A Lotta Bit of Hope in the Distance

Local rappers making their major label debut

Jivin Scientists dish out beats that are equal parts mellow and dynamic, and load them with philosophical, open-hearted hip-hop. Even if the lyrics themselves don't do it for you—which, how can you argue with "You are not the sun, so I'm going back to bed"—it's rare (and wonderful) to hear a proficient rapper do his thing accompanied by a full band: keyboards, drums, bass and the rest.

Now, the Tucson hip-hop group is slated to release their debut label album, Cicada, on Strange Famous Records, alongside other big names in underground hip-hop such as Sage Francis, B. Dolan and Scroobius Pip.

Although not originally hailing from Tucson, Jivin Scientists' story begins in an equally unlikely city for a hip-hop group to stem from: Gallup, New Mexico.

Growing up in the strange, early '90s hip-hop scene of the desert allowed the young group a considerable amount of freedom, as they didn't have much to base their styles off. It was a motley collective of young DJs, break-dancers, graffiti artists, freestylers and battle rappers, all in or just out of high school, doing their thing in the American Southwest.

"I couldn't dance or DJ, so I got into rap," said James Owens, or MC Runt, lead vocalist for Jivin Scientists. "Luckily, being myself became something that was kind of marketable."

Through playing shows and doing tours, Jivin Scientists found their way to Tucson. And over a decade and 10 self-released studio albums later, they're still rocking the Old Pueblo. Owens has been a bartender at Thunder Canyon for years, they've performed at the staple venues: 191 Toole, Flycatcher, et al and played an integral hand in the Tucson Hip Hop Festival.

"I toured all over the nation, and Tucson seems to have, by far, one of the healthiest and fastest growing scenes," Owens said. "I always chose to stay here because of what it's allowed me to do creatively. No one's copying each other, people are actually making things happen here."

Jivin Scientists landed their deal with Strange Famous records through equal parts luck and hustle. A few years back, underground rap icon Sage Francis came to Tucson, and Jivin Scientists opened for him. Francis and Owens hit it off as well—as two big, bearded white dudes in hip-hop could—and kept in touch.

"It made sense for us to get together, we're old-school geeks about music stuff like they are," Owens said. "Sage Francis even remembered who I was, from when I reached out to him when I was way younger."

In 2016, Strange Famous records, the label Sage Francis founded, launched Strange Famous Digital, an online version that expanded the roster and pushed more content. That same year, seven new artists from around the world were added to their roster, and Jivin Scientists were on that list.

"It was a perfect deal for us," Owens said. "A huge milestone."

Now, Jivin Scientists is shooting for their major label debut to release this fall. There've been a few setbacks, but progress is being made. They even performed some brand-new songs earlier in April when they opened for the rapper Prof.

"We've got a lot of work to do this summer," Owens said. "We've had an amazing career full of accomplishments, and getting signed is one of many, but I'm not seeing it as an achievement until I get this album out."