Phoenix harbors a budding hip-hop scene with an abundance of talented artists right under the noses of the citizens. One group in particular is making waves and has built up a nice resume of shows with already established and somewhat mainstream artists. They’ve opened up for EarthGang and J.I.D., and now they can add Freddie Gibbs to their list thanks to a recent gig at AURA in Tempe.
Their name? Riot 4 Peace.
The collective is composed of three skilled rappers — Ghostavo, Kenyatta, and Me$a — all hailing from the Phoenix area. Their raps are “conscious,” dealing with society and the music industry in a way almost reminiscent of their idols: Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and Mick Jenkins.
The group’s members already have a couple of solo tapes under their belt on their label, Riot 4 Peace Records. Me$a released his 13-track project The Hallucination Tape in October, and Kenyatta dropped his debut tape, 51/50, in mid-November.
“Right now, especially how the culture is, Riot 4 Peace is something that is definitely needed,” Kenyatta says. “To make people embrace something positive even though negative may come with that. We’re fucking shit up so we can have inner peace.”
“We’re fucking shit up anyways, so we might as well fuck shit up for good,” Me$a adds.
This attitude is exemplified in their performances and music. Their library is full of tracks with intelligent lyrics that criticize the systematic issues, such as police brutality, faced by people of color. They’re not lecturing the audience, though: They present these issues with turnt-up performances and catchy hooks that can get the crowd riled up. This is the embodiment of their style: Their shows become a literal riot for peace.
The group was originally composed of just Ghostavo and Kenyatta, who were best friends in high school. Ghostavo had been writing rhymes and rapping off the top of the dome since second grade. Kenyatta is a writer turned artist. The two of them collaborated for a high school talent showcase and decided to form the group full-time. Me$a, Ghostavo’s cousin, earned a spot by posting freestyle videos online that caught the duo’s attention.
“We’re just trying to go full throttle,” says Me$a. “We’re working on merch, we got a website, we got our LLC. We’ve come a long way from rapping out of the closet.”
They started out performing at Jabbar’s Hookah Lounge on 67th Avenue and Bethany Home Road, but have quickly moved onto opening slots for major artists in the hip-hop underground: EarthGang and J.I.D. in February, Freddie Gibbs in December. The group take away lessons from each performance to apply to the next one, some retained from even the first show.
“You have got to control the stage. You have to control your energy,” says Ghostavo. “What I learned, too, was controlling my voice. When you’re over-projecting or yelling. You can either be too quiet or yelling, and you have to find that medium.”
Me$a’s learned they need to keep their heads up when performing to maintain that control. Kenyatta is trying to find ways to garner more attention from the crowd. Nonetheless, they are battle-tested and know how to work a room.
One lesson they all agree on: In the entertainment business, you have to be professional.
“You have to be confident about what you’re doing. Make the crowd believe you’re not a local act,” says Ghostavo.
“While having fun,” Kenyatta adds.
When it comes to making music, sometimes ideas come naturally, but other times a longer process is needed for the group to deliver their best work. “A musician’s mind is a busy stressed out mind,” says Ghostavo. “PK Tha Poet (another Phoenix rapper) said that as artists we kind of create our own problems so we can write them. We make our own realities. You’re speaking things into existence.”
Riot 4 Peace write about relatable problems and very personal issues. Me$a’s Hallucination Tape touches on systematic oppression against people of color — especially Latinx — who experience poverty through telling tales of his family and people he grew up around.
“People would be surprised on how much power a pen can hold and how much truth it holds,” says Kenyatta.
Me$a takes those words to heart as does the rest of the group. He believes what sets them apart in the rap game is their disregard for materialism and a sense of concern for Mexican and Chicano voices, who, despite being right across the border, face oppressive and discriminatory experiences in Arizona and around the country.
“We’re not really in it for all money, we want to bring some change with this shit,” he says. “We’re trying to spread love, give people knowledge and some food for thought. Through knowledge and life experiences I felt to care and give a fuck about my community. Being Mexican, Chicano specifically, do people really not know our story and our background? I want to be one of those people to share it.”
It’s unclear when Riot 4 Peace’s next show will be, but they’ll be sure to make the scene an intense one.
“Jumping, hands up, people yelling, people sweating,” says Ghostavo. “When we go out on stage ... The shit lights up. Always.”
Find Riot 4 Peace online at facebook.com/R4Precords.
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.