Joe Thunder is not a DJ. Nor is he an MC. Just the same, he's a widely recognizable figure in the local hip-hop scene, and he's equally as well regarded as those who are making the music.
A tireless champion of Colorado hip-hop, Joe has been doing everything he can to help cultivate hip-hop culture and community locally, while at the same time creating exposure for the dudes he's down with like Jewell Tyme Music, Fresh Breath Committee, Colorado Casuals, as well as his friends in graf crews like True Kings Only, and everyone else living for, pulling for or otherwise just representing hip-hop in the Mile High City.
From keeping his Box State Music blog updated to putting out music by an array of artists such as B Blacc and Deca -- whose hotly anticipated Blacc & Deca Lost Tape was just released -- to producing a series of local-centric videos featuring all local artists (Mile High Madness and Lazy Sundays, respectively), Joe has his hands in a little bit of everything.
Mile High Madness, shot at various locations and venues across town, features interviews and performance footage. The second volume in the series dropped in May, and a new installment is due next month, along with Lazy Sundays, Volume 4. In contrast to Madness, Lazy Sundays is about what it sounds like: An informal hang at Joe's apartment on Capitol Hill that takes place on, well, Sundays, in which he and his guests chill out, smoke a little and get their freestyle on.
We caught up with Joe recently and asked him about how and when he first got into hip-hop, how and when he first became immersed in local scene, what Lazy Sundays is all about and how he came up with the concept and what he thinks it's going to take for the local scene to finally break through.
Purpose & Earl Gray-V
Westword (Dave Herrera): So tell me about the whole concept of Lazy Sundays, like, how did you come up with it, and when did you come up with it?
Joe Thunder: Probably about a year ago. Everyone was always kicking at the crib. It was Sunday, and we weren't doing anything, just sit around and smoke or medicate, and we just started playing beats and stuff. And then before you know it, I was doing the other DVD stuff [Mile High Madness] and we were like, "Let's record it," you know what I mean, "and see how it turns out."
My thing's always been like trying to bring people the raw, uncut -- not the rehearsed, like, all the pretty stuff -- but real MC type shit. You know what I mean? Like almost like some old school shit or even some DJ Screw shit, just live - not to say, "keeping it real," but we are keeping it real. Like I said, it's not like we're over here practicing and stuff. We're giving 'em some raw talent.
Ww: So you were just hanging out and you were like, 'This is kind of dope. Let's do this?'
JT:: With doing the other DVD, the Mile High Madness, I'm starting to see how much [impact] visuals [have]. I mean, audio's good - they can hear what we're doing - but everyone wants to really see what we're doing. And this is just basically giving them a little window to see what we do when we're just messing around.
Ww: How did you first get into hip-hop?
JT:: Shit, since I was a little kid, man, just growing up, like, honestly, going to camp when we're real young in Curtis Park. And those guys down there kind of just showed us the way. You know what I mean?
Ww: So you grew up in Curtis Park?
JT:: I grew up in the Swansea area but we went to daycamp out there during the summers.
Ww: And that's where you first caught the bug?
JT:: Yeah. The influence of the older kids from there, the counselors and stuff - man, I'm about to give up my age and stuff - but, man, I remember hearing the first U.T.F.O. and Whodini and, like, who else... the Boogie Boys and stuff like that through all those cats. They would make us tapes. They'd be like, "Yeah, just bring us some cassette tapes" - they were DJs and stuff and rappers themselves - "and we'll make you a tape."
They used to always jam "Roxanne, Roxanne," and all that shit. Like I said, Whodini, the first Fat Boys, U.T.F.O. One of my favorite albums of all time is the first U.T.F.O. I remember hearing that all the time, you know what I mean, playing basketball or doing arts and crafts or whatever.
Jay Money Mayes, Turner Jackson
Ww: You're a real big champion of the local scene. How did you first get immersed in the local scene?
JT:: Man, it's funny: It happened right after the [NBA] All-Star game [February 2005]. When the All-Star game was in town, I met this cat. I knew him from high school; his name was DJ Phire - some people call him Blaze. I had just moved into Capitol Hill. I think I might've just moved back from Vegas, and I ran into him. He gave me a couple of mixtapes that he did for the All-Star break. It had some local stuff on there, and there was real tight stuff on there.
I don't even remember what it was called, but there were a couple of people that caught my attention. This cat Contact caught my attention. This cat Dow Jones from Ground Zero Movement caught my attention. Earl Gray-V from the Fly, he caught my attention.
Even before that, before I ran into that cat - it was a couple of months before that - I had just got back into town from Vegas, and I went and saw Slick Rick at Cervantes'. I saw the Break Mechanics, and I saw the Fly perform, and I was like, "These guys are from here? For real?" I had no idea. These dudes had it cracking on stage. I mean, they had good music. Man, they had, you know, the whole nine.
Ww: That's kind of a good parallel to what's going on right now. Right now, the Denver hip-hop scene is so slept on. Hip-hop is one of the biggest forms of music in the country, even in Denver. It dominates the radio. But it's almost like people don't know that local hip-hop exists in this town.
JT:: Like on that video, The Soulz of the Rockies, they're like, "Hip-hop in Colorado? What? All they care about is skiing." People have no idea.
Ww: Dent put it well when he said, "Cowboys? We're b-boys out here." So how do you feel about that? You can't really get angry at people for not knowing about what's going on. It's just not really getting the widespread exposure that it should. How do you feel about that?
JT:: I just think we need to keep on grinding, man. If you look at a perfect model, or a perfect scenario, Texas was the same way. They didn't have any record labels. They didn't have shit. You know what I mean? It's the same thing. When you think of Texas, you think of cows and cowboys and shit like that. What they ended up doing was they started building their fanbase within the city.
They just hustled and grinded so hard, they made it so big that they had to recognize. You know what I mean? They were doing numbers. Before they even got famous, cats like Lil Flip and Paul Wall and Chamillionaire, they were selling hundreds of thousands in the streets to fans.
I just think people need to band up. Like instead of doing a show with a hundred people, we need to do shows with thousands of people. Until we do that, no one's really going to recognize, especially not the radio or anything like that.
Ww: What do you think is stopping that from happening?
JT:: Everyone wants to do their own thing, man. I know you've heard it before: Everyone wants to be the first one to make it. Everyone just kind of has their own vision, man. You know who I can kind of compare it to? The dispensaries. It's like everyone has their dispensaries and they don't want to band up and do stuff together. They just want to be the first one to make their million dollars type stuff. You know what I mean?
Jay Money, Lenny Lenn, Serg, Grizz, Heretic Skeptic
Ww: So is that kind of the whole idea behind Mile High Madness and Lazy Sundays? You're obviously not making a goldmine off of these; you give these away, right?
JT:: Me personally, I've always kind of looked at the bigger picture. Even when we were doing the music. Our first mixtape, we had thirty people on it from all around the city. We just kept progressing. I can say that I want to bring people together, but at the end of the day, I know it's not going to happen, so I'm just trying to unify people with music - but not only music, b-boying, graffitti. I'm trying to do my part to get people to see everything. You know what I mean? Because people don't know about it.
Ww: I don't think people are categorically opposed to local hip-hop. I think they just don't know it exists. You know what I mean?
JT:: That and the negative stereotypes, like the E-40 shit. You know what I mean, like, "Everytime E-40 comes, somebody gets shot." Even last night, they were like, "How did this happen? In Fort Collins, they're rioting after an Earth, Wind and Fire concert." You know what I mean? It's like this total negative stereotyping. And people who don't know about it, they believe that stuff. So it makes it harder on us.
Ww: So what do you think distinguishes local hip-hop from the stereotypes?
JT:: People watch TV, and that's what they think it's all about. They think it's all about money, guns, and sex and drugs. When it's not really like that. You've got people out here when you go to the park jams that are bring their little kids, passing it [the love of hip-hop culture] down through the generations. It's not all about this money and guns and stuff like that.
People live this shit everyday, and we incorporate it into our lives. You know what I mean? It's just like saying everyone's a bad person. Not everyone's a bad person. There's bad elements, but we try to keep it positive for the next generation, because they're in trouble already. You know what I mean? We've got to find something to give them to keep them out of trouble. I think hip-hop is the perfect way.
JoeThunder, Deals Makes Beats, Lenny Lenn, Mike Boogie, Mic Jones
Ww: Getting back to Lazy Sundays and the stuff you're doing, you're like an emissary, a really recognizable figure for the local scene. You created Box State Music, and you've kind of almost created a brand for the scene. Was that kind of what you set out to do?
JT:: Naw, man, it wasn't really to make a brand. It was just to bring some shit together, man, and give people that want to get down an outlet to get down and not have to deal with all the bullshit at the same time. I mean, people can deal with the radio or DJs like that and get nowhere. I was like, "As long as you're down to work and make some good music, we can do it."
Ww: You know, maybe unwittingly, Box State Music has served as a rallying point. Everybody can identify with Box State because that's where they're from. So it's kind of a rallying point to unify folks.
JT:: Everything I've ever tried to do, I just try to make it top-notch, to make it something that people would be interested in. And that's what I wanted to do with Box State Music. Instead of just leaving it to musicians, though, it's for writers, B-Boys and DJs, as well.
Ww: So what's your background? Are you a writer? Do you DJ? What's Joe Thunder's story?
JT:: I tell people I do everything except for rap and make beats, man. I don't rap. I don't really make beats. But I have my hand in everything. I want to be a part of everything and not be just a guy who takes stuff and feeds off the culture, but I want to be part of it. I want to put in work, as well. People ain't going to respect someone who's just there collecting fruit. You've got to go work and get the fruit, too, you know what I mean?
Ww: To that end, what do you feel like your contribution to the scene is?
JT:: Everything from Lazy Sundays to Box State Music to the music we do to vibing with cats. I say just living hip-hop - that's what we do. And that's kind of like Lazy Sundays, a place to come over and chill and kind of get away from shit.
Ww: Most of the Lazy Sundays episodes take place at your house, but this last one...where was that at?
JT:: That was some basement we had. These cats we kick it with have this huge basement, and they're like, "Let's do a big one with a couple people." And we're like, "Shit, alright, let's do it."
Ww: You had a lot of people on that one...
JT:: It was like a little party, man. That's the whole thing we're kind of going for. That was our Super Bowl edition. That was like the last Lazy Sundays we did before the Fresh Breath. I'd been telling everyone, "Hey, we got this big old basement. We're going to do it the day before the Super Bowl. Let's get it." And we got some people, like, there's some people that like to freestyle. You know what I mean? Lot of people showed up and had a good time, man. We let people know right away that we're just chilling and having a good time.
And that's what we tried to do with that one, just get some people together, some MCs, DJs, close friends and people that like that stuff, so they can see it. I will tell you one thing with the Lazy Sundays -- or even the Mile High Madness: Once people watch that stuff, they have a whole new outlook on the Colorado hip-hop scene. They're on some "I didn't know this shit was happening here." They really are. I've seen people really in awe like, "For real?! These people are hear," especially with Turner Jackson. That cat knows how to perform. When people see him live, it's a wrap. They instantly fall in love with him.
Ww: Dude's been on almost every single Lazy Sunday, right?
JT:: Yeah. Almost.
Ww: He's like a fixture on Lazy Sundays. He might as well be your co-host.
JT:: Yeah. [Laughs] But yeah, he's a perfect example. I think Lazy Sundays is an avenue -- not everyone can rap, not everyone can do whatever, but there's people that can freestyle. I always think at a show or some shit like that, when someone points me out or someone gets me involved, it kind of like takes that high to the next level. Because then I'm not just an average person or whatever.
That's the one thing with this city. People want to be a part of something. That's how the DJ Screw stuff happened. He made people a part of stuff with his tapes and everything, and people loved him for that. And we're aiming for the wrong audience. Does that make sense? We need to get these younger kids involved, because that's what the radio's doing. The radio's pounding this shit in their heads 24-7. That's why they love it.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Ww: So what's the payoff for you, Joe? You obviously invest a huge amount of time into this, and it looks like you're putting your own money into it, how do you feel validated by doing what you're doing?
JT:: Man, I just know, at the end of the day, I'm out to help people, help my friends, you know what I mean, just get the word out. It's kind of my life. Like I said, I live this shit every day. I'm not getting paid for it, but it's what I like to do. It's music. It's me. It's a movement. You know what I mean? I'm not supposed to go backward, so I just keep raising the bar with everything I do.
I figure there's talented ass people out there, cats like FOE rapping to Koze bombing the city to Rokwell spinning, and people don't know about it. These cats are heavy duty.