For the sixth straight year, the Arizona Hip Hop Festival descended upon downtown Phoenix. In a two-day event packed with 340 rappers, singers, and artists — not to mention vendors galore — seeing even 10 percent was next to impossible. So instead, here are eight awesome things we saw during Saturday's festivities. If nothing else, each showcase proved that hip-hop in the Valley is alive and very well.
The first act of any festival sets the larger mood. In the case of San Diego’s Legion X, it was a deeply weird vibe. X’s set exemplified his self-proclaimed "psychosis rap." It was a distinctly old-school lyrical barrage that referenced nootropics and climate change (like if Digable Planets did way too much DMT). Not everyone was so enthusiastic about this oddball, deeply political performance, but this "forcibly grab the crowd by the lapels with wit and intensity" is X’s M.O. In a festival that promised to present the true hip-hop spectrum, X shined a light on the culture’s weirdest, most endearing qualities.
B-Boys/Girls on Stage G
To better present all the main "elements" of hip-hop, promoters launched a dance-only stage for the very first time. Even as the other performances ran late, there were dancers busting moves from about noon onward. Crowds dipped in and out throughout as performers unfurled wicked windmills or improvised to the DJ’s mixes. Was the stage a fun distraction between sets? You best believe it. But it was also a chance to rep something essential to hip-hop that’s often ignored for some reason. And with a few sick moves, the festival expanded its impact and footprint.
From bar one, you had to give it up to the duo of FuhReaL and E-CoCo. They certainly lived up to the moniker of Lyrical Alumni with thoughtful, savvy rhymes. Yet this performance was more than a great example of old-school lyricism presented in a shiny new package. The pair should be heralded for their charisma and interplay on stage. It was like watching the best wedding band ever. They knew just how to engage with the crowd and give them something to lock into (namely, a slick remix of "All the Way Up"). Lyrical Alumni aren't exactly breaking molds, but then solid entertainment means doing something and doing it damn well.
It's easy to see a name like Stacczindabuildin and assume you're in for vapid, surface-level lyricism. But Phoenix's own Nistephla Staccz isn't just about flashy displays — there's a deeply earnest quality to his lyrical output. He's a real man of the people type — he literally jumped off the stage and wandered through the sparse crowd to preach on his struggles for self-worth. He was among the first acts of the day to engage with the crowd in a meaningful way, converting folks with his smile, sincerity, and (mostly) wholesome vibes. Staccz's set felt like a glow-up for a deserving artist, a distinctly Phoenix moment that let everyone walk away satisfied.
The best festivals encourage real exploration to uncover something new and great. In this instance, I was seeking a large soda when I landed upon the set of Lex Miyoshi, a kind of postmodern conscious rapper who is unlike other acts. It was ironic that Miyoshi was another act to hop off the stage and perform amid the crowd. His uneven, overly self-aware flow, sprinkled with memes, video game references, and jagged wordplay, created a distance between both parties. But in that space, Miyoshi delivered something truly intriguing, blurring the line between hip-hop and performance art
Trap House Dove Release
It would have been easy to throw a fest focused solely on great performances and selling red velvet funnel cake. But in a touching midday moment, festival promoter Justus Samuel led a touching tribute to Tikey "Trap House" Patterson, a long-time Phoenix MC who died this past February. In addition to releasing several doves, Samuel and company brought out Isaiah Acosta, the so-called "jawless rapper" whom Patterson had collaborated (Patterson was described as Acosta's "voice" on two tracks). In an event committed to the scene’s evolution, this earnest moment was a chance to celebrate the legacies of those who helped build the future.
In any festival setting, there's a moment where you can almost feel the transition from the up-and-comers to more top-tier talent. While she's not as well known, Samara Cyn's definitely among the latter. She was a clear standout from the very young crop of talent across day one. For someone still quite early in her career, Cyn's already got the grace and presence of a veteran. She commanded the stage with a flow that's as sly and sensuous as it is gritty and forceful. While she may not have the positioning as some other acts, Cyn proved that skills trump hype or placement outright.
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Between the elote vendors and selfie walls, it would be easy to mistake the fest as more of a carnival than a music event. But in terms of celebrating that party vibe, few performers captured that spirit like YKM Yosh. Perhaps that had everything to do with his unassuming style. He was like a down-home, harder-hitting Post Malone. It also could have been the late-evening placement and the lull before some bigger acts. Either way, Yosh's set was a genuine block party, a kickback among friends celebrating music and life. Oh, and bonus points for wearing a "Fuck ICE" shirt while performing in front of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office.