When the Arizona Hip-Hop Festival debuted in October 2014, organizer Justus Samuel had no idea whether it would succeed.
“Aww, fuck no,” he says. “I was terrified.”
He had plenty of reasons to feel that way. The first Arizona Hip-Hop Festival was an ambitious, if untested, idea: a massive, locals-only showcase at the cavernous Comerica Theatre that featured close to 100 rappers, MCs, and artists from throughout Arizona, many of them unknown.
Against all odds, it turned out to be a success, with an estimated 3,000 people in attendance.
“Logistically, it was a nightmare,” Samuel says. “It took doing it to figure out how to do it. And once we did it, we knew it could be successful. And we pulled it off.”
The Arizona Hip-Hop Festival has become an annual event that’s gotten bigger and more ambitious each year.
For the second edition in 2015, Samuel and his company, local hip-hop promoter and label Respect the Underground, partnered with rap superstar Master P. Last year, they got the endorsement of Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, who declared the second Saturday of November to be “Arizona Hip-Hop Day.”
“We were like, ‘Woah, this is crazy,’” Samuel says.
And this year’s festival, which takes place on Saturday, November 11, promises to be even bigger.
Not only will it feature the event’s largest lineup of performers to date (more than 225 at last count), Samuel is expecting the festival to meet or exceed last year’s turnout of approximately 6,000 people.
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That will likely include a large number of local teenage hip-hop fans in attendance, as Samuel says they’ve donated more than 1,000 tickets to Valley high schools and local community centers for teen outreach programs.
“We grow about by 20 percent every year,” he says. “So this year, we anticipating more, but who knows? If we hit the same numbers we did last year, I'm grateful. I'm grateful every time we execute the event because it goes all day, we celebrate hip-hop culture, there's no violence, and it's just a beautiful thing.”
He’s also proud of this year’s lineup, which includes numerous rappers, MCs, and performers from around Arizona who have never played the event before.
Headliners making their festival debut include burgeoning hip-hop stars Ali Tomineek and Richie Evans, nerdcore king Mega Ran, Olympian-turned-rapper Will Claye, and father-son duo Iroc Daniels and his son Marquel Deljuan.
“Our headliners are really rad this year,” Samuel says. “When it comes to the headliners, we always try to step our game up and do a really dope job just focusing on the one who are making noise.”
He’s just as enthusiastic about the rest of the festival’s roster.
“The caliber and quality of talent from Arizona is great,” Samuel says. “We're seeing growth in the community as a whole in the quality of music and the quality of the product coming of the state is just dope to watch.”
As with its first three editions, Samuel says, the Arizona Hip-Hop Festival 2017 will serve as a showcase for the local scene and its wealth of talent.
“It’s a platform that was designed to cultivate the culture and be used as a platform for active practitioners,” Samuel says. “It's for people to celebrate Arizona hip-hop culture.”
This year’s festival will also boast a block party vibe. It will encompass the entirety of Comerica Theatre as well as surrounding streets like Fourth and Fifth avenues, which will be blocked off between Adams and Washington streets for the event.
“We utilize every square inch of that facility and shut down and entire city block,” Samuel says. “We even use the dressing room for our work station. It's like a little city.”
And that city will feature seven different stages in and around Comerica Theatre, including its massive main room, that will host performances. There will also be an 10-hour open mic session, a producer- and DJ-oriented area called “Beat Street” that will host workshops and battles, and an army of vendors and visual artists.
Here’s what else you can expect at this year’s Arizona Hip-Hop Festival on Saturday.
When and Where: The Arizona Hip-Hop Festival 2017 will take over Comerica Theatre, 401 West Washington Street, on Saturday, November 11. Gates open at 11 a.m., performances start at noon, and the event goes until 10 p.m.
Price: Tickets are $25 and can be purchased online.
Age Limits: The festival is an all-ages event and kids under 5 are free.
Weather: The forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures around 83 degrees during the day.
Getting There: A light rail station is four blocks away at Central Avenue and Washington Street. Fares are $2 for a single ride, $4 for a day pass. If you’re coming by car, keep in mind that Adams Street north of the venue, as well as Fourth and Fifth avenues, will be blocked off for the festival.
Parking: An eight-level parking structure is located behind Comerica Theatre at Fourth Avenue and Adams. It’s $10 per space. Additional garages are located within a few blocks walk and range in cost from $5 to $20.
Getting Inside and Security: The main entrance to the festival is at Fourth Avenue and Washington. Samuel says there will be heightened security at the entrances and surrounding perimeter.
What's Inside: Hip-hop, duh. The festival will have a block party feel and will encompass most of the streets surrounding Comerica Theatre. Besides several outdoor stages, there will also be various outdoor live art sessions. Lowriders and tricked-out vehicles from such local groups and businesses as Rollerz Only Car Club and KuRush Motorsports custom car shop will also be on display.
Vendors: Around 60-70 vendors, including many local mom-and-pop companies, will be on-site at the event. There will be vendor villages outside, including one just to the left of the entrance and another along the Fourth Avenue side of Comerica Theatre.
Food and Drink: Comerica Theatre’s lobby concession stands will operate during the festival and offer beer, wine, and cocktails, as well as stuff like popcorn and nachos.
Meanwhile, anywhere from eight to 10 food trucks and vendors will be stationed along Adams Street north of the venue. Options like soul food, street tacos, kettle corn, chicken wings will be available for purchase. Big Cuz's BBQ and Twisted Catering will also be at the festival.
The Lineup: Samuel estimates that the festival’s lineup will include more than 225 different rappers, MCs, hip-hop artists, and DJs. They’ll perform on any of the right different stages both in and around Comerica.
Two will be inside Comerica, including the main stage and the Truminati Stage in the lobby, while the second floor will host the Loud Arizona stage on the smoking balcony and the AZ Mixtapes open mic stage.
The other four stages will be located outside the venue, including the Timeless Vape stage by the entrance, the Cloud N9ne stage at Fourth and Adams, and the Regenerate Stage on Comerica’s loading dock.
For a full rundown of who’s performing this year, check out our blog detailing the lineup of artists playing at the festival.
Visual Artists: More than 40 artists and painters will create live art at various points throughout the festival. Some will be doing their thing outside of the venue while more than a dozen will be set up along the central walkway in Comerica’s main room.
The lineup, which was curated by local artist Antoinette Cauly, will include such names as Andre McCline, Carlos Quintana, Cassandra Davison, Heather Freitas, Kyndel Shalaè, Shoreigh Williams, Ignacio Martinez, Bryan Phillpot, Drive Bye Tatz, Jose Carbal, and Joanna Marie Art.
Beat Street: One of the bigger events at the festival is this combination producer expo, networking panel, DJing workshop, and beat battle. Taking place in a 20-by-20-foot tent located along Fourth Avenue, it will run from noon until 7 p.m. and feature producers, beatmakers, DJs, and turntablists displaying their skills or battling one another.
“It's going to be really tight-knit and intimate,” Samuel says. “We're going to have DJ/turntablists displaying scratching techniques as well as doing the beat battle and showcasing beats live.”
The DJ Expo will be hosted by DJ Reflekshin and the folks from Fader Manners and will include open tables, scratch workshops, and showcases. They will also have DJ clinics for kids.
Meanwhile, producers will face off against each other during beat battles. It include the first-ever “Aux Wars,” which Samuel promises will be epic.
“It's exactly what it sounds like,” he says. “You can bring your laptop and plug in your aux cord and rock out. We're going to bang out beats live and watch producers go head to head.”
Homegrown hip-hop producer Lifted, who helped create the hit Kanye track “Mercy,” will also be on hand to “network and put producers up on game.”
Open Mic: Up-and-coming local hip-hop artists can perform at the festival, even if they’re not on the schedule. AZ Mixtapes will run an open mic session on the second-floor smoking balcony from noon until 10 p.m.
“It has an open-door policy; anybody who wants to show up is more than welcome,” Samuel says. “We'll rock out that open mic until there's no one left. There's always a line out the door. It's crazy. They will literally perform in front of no one, even as we're shutting down the festival.”
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Bring: A fully charged cellphone and some cash would both be wise. You can also bring anything promotional, including hats, posters, T shirts, download cards, and flyers that aren’t promoting other events.
Your new mixtape is cool, too, but only if it’s fire.
Don’t Bring: Any weapons, drugs, or anything else that’s dangerous or disruptive. Outside alcohol is also forbidden. You should also leave any drama or beef at home.
After-Party: Local gentlemen’s club Jaguars, 1902 North Black Canyon Highway, will host the official after-party. Drink and dance specials will be offered and anyone with a festival ticket stub will get in free before 10:30 p.m.