A hip-hop artist from Phoenix took what he knew from the stage to the streets during the police violence protests in 2020 and stepped out the other side as a social justice leader.
When he first arrived in Phoenix from San Diego at age 19, Jacob Raiford went by “J Roq” on stage, but it was a common name, so he started looking for a change, he said. he explains.
“There’s a very famous DJ named J. Rocc from The Beat Junkies, and then of course, over time, there’s Jay Rock from TDE,” the label that houses rapper Kendrick Lamar, he said. , “and you know, I just sort of was born from my name.”
He found it at weekly shows in Phoenix, he explained. Other artists and rappers filled the crowd at these weekly shows, so there was an aura of confrontation coming from the group, Raiford explained.
“I was surprised at the lack of engagement from the crowd, so in the middle of my performance I burst into this tirade as I would call it,” he said.
He started rapping about the crowd and their aloof demeanor. These tirades became his calling card every time he was on stage.
Raiford explained that he opened up about his name change with hip-hop legend Chino XL.
“Chino said, ‘My son, you should keep the name of the tirade,’” Raiford said.
Raiford liked it, but being “stubborn”, he wanted to keep part of his old name: Roq.
Much like the namesake of his new hometown, Raiford remade himself in the heat of conflict on stage and came out as Roqy Tyraid.
About 15 years later, with four albums and a large independent fan base, Raiford would experience another evolution in a different kind of conflict.
Rapper leads protests against police violence in Phoenix subway
After the murder of George Floyd on May 25, tensions were high in almost every major American city. The summer heat had started in Phoenix, people were worried after a two-month pandemic shutdown and the streets braced for protests.
Raiford said he first heard of protests on Thursday, May 28, and was concerned for those involved.
“There hadn’t been a big season of demonstrations,” he explained. He feared that some participants in the protests might not know what to expect, had no experience with the police or the dangers of “less lethal” police ammunition.
He and a group of others have decided to show up at the protests, at the very least, to provide support and first aid to anyone who may need it.
This Thursday evening, things started to take a turn for the worse and the protests turned chaotic and disorganized, he said.
“Sometimes a random person would like to get the idea and try to draw a crowd somewhere. Then they just walk away or they start arguing with someone,” he said.
Some of the crowd seemed to be wandering around without direction, he explained, and this chaotic energy could end up hurting people if they didn’t work together.
When he saw the same thing start to happen the next day, he felt he had to do something.
He drew on decades of experience transforming crowds at shows “into one collective consciousness” to help create harmony, to help move the crowd with purpose.
This is what the emcees do, he explained; they move the crowd.
And Raiford, as Roqy Tyraid, was the definition of an emcee, according to radio host and music producer Matt “Mattlocks” Kirkpatrick.
Kirkpatrick helped Raiford produce his latest album, “Outbreak”, in 2017.
“When you think of a top lyricist, lyricist, in the state of Arizona, you have to mention his name,” he said, “like when you think of people who are the definition of ‘an MC, blacksmith and very lyrical, he must be mentioned in these circles. ”
As Raiford sees it, the real power behind the protests opens a conversation with thousands of people, exposing the issues of police brutality and systemic racism to everyone there.
Raiford’s story as Roqy Tyraid has prepared him to begin talks on these complex issues.
Tyraid’s style is all about being informed, whether it’s pop culture, governments, or the law, according to Kirkpatrick.
Looking at Tyraid’s lyrics, references to cartoons like “Dragon Ball Z” are as common as references to state bills like House Bill 2309, which are said to have created a new crime called “violent or disorderly gathering. “and harsher penalties for crimes committed during these.
WE Rising Project born of the protests
The week following the protests, he and others met at a restaurant to discuss elements of the protests that needed to be staged and to discuss the curfew imposed by Governor Doug Ducey.
The group drew up a plan to organize peaceful protests: “This is where the first WE Rising protests came from,” Raiford said.
WE Rising Project was a community-based organization that described itself as a movement to create systemic change through peaceful protests and laws. The group has organized more than 20 protests in the wake of Floyd’s death.
“And the next thing you know, you’re in mid-July and you’ve been protesting for most of the summer around this time,” he said.
Leading protests turns into organization, activism
The group has established links with other organizations, including the Black Mothers Forum, which is dedicated to ending the school-to-prison pipeline for black children in the Phoenix metro area.
Janelle Wood, founder of the Black Mothers Forum, said Raiford’s ability to collaborate is what struck her first about him.
“He will spend hours and hours working with those he needs to work with to find a solution to the problem,” she said.
From WE Rising, Raiford moved on to the Tempe Public Safety Advisory Working Group, a council created to begin a dialogue between the community and the Tempe Police.
Moving from the streets to sitting down and discussing policies with policymakers came naturally, Raiford said.
“It’s like a freestyle. You know what you can say, but you just let it evolve naturally,” said Raiford. “Okay, we’re talking about all of these things about our protest. We’re helping to create a progressive outlook in the city. How can we change some of these things that we’ve complained about? How can we act? should we be proactive instead of reactive? ”
Woods explained that sitting at that table with the city takes strength and resilience to hold on. These elements were something she saw in Raiford, and it was something that Roqy Tyraid developed on the parking lots of concert halls, fighting other rappers.
“He doesn’t back down when the leaders push him away, especially the leaders of the police department,” she said. “I have observed him at these meetings, I never back down in pointing out the brutality and desperate treatment his age group often endures in encounters when they have interactions with the police.
Rapper Now Leading Efforts To Establish A Phoenix Crisis Response Program
These meetings would eventually lead WE Rising and other community organizations to come up with the idea behind the Neighborhood Crisis Assistance Program, or NOCAP.
Raiford explained that the coalition behind NOCAP believed the city could curb police violence in Phoenix by creating a department of mental health counselors and professionals.
This service would be autonomous and would respond to non-violent emergency calls instead of the police.
The NOCAP coalition urged Phoenix City Council to reorient police funding, establish increased civilian oversight, and include more community contributions in their programs.
“We see that there are police officers who should not have been involved in these issues in the first place,” he said. “And when we create a new department that can impact that from a proactive standpoint, we can save lives preemptively.”
The city ultimately transferred funding to the Phoenix Fire Department’s existing community assistance program, which responds to non-violent calls with trained counselors and medical professionals.
A year after the protests, Raiford was shocked at how quickly his life had changed, but the move from Roqy Tyraid on the mic to Raiford on the megaphone felt less like an instant change than a slow transformation.
“The stage became the sidewalk, and the concert attendees became the protesters, and the music became the message,” he said.
And true to the Roqy Tyraid style, he added, “It’s like Pokemon, it just evolved from Mew to Mewtwo. So it’s really one and the same. ”