Musicians traditionally get all of the glory, but what about the venues that house them? Arizona hip-hop artists are regularly lauded for their lyrical lexicon and dazzling deliveries, but they couldn't be heard if popping music houses didn't provide the dark digs, microphones, stages, and booming sound systems.
There's nothing more innocuous than a strip mall, and it just so happens that the Valley is littered with them. These sidewalk shopping plazas are usually replete with an eatery -- something quaint like a Waffle House -- or maybe a friendly neighborhood yerberia.
And every so often there's a hidden gem known by few, but automatically appreciated once stumbled upon.
Here's our look at our five favorite venues for live hip-hop in Phoenix:
Club Red in Tempe is our kind of place for hip-hop enjoyment. The dual stage live music venue is renowned for its varied palette when it comes to hosting shows, booking anything from punk rock bands to retro glam rockers, but nothing gets the walls shaking like the chest-thumping bass of local and national hip-hop acts like Ghostface Killah or Big KRIT. We're cheating a little bit by lumping Red Owl and Club Red together as one venue, but the unique relationship between the neighboring venues is one of the biggest charms. The open layout makes it easy to enjoy performances from any corner of both venues without sacrificing the feeling of an intimate show.
The Hidden House fulfills all of the requirements of an underground hip-hop joint. The happening central Phoenix hotspot is small, and attracts the esoteric with a flair for old-school hip-hop flavor. Behind the direction of DJ Al Page, weekends connect musical mixologists with urbanites eager for grooving beats once the sun goes down on the weekly grind. And if you need to catch your breath you can always mosey on over to the adjacent pool hall/bar.
Yucca Tap Room already had a winning formula firmly in place long before the Blunt Club settled into the venerated Tempe strip mall unit in 2010, so it's no surprise the revered weekly continues to be the Valley's premier hip-hop night after 10 years of keeping it fresh. The low-sitting stage, cozy floorspace, and copious amounts of inhibitor-reducing beverages gel perfectly with the event's more-than-capable DJs, mic-rockers, and live art maestros (courtesy Valley hip-hop hero/graffiti artist Dumperfoo). It's a combination that flows perfectly.
Home of the long-running and always exciting WTFunk night on Fridays, this Tempe dive brings in some of the most artful hip-hop performers from all around the Southwest. Adam Rassas and Wallace Taylor bring together an eclectic mix, featuring live drums, freestyles, and performances from national acts like Open Mike Eagle, Pigeon John, Busdriver, the legendary Camp Lo, and Oddisee, and the duo keeps the night rooted with a firm foot in the local scene as well, boasting gigs by the likes of Span Phly, Black One, and Brad B and The Insects.
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We like the Celebrity for hip-hop watching because of the innate challenges the historical venue poses mic controllers. The unique rotating stage and its close proximity to every seat in the house makes rappers really work the stage and earn every bit of attention.
Although the venue can seat up to 2,600 music lovers, the atmosphere is always chummy, making the otherwise large theater an intimate way to view our favorite hip-hoppers.