For years, DJ Antonio “Ontoneyo” Valenzuela had watched Colorado rappers and DJs get short shrift from the music industry. Dismayed, he saw artists failing to promote their new tracks and build a real fan base, local radio stations and promoters ignoring local artists, and DJs rarely getting respect from labels.
The problem wasn’t just in Denver. While Houston, Atlanta, New York, Chicago and L.A. all had thriving scenes, other Southwestern cities were struggling to elevate their homegrown hip-hop artists.
“Our markets’ depth was specifically the greater box: Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona,” Valenzuela says. “They’re underserved, underdeveloped markets in terms of hip-hop. And we know that. As a consumer, as an artist, as a manager — in every aspect.”
“You’re talking about a region that always gets left out when it comes to national industry stuff,” adds DJ John Figueroa, aka John Blaze, the Phoenix-based founder of Respect the Underground and owner of Ikon Radio. “It’s always either L.A., Texas, Atlanta, New York, Miami, whatever it is. But they forget about Phoenix. They forget about Denver. They’ll come to our city and get money for the shows, but they don’t ever really settle in and really try to figure out what’s going on.”