Before Friday night, everything I knew about Downtown club Azul Tequila came from peering over its open-air venue while walking down the stairs of the El Cortez parking garage as it played host to over-the-top fiestas. I’d heard traditional Latin and even Mariachi music pouring over the walls as women with flowers in their hair and men in cowboy hats made their way inside the blue-hued nightclub. So I was excited to experience the Latin hotspot while checking out Neon Reverb’s Hip-Hop Roots and Reggae Roots showcase.
Entering Azul, I was greeted with an enormous outdoor stage, spacious bar and the beats of Oregon’s DJ Nykon pumping through the crisp sound-system. Neon Reverb ambassador and hip-hop artist S5 played host, introducing the seven acts and keeping energy levels high during downtime. Attendees trickled in as the evening progressed, but it seemed as if they all belonged to at least one performer’s entourage. I was quick to learn the Las Vegas hip-hop crowd travels in a herd with a sincere sense of community.
The show was kicked off by Portland native Iame, who admits his name, pronounced “I am e,” is often mistaken for “Lame.” The night continued to pick up momentum from there, with the Roots Showcase maintaining a positive vibe emanating from artists and attendees.
The next group to take the stage, JLC, actually featured the night’s jack-of-all-trades organizer HighDro, who split time between managing the event, performing as half of JLC and guesting with reggae troupe Tierra Buena. JLC, short for Jagged Leaf Clover, also featured rapper Shamrock. Their give-and-go old-school flow was easily one of the evening’s highlights.
Dallas artist and anticipated act Anonymous Culture followed, joined by his personal DJ for a clubby and energetic performance. Using narrative stylings, Anonymous’ lyrics included tales of his most shining moments, “Ya’ll wanna hear a story about a time I got drunk?” The snazzy, suit-wearing out-of-towner certainly put his own spin on the rap scene.
Local band Tierra Buena brought the show’s reggae component. The group’s chilled-out style, with definite Sublime and Marley influences and running guitar solos, fit the evening’s mix nicely. TB closed its first of two sets with the crowd-pleasing carefree jam, “Free Your Mind.”
As Southern California’s Literates took the stage, they quickly broke down the positive energy the previous artists had worked to build. With a style similar to Eminem’s pill-influenced albums, their harsh delivery was an obvious clash with the night’s mood.
But not even that buzzkill could hold down the headliners, local favorites Phil A. and Hassan, who were front and center for every performer before taking the stage themselves. Their laid-back style, full of pop-culture references and self-deprecating lyrics, was a fitting cap to the night’s hip-hop, followed by one last reggae jam session with Tierra Buena.