club for the past four years, I made the assertion in the story that most of the audience consists of white college kids and most of the performers are also white. I stand by that statement. It doesn’t mean Blunt Club’s not cool – it’s a very vital component of Phoenix hip-hop and I have given the night tons of ink over the years. But I was surprised to find this more commercial, urban hip-hop sound coming out of Phoenix. It’s a fact that African-Americans are a minority in this city – the latest census data puts the population at a scant 5.6% -- so to see a concentrated scene here full of MCs who yes, happen to be black, and are rapping about their race and telling their stories in some of their lyrics is a great thing. It shows the diversity of this city’s music scene, and gives the people who have complained about this city being full of nothing but “cracker rappers” something else to go check out. I don’t feel that I wrote anything that intentionally “slammed” Blunt Club. I simply pointed out the differences I saw between Blunt Club and Groove Candy, and the differences I discussed are multi-faceted, not just based on race. That does not constitute an attempt to start a feud between the two weeklies, as some people have suggested.
The truth is, there are two different hip-hop scenes in this city, and race does have something to do with the demographics of each, whether people want to admit it or not. Hustle even admits it in one of her arizonabeats posts: “i think the divide between the two scenes is real...granted she didn't exactly cover it the right way, there is, for lack of better terms a majority "white" rap scene and a majority "black" one, but no one wants to admit that for fear of sounding non-PC. which she did in the way she said it.”
Perhaps my stating the truth did come off as non-PC; that doesn’t make it “racist,” as Ill Al the Anglo Saxon and Grime, among others, have alleged. I think the fact that I mentioned race at all has offended some people. But it IS a part of the story, and judging by the hundreds of posts on arizonabeats.com, it was something that a lot of people felt needed to be discussed but nobody had the gumption to bring up. My intention was not to create a “White vs. Black” dynamic in the story at all, but simply to show how these two scenes differ in terms of demographics, sound, and cultural perspectives in their lyrics. And a lot of cultural perspective stems from who we are and where we come from.
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The divide between the Blunt Club and Groove Candy scenes is real. That doesn’t mean there’s intentional segregation going on, or that there’s a “Blunt Club vs. Groove Candy” feud. In fact, as a result of my alleged blatant attempt to “create” tension between the two scenes, they’ve been talking about getting together for a big charity show. I think that’s an awesome idea, especially since, according to one of Hustle’s forum posts, there has been a bit of tension between the two scenes:
“i don't need to defend my character, because my actions on the scene speak for themselves. when i started groove candy a year and a half ago, i was sending out bulletins for the night and received an interesting response from a key head over at blunt club at the time, saying 'YOU'RE MISTAKEN! OUR NIGHT IS THE BEST HIP-HOP NIGHT IN THE VALLEY FOR FIVE YEARS STRONG!!!!!!!" that ended up causing a shitstorm, that wasn't covered in any local publication, but was cleared up and apologized for and we all moved on. that was actually a real attempt to knock someone doing their thing. my intent was NOT that with anything i said, and nowhere in that article did i say "fuck blunt club' or "we're better" or "we're in competition". our crowds aren't even the same, and that was my point. they are NOT. they don't mix and mingle save for a few heads and don't seem to be interested in each other.”
As I stated before, my goal in writing this story was to get national attention for the amazing hip-hop music being made here. But I had to focus on something, and I focused on Willy Northpole and how the Groove Candy scene represents a more commercial, mainstream hip-hop paradigm. And yes, I came out and said I thought the hip-hop coming out of there was the “real” Phoenix hip-hop in the same breath that I mentioned Blunt Club. I can understand how some people would be upset by that. It doesn’t mean I don’t think Blunt Club or white MCs can’t make important contributions to the local scene; I am saying that artists from the Groove Candy set – like Northpole – will be the ones to put Phoenix hip-hop on the national map because they have a more authentic, mainstream sound; they have the opportunity, and their time in the spotlight is overdue.
It was my hope that the local hip-hop community would come together and show support for Northpole, and perhaps use the story as a springboard for getting national attention to Phoenix’s amazing scene. Instead, I feel the focus has shifted to bringing attention to what some people feel are inaccuracies in the story. The positive side is that however pissed off people in both scenes may be right now, they are communicating and working together for the first time ever. Ultimately, that’s great for the scene, and it’s one small step toward the kumbaya-story everybody seems to want.