From hip-hop festivals to concerts featuring internationally renowned artists, the Phoenix hip-hop community has progressed leaps and bounds over the last decade. This is due, in part, to the deteriorating barrier to a vital source for and factor to any music community: the radio.
The Beatlocker has done a lot in that department. With five years under its belt, 101.1 The Beat’s locals-only hip-hop radio show puts the spotlight on a burgeoning music scene that's itching for a chance to be heard.
Streamlined by 41-year-old veteran rapper Alafia Long, also known as Pokafase, The Beatlocker focuses strictly on showcasing a personally curated playlist of local hip-hop music. Pokafase enlists the help of Bobby Curry, a.k.a. the world-famous DJ Marvel, and Louanna Faine, creator of the popular independent television show, Real Talk with Louanna.
Every Sunday morning from 7 to 10 a.m., local artists are hit with interviews live on the air led by Faine, while Pokafase and DJ Marvel trade opinions and man the boards, serving up music from local staples like Mr. Miranda and Trap House.
The beginnings of The Beatlocker were humble enough.
Simply put, Pokafase was tired of fighting tooth and nail to have his music played on the radio. With connections throughout the industry, he was already on the radar of local radio stations. Though they weren’t able to insert him into the daily rotation, they were able to sneak his record on air at odd hours.
But Pokafase wanted more. And Fred Rico, a program director at 101.1, took a chance on him. Pokafase took the opportunity and ran with it.
“I promise you it will work,” Pokafase remembers saying during his meeting with Fred Rico. “It’s just going to take a little time.”
The rapper turned radio host overestimated the amount of time it would take for scene to respond. Almost immediately, musicians relished the opportunity to be heard on the radio, pushed by one of the scene's strongest veterans. As a result, he began to see his true goals come to light.
“We already knew it was going to work,“ Pokafase says. “Eventually the other stations were going to have to do something. The way that radio works, everybody wanted a piece of the lane. So if we did it right, we would force the other radio stations to play local music, and it’s a win-win.”
He was right. Other radio stations began to adopt an Arizona hip-hop segment into their programming. He acknowledges that The Beatlocker started the trend, and he's more than happy to embrace the developments.
“We can all thrive,” he says. “This scene is untouched.”
By adding Faine as the third chair, the program gained not only a strong woman's perspective but also a boost of journalistic integrity. The interviewer, who studied at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, provides the right polish to complement DJ Marvel’s and Pokafase's creative backgrounds. Her role was small at first, but she quickly rose to the occasion.
“I started off doing a five-minute segment just on entertainment. Kim Kardashian, all the gossip stuff,” the 34-year-old New York native says. “Within five weeks, I was made the third chair on the show.”
Faine’s role revolves around artist interviews and social media promotion, and DJ Marvel handles the tricky task of curating the music for the three-hour program. The 41-year-old Virginia transplant has a seasoned ear when it comes to local music with his residency at the popular WTFunk Fridays, which is currently on hiatus.
“I'm pretty tough when it comes to picking the music for the show,” Marvel laughs. “I listen to every single song that comes into my inbox and handpick what needs to be heard.”
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The results pay off, as the three-hour block features music from the finest artists Phoenix hip-hop has to offer. And rising stars like Futuristic eventually end up in rotation beyond The Beatlocker.
Recently celebrating five years on the air, the Beatlocker Team is thinking about expansion. They have already dabbled in throwing events and showcases, with a run of shows at Wasted Grain and a Sunday pool party residency at BLK Live in Scottsdale. The trio is determined to push Arizona hip-hop as a viable force to the rest of America. With long-term goals of syndication and possibly television, they feel like they have one of the strongest radio shows in the country.
“It’s really about giving the city a voice and letting them be heard,” Faine says. “All we ask is that you show support in return.”