According to Justus Samuel, the organizer behind Respect The Underground and the AZ Hip Hop Festival, August 2016 was the most important month ever for Arizona hip-hop.
It was a month of album releases by local artists, the culmination of years of hard grinding. It was a month where multiple A-listers like Snoop Dogg, Wiz Khalifa, DMX, and more played concerts to Phoenix audiences ravenous for quality rap. Culture is a key element of hip-hop too, and in August there was an urban comedy festival, a sneaker convention, fashion shows, pool parties, and more. The Tempe-raised rapper Futuristic, who Samuel calls "our first superstar," released his most important album to date, As Seen on the Internet, which Samuel expects will put Arizona hip-hop on the map in a way it has never before been.
"When the scene is popping like that, it only creates more awareness and events," he says. "People no longer have any excuse."
Samuel has a personal stake in all this. Through his organization, Respect The Underground, he has been one of the loudest voices advocating for local hip-hop in recent years. The Arizona Hip Hop Festival, which will have its third installment at Comerica Theatre on Saturday, November 19, brings together almost 100 Copper State MCs, DJs, artists, and more under one roof. There is no other local music festival that even comes close to its scope or ambition, and this year, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton declared November 19 Hip-Hop Day in Phoenix.
"It was designed to create tradition and ceremony, something our community lacks," Samuel says of the festival. We have no traditions, no holidays. No parades recognizing our culture. We had nothing. Now we have something we can look forward to and prepare for every year. Something that will grow our community exponentially every year."
Samuel's roots in the scene are deep. He moved to Arizona when he was a child and became fixated on basketball and hip-hop. He first rapped on stage at a talent show when he was 10, sparking his love for performing that burns strong to this day. The first hip-hop success he found was in Cut Throat Logic, and he naturally turned to promoting as a result.
"Event coordination and promotion was birthed out of necessity," he says. "I didn’t have a choice. It was either throw and promote our own event or starve."
From there, his organization Respect The Underground grew naturally. He saw a hip-hop scene that was fractured and disorganized. He wanted to create a sense of unity.
"I saw a need, a void. A black hole of vacancy," he says. "We had no platform, no structure, no tradition, no
ceremony. We were lacking culture and an identity. We had zero focus on what should be done to take it to
the next level, and absolutely no ladder to climb to help anyone get there. Only a half a dozen people before this had ever even almost succeeded. Only a couple actually have. I wanted to build something real that the state could be proud of."
What makes a good song? The frequency. A good song takes you somewhere else, it makes the hairs on the back of your neck and arms stand up at attention like toy soldiers.
What's your favorite local band? It depends on my mood. Right now, I have J.Rob The Chief and D Mac Deluxx on repeat. It differs by the moment. ... It changes every song. I can’t say I have a favorite.
What's the best concert you've ever seen in Phoenix? From a local artist, Futuristic, without question. He sold out Livewire on a Thursday night and performed to the caliber of the greatest to ever do it. It was like Beastie Boys had a baby with Steve Aoki. He is a master of ceremony in its purest form. I’m talking stage diving, crowd controlling, sweat dripping, jumping up and down on command, titties out. Organized chaos at its finest. Cheers to that young man.
What's your favorite venue, living or dead, in the Valley? Comerica Theatre. It is every artist's dream to play the same stage as Jay Z and Marilyn Manson. ... It is the support of the venues that make what we do as a scene possible. Without them, were just fucking up residential neighborhoods and ruining backyard landscapes.
Who do you admire most in the music scene?
I admire its tenacious persistence to achieve the impossible. I don’t admire any one individual more than the next. I admire each and everyone of my peers for their unique qualities that make our culture vibrant. From the young bucks to the OGs. I appreciate and acknowledge all of them what they did, are doing or will do.
The 2016 Noisemakers so far:
25. Matty Steinkamp
24. Blaise Lantana
23. Justus Samuel