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Dumperfoo Quietly Galvanizes the Phoenix Hip-Hop Scene

It's less than an hour before last call at a recent session of The Blunt Club in Tempe, and resident DJ Pickster One is cuing up the Beastie Boys' "Get It Together." Girls in booty shorts shake it on the checkered tiled floor and PBR-toting patrons bellow to be heard over the bass and voice of dearly departed Beastie Adam Yauch, booming out of the Yucca Tap Room's speakers.

Leaning against the dive's shuffleboard game, to the left of the stage, Adam "Dumperfoo" Dumper — one of the quietest cats in the place — wordlessly oversees the scene with a commanding gaze. When the artist and longtime Blunt Club promoter does speak, it's typically to exchange a quick "What's up?" or "Howzitgoing?" to those walking past. He languidly sips from a tall boy — a vice he indulges only at the end of the night.

"I usually don't get my drink on until the last hour, after everything's going good," he says. "I don't want to be wasted while I'm making sure shit's going on. A lot of times you gotta hold people's hands."

Dumper's voice is hoarse from a recent cold, which he's been trying to kick since the first of the year. He pins the nagging illness on a nasty rhinovirus he picked up from a Blunt Club cohort ("We were all sharing a bottle on New Year's Eve") — but clearly, Dumper's exhausting schedule has to take some of the blame.

He's kept his paint-splattered fingers dipped in the local hip-hop mix for most of the past 15 years. Besides shepherding the Blunt Club through a half-dozen different venues since 2002, Dumper's also been involved with landmark urban art collectives (Alpha Monsters, Blow-Up Co-op), helped promote influential club nights (Flavor Shop, Kill Mill), adorned canvases at a slew of hip-hop events, and collaborated with fellow members of interconnected backpack-rap ensembles The Insects and Drunken Immortals on a soon-to-be-released album and music video.

His role in stylizing the visual element of Phoenix hip-hop has earned him the love of his peers. On Thursday, January 17, The Blunt Club will celebrate his legacy, and on Friday, January 18, his pals are throwing a massive 40th birthday party, featuring the reunion of Drunken Immortals, the dancers of Furious Styles Crew, DJs Organic, Daddy Rich, Mr. Hyder, and host Emerg McVay. The latter gathering, thrown at Tempe hip-hop haven Club Red, speaks to Dumper's standing among the MCs and DJs of Phoenix.

A former b-boy wunderkind in his adolescence, Dumper's breakdancing days are long behind him (as he's neither popped nor locked since 1995), he tells New Times.

He also drops dime that his skills as both turntablist and rapper aren't that fly, either.

"I can't rap at all — horrible rapper," he says with a laugh while sitting around a table at Casey Moore's in Tempe a few hours before the Thursday night Blunt Club session. He's joined by Jonas "Foundation" Hurst and Michael "Mic Cause" Cosentino, two members of Drunken Immortals.

He's far better at the remaining element of hip-hop culture: art.

While his collaborators rap, Dumper works a canvas onstage, creating art in real time, adding an expressive visual element to the music. Both Hurst and Cosentino consider Dumper's live paintings, which he quickly creates during the course of a 45-minute set, to be as vital an element to Drunken Immortals as the beats and rhymes.

"When we're onstage, it's hard to see it, but it kinda all goes together so well, like, rhythmically with how he paints and all. It fits with our music so well," Hurst says. "When he started playing with us years ago, I was like, 'You can finish it during the end of this motherfucker? From a blank fucking canvas?' Our set's like 45 minutes, and he finishes them every time."

He's even a part of practice sessions, Cosentino says, where Dumper sketches out what he's painting at an upcoming gig.

"He sits around drawing while we're fucking around, writing shit on the board, yelling shit, getting into fights or whatever, and he [sits] there in the corner and snickers while planning it out," Cosentino says.

Dumper's ascent to unofficial art director of the Valley hip-hop scene stretches back to the '90s, and strangely enough, it was a move to San Diego in 1999 that defined his future role in Phoenix.

"I had an office, making phat money. I was killing it, but I worked in Costa Mesa and I lived in San Diego," he says. "After 9/11, I couldn't take the train. There was no way to get up north. And when the planes are crashing into the buildings, I was like, 'I'm just gonna move back to Arizona.'"

Everything was looking up, especially since fellow artist Jessica Jordan had phoned him about opening her new art supply store, Wet Paint. Not to mention Keith Nichols, proprietor of the old Priceless Inn in Tempe, was cajoling him into launching a new poetry/hip-hop night called The Blunt Club. The bar owner hoped to evoke the artsy urban vibe of Move '98, a similar event Dumper had put on at Nichols' other joint, Boston's.

"Keith and his brother ran Boston's, and they came at me: 'Yo, we should do a night called The Blunt Club and you should have live art, painting, and DJs and shit like you did with Move '98," he says. "Because at that time, poetry was kicking it and shit with Def Poetry Jam and Saul Williams."

But the excitement of starting a new job and new night quickly was put on hold. Dumper inadvertently was caught up in the investigation of ecstasy dealer "English" Shaun Attwood's criminal empire, and he was arrested in a massive sting, along with more than 36 others, in 2002. (Attwood himself would do time in Towers Jail, the subject of his memoir, Hard Time: A Brit in America's Toughest Jail, before being deported back to England). A roommate had sought Dumper's help in scoring some drugs, and the artist unfortunately phoned a dealer connected with Attwood. The call was tapped and Dumper was nabbed.

"It was my own stupid fault. I was sober and clean and had just moved back and was all positive and was going to these dope shows and I had a new job," he says.

Initially charged with several narcotics felonies, Dumper eventually secured a plea deal after copping to the use of electronic communications in support of a drug transaction and was sent to the county jail for four months.

"And then everybody from [the local hip-hop scene] wrote me letters of recommendation to get out of jail," he says. "I just used that as [motivation] to try and do better with my life, get my fucking head out of my ass."

Released into Jordan's custody, Dumper's golden age began. He feverishly collaborated with the members of the scene, joined the Drunken Immortals in 2003, and helped make Wet Paint, its upstairs B-Side Gallery, and Blunt Club epicenters for local hip-hop.

"It was a good hub all the way around. Even on our off days, when we weren't doing shows, it was still a bunch of MCs or DJs or artist people in there hanging out. We had a record store upstairs, too," Dumper says.

Cosentino remembers the place well.

"Wet Paint galvanized it," Cosentino says. "The art, the music — it was all such a good place. We had beer and wine flowing, [and] the art was going. People that we don't know were showing up just to see what was happening. It sort of gave us more of an audience more than bars ever did. Because the bars were more interested in just loot, while that place was really interested in culture. People that I didn't know were coming and listening, they were buying records, they were down for it and started asking, 'Where are you guys playing next?'"

Graf artists weren't the only ones rolling, though, as everyone from rappers to rockers brought in their CDs to sell on consignment or drop off fliers at the Tempe store, which originally was located on Forest Avenue before moving to Ash Avenue and closing around Thanksgiving 2012.

Wet Paint helped foster a community, and Hurst says bringing Dumperfoo into the Drunken Immortals crew — plus its numerous side projects, including The Insects, Crusher Sound System, and Discombobulator — was a no-brainer.

"We never even thought about it," he says. "It just seemed like it never even was a question. He seemed like family."

Even with Wet Paint's doors closed, Dumper stays busy. He estimates he does four to five live paintings a week at shows like Sail Inn's Tempe Art A Go-Go and punk gigs, in addition to graphic design work for CenPho strip club Cheetah's. ("That's always steady income," he quips. "They always need titty dancer fliers") or for clothing company Coolin' Out Entertainment.

"He never seems to slow down," Cosentino says. "He's prolific. It's like he's got a broken back from being hunched over."

"Yeah," Dumper agrees, not really joking when he describes his back maladies. "Like scoliosis."

Though he says in deadpan fashion, the artist actually suffers from a mild form of the spinal condition brought on from constantly hunching over canvases. And according to Hurst, Dumper is a victim of second malady.

"He also has another problem," the MC says. "He can't say no to gigs."

"It's more like he's got no-liosis," Cosentino quips.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.