It's 2014 and high time you got some new music into your playlist -- seriously. And that's doubly true when it comes local music, of which there's an overabundance in metro Phoenix. The Valley's music scene is gifted with burgeoning bands and emerging artists who will be making waves and getting attention this year.
Over the next couple of weeks, Up on the Sun will highlight more than a dozen such acts for our series 14 Bands You Need to Hear in 2014. Today, Jason P. Woodbury profiles Salt River rez rapper MC Optimal.
Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community resident and rapper MC Optimal isn't a new artist. But it's hard to deny that 2014 looks like it's going to be his year. He's recently signed with MURS' 316 label, and his verse in a recent cypher for the popular Team Backback site signal an artist with more than a little buzz.
"Wasn't really trying to convey anything else but that I spit nothing but skill and raw energy," Optimal says of his appearance alongside labelmates Kosha Dillz, Reverie, and MURS. His verse, hands down the most brutal of the bunch, achieves his goals, demonstrating an MC with a firm grasp on violent wordplay and a metaphysical yen. Songs like the gentle "Good Hair" on his SoundCloud profile juxtapose wildly with the verse -- Optimal isn't afraid of poetry, and he isn't afraid to employ some creative destruction.
Optimal -- born Guy Goodwin -- has been a staple in the local hip-hop scene for over a decade, coming up from open mics in downtown Phoenix.
"In late '95 I started developing my rhyming skills with the crew I rolled with in the [Salt River] rez. Just a bunch of us knuckleheads up to no good. I eventually started going to open mic sessions, and a couple of battle scenes here in their in random spots," Optimal says. "It wasn't until 2003 I started going to this place called Majerles' 9 Lounge in downtown Phoenix, [where] a Los Angeles-based MC named Volume 10 was hosting a weekly hip-hop night called the Volume Zone. At the end of every night he would always open the mic up. I would get on it. Every single time. And kept doing it until where I started getting actual shows to perform an actual set instead of just going up there and free-styling."
It was at 9 Lounge that Optimal started connecting with Tempe and Phoenix-based artists like Brad B, the Insects, and Foundation. His decade-long connection with "his homie" Foundation brought him to the attention of Tucson/Los Angeles-based rapper MURS.
"[Foundation] had mentioned my name to him and has always believed that I deserved a shot," Optimal says.
Clearly MURS agreed. He signed to his newly minted 316 Label in late 2013. He describes his forthcoming 316 debut, titled Foundation Presents: Optimal as "high-power," with "a lot of wordplay." Foundation's beats lean toward the jazz side, something Optimal says feels instinctual.
"Usually jazz has always been my main foundation to spit lyrics over due to the '90s East Coast style," he says, noting early inspirations like Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, MadCap, Common, Souls of Mischief and others. But that doesn't mean Optimal -- or Foundation -- are afraid to branch out, something that aligns him with the multi-faceted styles of his 316 labelmates like Jabee, Marley B, and Cash Lansky.
"Over the years I've opened my mind to other genres of music," Optimal says. "Basically if I feel it right away I'm digging it and aiming to build something with it."
The desire to build is part of what keeps Optimal in Arizona. While many claim you have to move to LA or Phoenix to make a go of it, he's got his feet (and rooted planted here).
"I pretty much stay [for] the same reason why anybody else would: because it's home," Optimal says. "Family, friends, and the rez? There's has a hell of a lot of talent here. Not only just the rez, but Phoenix, Tucson. Arizona in general! It's full of skill and talent. We're all aiming for the same goal, which is to let the world know it's a dope movement in itself. And if I can do my part with this whole group of people to inspire more talent out here, then that's a good reason for me. I love L.A. and I love New York. But Salt River, Arizona, is where I'm from.
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Check out the other local artists on our list of 14 Bands You Need to Hear in 2014.