Arizona Hip Hop Festival a Showcase of Culture

"The culture is back"

This is what one of the people introducing MCs on the outside stage at the Arizona Hip Hop Festival at Comerica Theatre got the crowd chanting.

I have no idea what the previous culture of Arizona hip-hop was, so I couldn't tell if you if anything made a return, but Saturday night did feel like a distinct moment. MCs spitting bars, DJs spinning, fans watching, nodding their heads and throwing their hands up while kids in the background played games on some old Nintendos hooked up to flat-screen TVs as a guy in camo pants and some friends did capoeira. Again, I don't know if this is a return of local hip-hop culture, but maybe it's a return to culture in general in the downtown area, which can often feel like a lunar landscape, even on a Saturday night. It felt good to see people creating and enjoying art in such a profound way in a public space, and I think that was a huge accomplishment of Respect The Underground's Arizona Hip Hop Festival.

However, this was just one accomplishment. Inside Comerica Theatre, there were two more stages, one set up on the main stage of the venue, and another in the lobby. While the outside stage had more of an old-school, kind of conscious vibe, the inside stages had more of an intense party vibe. A lot more calls to "turn up" inside than outside.

And I think that gradation of contemplative to celebratory is a good thing. Hip-hop is democratic; it's supposed to encompass almost infinite perspectives because it is about the individual. It is also, simultaneously and unparadoxically, about the community. The lone rapper, the breakdancing crew, the dudes rapping about sipping lean and partying only exist with people who support them and people who challenge them. The biggest accomplishment of the Arizona Hip Hop Festival may be that they managed to get all these perspectives under one roof, coexisting, cohabitating, commingling. If we view a culture as a wide collection of different experiences, traditions, and worldviews, I think it's safe to say that the culture was back, at least for the night.

Critic's Notebook:

Shout Outs: I didn't mention any performers' names because there were so many. This event went from 3 p.m. to midnight and had featured almost 100 performers. Here are some of them that I liked: Eazy Music, Femme Fatale, ICCake, Phal Kilmer, Metaphorical, Mr. Miranda, Slogan, Justus CTL, Kaliq.

Also, performers were rotating out so fast that it was hard to get names and there was a lot of stuff going on. No intentional snubs here; I'm sure your stuff is good.

Gender Gap: Can we have more rappers who are not dudes? Seriously, women have been rapping since hip-hop started yet the genre is still disproportionately male. I could go on about this, but if you want a genre that reflects reality, you have to include the perspectives of everyone, not just people with penises. The one all female group I saw, who I think was called Femme Fatale, but I am having a hard time looking that up on the internet because it is a relatively ubiquitous term, was pretty rad.

A Better Tomorrow: I feel like all disputes on the planet should be resolved through dance battles.

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