By Niki D'Andrea
Lists are fun to make, and even more fun to dispute. There’s always some glaring injustice to kvetch, some oversight that demands a reaming. For example, Rolling Stone’s list of the “500 Greatest Albums Ever Made” put four Beatles albums in the top 10, which makes sense, but I personally think ranking Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band number one of all-time (ahead of The Beatles’ “White” and Rubber Soul albums) is inaccurate, unless we’re talking about the album covers and not the actual album content. Putting the Patti Smith Group’s Horses all the way down at #44 was another point of contention for me, as was ranking Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions at #23, while knocking his incomparable Songs in the Key of Life down to #56.
Music is, of course, a subjective thing, and everyone has his or her own opinions about what is “good.” But when the perceived goal of a list is to tell people what’s new and good, taste makers can miss the mark by miles.
On that tip, Vibe magazine recently named the “51 Best MySpace Rappers,” by state. I’m not sure how Vibe determined who made the list, but I beg to differ with their Arizona pick. The only artist from ‘Zona that passed muster with Vibe was a Phoenix rapper who goes by the handle MC Magic. Now, I’ll admit, I’d never heard of MC Magic until I saw this list. So I checked out the songs on his MySpace page, and they’re pretty solid -- mostly a mix of reggaeton and other Latin flavors, R&B, and low-key, seduce-you type rhymes (think Pitbull-meets-D’Angelo). But while MC Magic’s tracks are slick, I feel that Vibe totally overlooked at least a dozen of our best local hip-hop acts. Believe it or not, P-city is a hip-hop haven, and we’ve got an amazingly diverse array of artists here, any one of which could (and should) have made the Vibe list.
So…here is my list of the “Top 12 Arizona Hip-Hop Acts.” They are not listed in any sort of order, as I believe they are all equally worth your ear. Of course, even this list is going to omit some of our city’s most solid MCs -- feel free to give ‘em a shout-out in the comments, if you feel I’ve forgotten someone.
Cousins of the Wize: www.myspace.com/cousinsofthewize
This hip-hop collective has been around the Valley for ten years now, and has a reputation as one of the best live hip-hop acts in town. They’re a full band, complete with guitar, bass, drums, saxophone, keyboards, and two vocalists, and they do a phenomenal job of blending hip-hop with reggae, funk, psychedelia, and indie rock.
Drunken Immortals: www.myspace.com/drunkenimmortals
Photo by David Joseph Perez
Easily the Valley’s most popular hip-hop act, Drunken Immortals have recorded with the likes of AWOL ONE, Grayskull, and Abstract Rude, as well as making numerous appearances at The Blunt Club weekly at Hollywood Alley in Mesa. They’re completely D.I.Y., and members of the collective (most notably Brad B, Foundation, and Pickster One) have participated in numerous hot side projects over the year (one of which, The Insects, is listed below).
Cut Throat Logic: www.myspace.com/cutthroatlogic
A fiercely localized group (check out their song, “Phire City,” which blasts Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and praises the campus hotties at ASU), CTL has been kicking around the PHX since before the New Millenium. In 2000, one of the CTL crew, Kamau, shot and killed himself at the age of 19. Soulfly front man Max Cavalera, who had recently lost his stepson and best friend, got a hold of CTL’s demo and the two co-wrote a song called “In Memory Of…” for Soulfly’s Primitive album, as a tribute for the loved ones both musical artists had lost.
Pokafase’s Mastermind album would be the best hip-hop disc to ever come out of Phoenix -- had it ever come out. Poka had a deal with ARTISTDirect. He made this phenomenal album that blended wicked hip-hop spits with funk, crunk, and soul (and included guest appearances by Warren G. and Kokane from the Doggystyle All-Stars). Even Eminem was singing Pokafase’s praises. Then, Poka got screwed by ARTISTDirect (the label actually went under, but retained the rights to the album). So, independent again, Pokafase is working on a new record, scheduled to hit stores later this year.
The Premiere: www.myspace.com/thepremieremusic
This duo’s debut album, London Paris New York, is an aboslutely brilliant mashup of hip-hop, rock, and electro. Admitted perfectionists, The Premiere spent seven years putting this gem together, and it paid off in the form of ridiculously hot hooks and catchy potential singles. Take one listen to “Patrick Swayze,” and it’ll be stuck in your head all day.
The five MCs that comprise Survivalist all bring different things to the table, whether the group’s laying down rhymes over a ‘70s soul beat, or pumping up the crunk. They’ve been around since 1999, but I haven’t heard any news on the group since the 2004 release Retribution. That album came on the heels of a Billboard Top 10 Hot Rap Singles chart appearance for the song “Bounce.” They even once got a write-up in Vibe. Perhaps Vibe excluded them from the “51 Best MySpace Rappers” list because they don’t seem to have a MySpace page. Survivalist, if you’re out there, holla!
Tha Formula: www.myspace.com/thaformula
This Phoenix duo won the Phoenix New Times “Summer of Sound” hip-hop category, which was determined by audience voting at a live show. They strive to merge “Top 40” hip-hop with “alternative music.”
Mista Maja: http://www.myspace.com/gaijinmaja
Known as being one of the very few Black rappers to venture into the “anime rap” genre, Mista Maja raps about such geek chic topics as video games, Transformers, and of course, Japanese anime. He’s performed at anime conventions all over the country, and has some pretty fly vids up on YouTube.
Mello Mello: http://www.myspace.com/mellomlo
More on the soulful R&B tip than the urban hip-hop tip, Mello Mello makes smooth soul songs with urban beats, designed to make the ladies swoon and give the fellas more seductive tracks for their mix tapes. The duo’s latest album, An Abstract Love Story, is available now from several sources, including CDBaby.
Like The Roots, Antedote creates organic hip-hop with live instrumentation, incorporating a rich, jazzy sound into their socially conscious hip-hop songs. They were voted “Best Local Band” on the “Best of Phoenix” ballot by Phoenix New Times readers this year, and have shared the stage with such luminaries as Pigeon John, Common, Busdriver, Buck 65, and DJ Z-Trip.
The Insects: www.myspace.com/theinsects1
Photo by David Perez
Spearheaded by Brad B and Foundation of Drunken Immortals, The Insects provide the same eclectic array of sounds as D.I., but with minimal instrumentation (usually just vocals and turntable), and for free. You can download The Insects’ entire first album, at no charge, from their MySpace page.
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Fetti Profoun: www.myspace.com/fettiprofoun
I’ve complained in print about Fetti’s handle before, but his raps are tight enough that I can forgive what I think is a lame stage name. His debut album, Valley Fever, bounces with springy beats, samples, and 12-bar spits that rankle everything from death (“Death’s Creepin”) to Sheriff Arpaio’s infamous pink-underwear jail (“Tent City”).
Eight other great local hip-hop artists not discussed in this list (and also overlooked by Vibe):