Tucson hip-hop don’t stop

Randi Eichenbaum

Guys like Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z may get all the attention, but we’ve got our very own burgeoning hip-hop scene right here at home. Here are a few aspiring local rappers who are trying to make a name for themselves in this notoriously demanding business.

Isaiah Camacho

Twenty-five-year-old Isaiah Camacho is a pioneer in making his hometown of Tucson a soon-to-be-comfortable haven for hip-hop artists. As the owner of the recently-opened tattoo parlor, Staring Without Caring, on East Sixth Street, and with a new album release under his emerging record label “”Werd Em’ Up”” approaching, Camacho has his hands full.

He is not jumping into this pool full of ventures without having first gotten his feet wet.

For Camacho, music has always been an aspiration. He would tell you that even with the tattoo shop, it is obvious that his heart really lies with rap music, which cultivated his interest during his youth.

At 14, when most are trying to figure out the opposite sex and comprehend their wacked-out hormones, Camacho says he “”started getting a little more proactive”” with his music.

“”Music was my main focus for a lot of years. That’s all I wanted to do when I figured out I wanted to do something for the rest of my life,”” Camacho said. “”I just constantly try and produce music, be productive.””

What’s special about Camacho is that his life, and more specifically his rap career, is so intricately intertwined withTucson happenings. When he initially started performing, he found venues that were available were not necessarily conducive to regular live shows.

“”Tucson is a little difficult to consistently perform at,”” Camacho said. “”It’s only bars.””

It wasn’t until the turn of the millennium, when places like the Velvet Tea Garden and Skrappy’s were evolving into musical forums, that things began to happen for him.

At the end of 2001 and early 2002, Camacho put out his first album, a self-titled EP. The response was a good one: He sold about 300 copies in the span of a month.

Success continued to drive the hard-working Camacho. Within two years EP’s release, he put out the full-length album “”Wroten,”” and his sales stayed positive, selling 600 albums in six months.

Camacho’s lyrics are complex, some written for rhyme and no reason, others a reflection on what is going on in his life.

“”For a while, I was doing a lot of introspective things, conversations with myself, things I found easier to express in a more cryptic way,”” Camacho said.

Anyone interested in music is fond of what they werefirst exposed to, and Camacho is no exception. The rapper connects with hip-hop during the ’90s.

“”I miss that; I miss being inspired by that and feeling like there’s a bar or standards to meet up to,”” Camacho said.

Nowadays, the rapper immerses himself in a variety of music from within and outside the hip-hop genre.

“”I listen to shit that ranges from 16 Horsepower, which is kind of like Southern Baptist country rock, to stuff like Young Jeezy,”” Camacho said. “”And in the same vein, I can listen to Outkast and Murder City Devils to LoDeck to El-P, whatever, you know? It’s just music to me.””

Just as mainstream hip-hop has evolved, Camacho’s music has too, which is something that makes him feel more comfortable and at ease as a musician.

“”I can listen to music within the past couple of years that I have made a lot more frequent than the early, early stuff,”” Camacho said. “”I feel like they will last a lot longer, that they have become a little more timeless than they have been.””

This wasn’t, however, an accomplishment that came overnight.

“”I took a good eight-month pause to collect myself and progress on my music,”” Camacho said. “”I felt like I came to a part in my music where I started to feel redundant in my music, sort of stuck, like I had gone too far left, so I had to reclaim myself and focus again, try to refine what I really found good in the experimenting and going to a certain degree outside of a boundary or pushing myself to what I was trying to do.””

With a new perspective, Camacho is doing more than just furthering his own music career.

“”Werd Em’ Up Records”” hosts a hip-hop night every Tuesday at Vaudeville Cabaret, 110 E. Congress St.

“”I’d like to do something for Tucson,”” Camacho said. “”I don’t want to be ‘the one.’ I’m not trying to be the hero. I definitely want to do something to either help open up doors or help pave part of the road that I think Tucson can be on. There’s a really good community here as far as musicians and people that participate in the scene. I hope to make Tucson proud because of that. I hope to inspire anybody else from my city just as much as it has inspired me and make me proud. I’m happy to say that I’m from it; I hope people are happy to say that I’m from it as well.””

Class Project

Communication senior Jay Whiting, a.k.a. J. Foxx, and creative writing senior Noah Pollock, a.k.a. Knomad, are as different as they are alike. This contrast was made clear after hearing them perform in their hip-hop duo, Class Project, Friday night at the Kappa Alpha Theta “”Rock the Casa”” benefit concert.

Class Project’s performance exemplified their conversational style of lyrics that flows back and forth between each other, a style of rapping that shows off their talent. It is symbolic of the love and respect that Whiting and Pollock have for one another.

Pollock is the more introspective, fast-paced rapper that can flow a mile a minute, whereas the equally talented Whiting is more the entertainer of the show. Whiting, the shmoozer of the two,charmed the crowd of bopping sorority girls with his charisma and smile, all while calling attention to his T-shirt that read “”I Got It,”” which happened to be the name of one of the tracks the two performed.

Class Project’s embryo, so to speak, was formed when the two were living in the dorms, where they started free-styling with one another and even doing a little recording.

It wasn’t until last summer that Pollock and Whiting got their break. They were booked to open up for the New York-based hip-hop group Gym Class Heroes, who were playing at Centennial Hall.

“”(We) jumped from standing on the floor of a bar to being in front of like 2,500 people,”” Pollock said. “”Since then we have just been playing pretty much (every) show we can get.””

What makes them different from other hip-hop duos or any other band is that their music is created not by what they have in common, but what sets the two apart.

Pollock, born and raised in Tucson, grew up listening to the sounds of the East Coast that were highly regarded at the time, including Nas and Biggie. Then, as with most maturing people with an ear for music, he moved on and became more interested in underground sounds like Living Legends, Atmosphere and Hieroglyphics.

However, Pollock’s background in music is not confined to rap; he grew up listening to a lot of Broadway scores, and he tap-danced as well.

“”A lot of his rapping, I can tell from an outsider’s point of view, is influenced by tap dancing, like with the time and beat,”” Whiting said. “”This fool raps crazy, like real fast. You look at it on a piece of paper and you still don’t understand because of how fast he is going.””

Whiting, on the other hand, grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles, listening to rappers popular on his own turf, like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. As he got older, he too got into more underground rappers including Rakim and Cali Agents, a hip-group from the San Francisco Bay Area, not, however, affiliated with the Bay’s hyphy movement.

“”Fucking hyphy,”” Pollock said with disgust in his voice.

Both Pollock and Whiting’s distaste, however, for the hip-hop style that is emerging out of Northern California has nothing to do with the region itself, but the type of sound that artists like Keat Da Sneak are putting out, as well as many other current hip hop artists who are being played at clubs.

“”When the focus becomes entirely on the noise that’s being made and not on what is being said, it just goes against the roots of rap music,”” Pollock said. “”A beat and words are not independent of each other. You can still shake your ass to something that has thought and content behind it, but apparently those things have become completely mutually exclusive, which is very, very disheartening to me.””

“”I enjoy it personally, when I’m dancing,”” Whiting said. “”But when I’m -, whether it be smoking, drinking or just chilling and relaxing – I want something that’s saying something. So I think there’s a time and place for it, I just think it has gotten a little out of hand.””

The tracks that Class Project performed Friday, which can be heard on their two EPs Rough Draft and Pure Edit, consist of those two elements, a danceable beat and profound prose.

For instance, the two opened with the catchy yet conceptually interesting song “”When Egos Collide,”” which explains the two’s competitive nature in regards to making music.

“”He and I are both pretty self-confident people, bordering on arrogance,”” Pollock said. “”The fact is when we’re sitting in a room together and writing together and saying our lines aloud, we’re trying to impress one another, and I have an immense amount of respect for Jay’s taste in music, and I think he would probably feel about the same way.””

“”Definitely, definitely,”” Whiting said.