Dope flow. Sick rhymes. Loud, deep bass rattled innards. Earplugs were little defense.
“We’ve got three fucking decades of Tucson hip hop up here,” Jivin Scientists’ MC Runt exclaimed. Tucson’s hip-hop community gathered Saturday night at The Flycatcher to pay homage to Marcus “Big Ox” Meridox, who, along with James Ciphurphace and Jivin’ Scientists, in effect, created the scene in the mid-'90s out of Skrappy’s, the now-legendary venue and spawning ground of creativity.
Newcomer act Fated, a Phoenix B-boy duo comprised of emcees Simple Wizdom and Puritan, kicked off the night with lyrical dexterity, trap beats, synthesized washes and bravado. “My skills are unapproachable …” they claimed.
Another Phoenix emcee, by way of Boston, was next. Mr. Riot drew from Atmosphere, Rakim, Em' and others. Riot’s set peaked when “Ground Tremble” literally rocked the house.
Committed to giving back, Mr. Riot is founder of Gladiator Pen, a collective that raises money for Raising A Reader, a literacy program.
“Representing the 5-2-0,” Aquafyde Boogey Bros., slammed through their set. “We’re doing this
because we’ve got to stand up. If it ain't building consciousness than it’s bullshit.” A reflection of the times. “Revolution is coming
!” They covered every inch of the stage.
When asked about Charlottesville, emcee Brody Ave. kept it positive. “[This] is something that has affected America for a long time. Black people have been in the fight since inception. We need white brothers and sisters to get into the fight. To stop something that we have allowed to fester [too long] as a community.”
Amped, former Tucsonan James Ciphurphace & DJ Grapla, were up next. “Let’s make some noise for motherfuckin’ Ciphurphace.” The crowd jeered, moving closer to the stage. Ciphurphace said, “I moved to Jersey City. But I never forgot my roots.”
Working the crowd, prowling the stage like a cat, confidently. Jumping into the audience, feeding off the energy. The head-nodding beat of “Reflections” set the tone for Ciphurphace's real-world observations: “The rent’s past due/But you’ll spend hundreds at a sneaker store/Walk five miles to wash dishes and sweep the floor.” Urging the listener to “Take a look inside the mirror/Make a change/Get right.”
In a show of respect, Tucson hip-hop institution Jivin Scientists called for a moment of silence for Big Meridox. No easy task in a noisy bar. Yet, the booze-addled abated .. you could’ve heard a pin drop. Church.
Formed in '98, Jivin’ Scientists draw more from analog sounds than sterile beats, after 10 albums, they sure as shit know what they're doing. Their flow killed. Joined by Ciphurphace and Big Ox, they spent more time rapping off stage, and to the crowd's delight.
The energy level in room rose when Big Meridox & DJ Alias went on last. Big Ox’s powerful delivery and cutting lyrics were fierce, enhanced by DJ Alias’ masterful turntablism. After years of gigs, the two are in sync. Straight up, boom-bap beat textures created pumping backdrops for Big Ox's effortless spits and rhymes.
Between joints, Meridox fired raw, anti-racist commentary. “Tucson, Arizona. Stay true. And don't call people niggers.” These are the times that we live in.
Meridox leaves Tucson as the champ. (He's moving east for a better job—his day gig is teacher). As evidenced in “Juice,” off his Beast Of Burden
EP, with it’s wicked groove and pugilistic, rapid-fire wordplay, Meridox left ‘em wanting more.
By set's end, Big Meridox turned toward the turntables, where DJ Alias had been spinning. They met halfway and exchanged a bro hug. Big Ox, a gentle giant, perhaps too overcome, said to Alias, “I don't know what to tell you man ... But this is it.”
Writer Josh Levine proclaimed Meridox “unquestionably Tucson's greatest rapper.” After witnessing his farewell performance, there's no question.
Here, Meridox homies share words:
“Marcus means so much to me and the hip-hop community. He has been a mentor to most of us. Part of what makes Ox a great MC is his style. MC's aren't built like him nowadays.”—Pike Romero, Director at Tucson Hip Hop Festival
James Ciphurphace: “My brother Big Meridox. We go way back to the Red Dirt Specimen. He was my partner in rhyme. We were wrecking cyphers left and right. Recording mad tracks. I’ve got nothing but love for him.”
Just before he split, Meridox offered his final farewell. “I just want to thank Tucson for everything. Man, I am in awe. I’ll be back. I love Tucson to death. I am going to miss it …”