When one thinks of the western city of Phoenix, images of cacti might be the first thing that pops into your head, but that would be a mistake. “People don’t really know much about where I’m from,” says native rapper Willy Northpole, the first true Arizona rapper to break out of the confines of the state. Yet, with the release of Willy Northpole’s stunning debut Tha Connect that limited perspective is about to change, we are introduced to a world of marked gangsters, midnight crack slingers and strong family bonds.

“Besides striving to be the best artist and lyricist I could be, my goal has always been to put Phoenix hip-hop on the map,” says Willy. “There’s a thriving scene down here, I’m just a part of that foundation.” On his first single “Body Marked Up,” an ode to the numerous tattoos that cover his body, Willy drops verbal bombs onto an unsuspecting audience. “Every tat on me means something,” Willy explains. “When I got out of jail, my first tattoo was these dragons on my arm to represent strength. I also have a tombstone with angels on my back that is a tribute to my late cousin.” Utilizing a minimal beat that was produced by a 14 years old new-jack named Wonka, (the two met through MySpace); “Body Marked Up” is a hypnotic banger that has enticed more than a few industry ears. “Man, that’s the record that got me signed,” he smiles. Through his child hood friend & manager Tiffany J. of Family Tree Entertainment he inked a deal with Ludacris’ powerhouse label Disturbing tha Peace. Willy Northpole’s entire hood has had the opportunity to share in his success. “We the shot the video right at my grandmother’s house and on the blocks where I was raised,” he says. “Over three days, the director, AJ, D9 studios, and his Arizona team, shot guerrilla style on the streets of Phoenix. We showed a mixture of folks, because we wanted to show the world that Blacks, Whites and Mexicans in Arizona have unity.”

A mere child at the time of his neighborhood’s metamorphosis in the mid-’80s, the introduction of crack changed Willy’s life in many ways. “My father played guitar in a band called the Whiteheads,” he recalls. “They were a hot soul group at the time, so I was always around good music. They sometimes rehearsed at our house, and I can remember messing around with the drum set. Unfortunately when crack came on the scene, pops started smoking too.” Enticed simultaneously by the chaos of the streets and the sound of early hip-hop, Willy’s mom entered him in a few talent shows. “You know the gold decorations that go around the Christmas tree? Well, my mom cut it in half, put it around my neck and I pretended it was big gold chain,” he confesses. “I then put on a big pair of glasses, and went on stage lip-synching to Kool Moe Dee songs.” Still, at that point in his life, the streets had a stronger pull than the stage. “My cousin, Salt, was older than me, and I started hanging with him and his crew,” Willy informs. “He was heavy into the street life, but he was also a rapper who influenced me.” Yet, when he was shot twenty-one times, his death at sixteen affected Willy greatly. “After that, I wanted to be just like him and the streets became my habit.”
On the moving track “Heaven,” Willy revisits the pain of the violet deaths that have befallen on many of his homies. Produced by Jelly Roll, the sorrowful song pays its respects. “My cousin was the first person I knew that died, but in the last few years I’ve been to more than twenty funerals for friends and family. Believe me, that is too much death.”
As funny as it might sound, being locked-up for robbery at the age of 15 just might have saved Willy’s life. In the ****(youth detention) for three years, Willy hung posters of Jay-Z, DMX and others on his cell walls and continued to write rhymes on a regular. “I surrounded myself with hip-hop and breathed it in; I knew that’s what I wanted to do, but I had to start taking it seriously.”

Released when he was 18, Willy was determined to do the right thing. “I got a real job and started buying myself equipment,” Willy says. “I also started going to the studio, and the engineer who worked there taught me how to make beats for myself. He encouraged my growth every step of the way.” Pressing discs for friends and associates, Willy Northpole (“the coldest MC in the hottest state”), local folks began to get into his sound. “At the time Arizona rappers were into the whole LA sound, but I was guided more by the east. Biggie and Jay was the goal I was striving for.” However, taking a cue from 50 Cent, Willy released a diss single called “Garbage Disposal,” and others started paying attention too. Dissing local crews, he went digging deep to get dirt on his rivals. “My method was to find out something that was bad but true, and I put that into the lyrics.” Ironically, through the help of his friend Hot Rod, “Garbage Disposal” also caught the ears of the G-Unit maestro himself. “I was down with G-Unit briefly, but things didn’t quite work out,” he says. “I’ll always have respect for 50 and Hot Rod, but some of the people around him…” Indeed, the entire scenario can be heard on the dope track “The Story.” Another standout track from Willy Northpole’s includes the Black Elvis produced “The Life,” a feel good song that features Def Jam soul man Ne-Yo on the hook. “I had left the song without a hook, because I wanted to get an R&B singer on it, but Ne-Yo was the last person I expected to get. Man, when I heard Ne-Yo on my track ‘The Life,’ I knew my life was about to change.” In truth, after listening to Tha Connect, your life too will be changed.

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