Throughout the history of hip hop, various cities have experienced their moment in the hip-hop spotlight: New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta. In this battle for dominance, numerous regions of the United States have been ignored, including some of the biggest cities. One of these cities – Phoenix, Arizona – is home to 24 year old rapper MastodonRare. Having moved there from Los Angeles when he was 17, Mastodon may as well represent the current state of Phoenix hip hop.
I see that there’s a lot of competition, but I’m always gonna take the chance to tell someone that they’re the shit if I think they are and I feel like that’s just another aspect of being real.
Phoenix is not known for having an established sound or being known for rap in general. Its rap scene isn’t ambitious or progressive with its sound; no major shifts in sound have been made like G-Funk on the West Coast, or boom-bap on the East Coast. Content with being a “microcosm of how the general rap game is” according to Mastodon, Phoenix’s overall sound is similar to his own music.
“My sound is wildly variable,” Mastodon said. “I sing sometimes but even then, you might hear bars on bars on a lot of songs. I don’t want people going into a track being able to predict what I’ll say or how I’ll approach the track.”
Much like how Phoenix is the proverbial sponge of the rap game, so is Mastodon. With no major rap figures from the city, or even state, artists in the city are free to borrow from wherever, experiment with whatever, and collab with whomever. Without the looming figures present in many other cities, there is a sense of freedom for Mastodon and his peers. Without a Tupac Shakur or Nasir Jones, artists have no overwhelming obligations to follow up on previous sounds. Instead, they’re free to choose their path.
“So much of hip hop is and always has been nostalgic,” Mastodon said. “People wanna be Pac not realizing Pac wanted to be Pac.”
Despite his current viewpoints and output, Mastodon had started his rap career as a self proclaimed “lyrical miracle kid,” wanting to follow in the steps of Nas and other esteemed New York lyricists. While he still maintains a style that appreciates lyricism, Mastodon has evolved past his one-dimensional past. Now rapping over a plethora of different beats and attempting a diverse amount of styles, Mastodon understands the value of versatility. Rapping over Chillwave and even EDM type beats, Mastodon is pushing the limits of where rappers can go. Of course, rappers like Jazz Cartier have done Chillwave, and numerous artists have done EDM, but for a relatively smaller artist to do it, in a city full of those who don’t even attempt “trying to step out of that 90s and 2000s box,” Mastodon is rightfully turning some heads.
All of this this is not to say Mastodon hasn’t had his own personal influences, citing staples like Kendrick Lamar, Eminem, J. Cole, and The Game. However, he also digs into nuances of artists and the niche of their works, appreciating “finesse in Drake’s delivery,” Logic and Lil Yachty’s “positivity and uplifting nature” and Lupe Fiasco’s “ability to tell a story that becomes a saga.” Beyond these larger-than-life rappers (many of them being household names) however, Mastodon also cites the enjoyment in collaborating with his local betterEVERYDAY collective as a massive influence. Admiring his brother VisusX’s work ethic, frequent collaborator DZE’s lyricism, and collective member Turo Sivirian’s ability to write a hook, he isn’t afraid to admit he is a big fan of their music, and that he won’t be a “complete artist until I’m able to do all of that.”
“A lot of artists are afraid to be a big fan of another artist because that might seem like competition, but I don’t give a fuck about that,” Mastodon said. “I see that there’s a lot of competition, but I’m always gonna take the chance to tell someone that they’re the shit if I think they are and I feel like that’s just another aspect of being real.”
As he begins developing into his own musically and grows more comfortable with his voice, Mastodon doesn’t forget to take pride in his hard work and ability to learn. Every release is “something different,” and Mastodon is ambitious enough to want to be the next big thing, and talented enough to possibly get there.
Take a listen of Mastadon below and for all things hip hop, keep reading at True Too.