Jocelyn Valencia on the Creation of the Tucson Hip Hop Festival, The Challenges of Festival Planning, Professionalism & More [INTERVIEW]

Arizona’s own Jocelyn Valencia has been working and grinding for years now. Festival planning, working with artists and more. However Jocelyn got her start in the industry writing for HipHopDX and her career has blossomed from there. One of the minds behind the Tucson Hip Hop Festival, Jocelyn is always on the grind. I had a chance to sit with her and talk with her about her career and everything it took to get THHF up and running and a surprising announcement about what’s to come.

Ok-Tho: For those who don’t know who is Jocelyn Valencia?

Jocelyn: She is a border-town raised, multi-faceted creative entrepreneur who co-directs the Tucson Hip Hop Festival and curates cool things with clients via her agency.

Ok-Tho: You’re doing all types of stuff out here, Instagram Live interviews, writing for DJ Booth, throwing events, traveling. What’s a day like in the shoes of Jocelyn and how busy can you get on a given day?

Jocelyn: It's hard to explain what a typical day in my life looks like because all days are honestly different. But, most of the time, I'd say you'll find me behind my laptop getting as much work done as possible and making sure I don't forget to eat. The thing about being your own boss is that you have to be super disciplined. So how busy I can get depends on how busy I allow myself and discipline myself to be. My "to-do" list is endless. There's always something to work on, even if there may not client or festival work... I'll still prioritize my own independent projects too.

Ok-Tho: Tell me a bit about how got into hip-hop and what made you transition from a fan to wanting to actually be apart of the movement?

Jocelyn: Music is my therapy. I've always known I've wanted to work with music in some way, shape or form. It's saved my life and uplifted me many times I've needed it, so I wanted to help others experience this with music too through my work. Initially, my "career" really began as a writer. I've always been passionate about writing, about poetry, about words. When I started studying the whole culture of Hip Hop, I was inspired to get into the industry. So, I emailed every single Hip Hop blog/publication I could find seeking the opportunity to do so. And that's where my work with HipHopDX began.

Ok-Tho: If someone wanted to get to know Jocelyn through music, what five albums would they have to listen to?

Jocelyn: Oh man... that's a hard one because it'd depend on what stage in my life you'd like to learn about! I'll share five albums that really impacted/impact me:

Resurrection - Common
Enema of the State - blink-182
Man on the Moon: The End of Day - Kid Cudi
K.I.D.S. - Mac Miller
Trip - Jhené Aiko

Ok-Tho: Before we get into the nitty gritty, when people bring up Arizona usually the last thing on their mind is hip-hop culture but that culture has been there for a while, can you talk to me about what Hip-Hop looks and feels like in Arizona because I do feel people are sleep.

Jocelyn: Yeah... it's interesting. I mean I don't blame people for sleeping on the Hip-Hop that's created in states like Arizona because the light has never been shed there, so how would they know better? I think it takes movements like the Tucson Hip Hop Festival (THHF) to really start getting people's attention. I really stepped into the scene and got my hand in it in 2014. So I can really only speak on the past few years, and the perspective I've gained from others who've been in it much longer but yes, the culture has been here for a long while. I always tell people... if we, as a festival, are able to host so many artists for every element of Hip-Hop culture, it's obviously evident that it's there and been there. For myself, personally, I've felt like the community is increasingly becoming more and more communal in a positive way. More collaborations, more shared resources, more upliftment, etc. It's super dope. I'm just excited for AZ artists to have better resources to develop their professionalism and career.
Ok-Tho: Tell me about how the Tucson Hip Hop Festival came about, what drove you and your team to really make this a staple?

Jocelyn: Mmm... well for me, I wanted to create an event that held space for all the elements of Hip Hop culture. I was surprised that I hadn't seen that yet. So I created my first event doing just that (and benefitting a local non-profit) in early 2015. From there, I met my now business partner Pike, whom approached me with the idea of doing a whole festival. It really was just an experiment and for fun at first. We didn't really think about what it'd possibly turn into, we just wanted to try it. When we saw the response that we got and how much we personally enjoyed curating it, we came back every year following that and here we are. I don't really think either of us really thought about it getting as big as it has now, or it consuming our lives as much as it does now. But sometimes the best things in life happen that way - unexpectedly.

Ok-Tho: While I didn’t get to make it myself, you just got done organizing and running the Tucson Hip Hop Festival, what all goes into that, how much time, how many other people?

Jocelyn: It's really a year-round thing. The work for it doesn't stop. Soon as the festival is over, there's reflecting to be done, adjustments to be noted and planning for the following year to take place. Pike and myself wear many different hats and take on many different responsibilities for the festival because we're still a small business and unfortunately still don't have the budget to hire employees, or even pay ourselves to be honest. The money we make always just gets reinvested into the business. So we make a lot of sacrifices and dedicate a lot of our time into this. Luckily, for the past couple years we've had around eight other people who also volunteer much of their time to help us run certain aspects of the fest. We call them "ambassadors" and all of them are deeply involved with the community through their own work in some way. So we're mindful on who we have help us bring this to life every year, and they're all great people.

Ok-Tho: What’s the most stressful part of throwing a large-scale event like this?

Jocelyn: As the business-owner, I'd say the growing pains. Figuring out how to professionally, responsibly, and sustainably deal with the growth we've been experiencing. Every year attendees want to experience the same dope vibe but also expect something bigger and better. So thinking about new programming. But then money is a factor. So, how can we afford to do more? How can we afford to bring cool ideas to life and ultimately pay people to help us do it? Then we have artists from all over the nation applying. How can we get more money to pay for their travel/lodging? Etc.

At the end of the day it's a business, so how can I make this profitable? I think about longevity a lot. And I've been thinking of our own well-being a lot, too.

Big dreams are expensive.

Ok-Tho: How did you feel the Tucson Hip Hop Festival turned out, will we be seeing it again next year?

Jocelyn: Mmm... to be honest, I was pretty hard on myself this year. So I felt bummed about certain aspects of this years festival. I think about attendees having fun, the city economically benefitting from it, the community thriving from it, the artists finding it valuable, the team feeling appreciated and getting paid... I put all this pressure on myself that it gets to me when everything doesn't pan out how I want or all my goals don't get met. But it was pretty good. People that attended really enjoyed themselves. And yeah, we'll be back for 2020.

Ok-Tho: Sometimes I feel people believe they can throw huge events like THHF, but don’t always understand it’s bigger than just landing a few cool artists. Talk to me about a common misconception people have with throwing and doing events like this.

Jocelyn: I've had a grip of people tell me they have an idea for a festival, or they're going to do a festival, and then it never happens. I'm sure they either never event started or started and quickly realized how much work it is. It's pretty incredible how much goes into a large production like a festival or conference. That's honestly what I love about it though. Even though I may experience self-doubt or stress, I thrive in positions of leadership and management. I enjoy all the decision-making, problem solving, programming and creative strategy. I wouldn't even know where to start on explaining all that goes into it... But yes, I think people just see a stage and a lineup and think, "Yeah I can do that!" They don't see the contracts, the budgets, the negotiation, the meetings, the no's, etc.

Ok-Tho: Like we talked about earlier you have a lot of your plate almost all year round it seems, how do you keep from losing your mind or experiencing burnout?

Jocelyn: I think I'm currently dealing with decision fatigue to be honest. I'm really hard on myself and never really give myself the time or space to really think about everything I just went through, or celebrate everything I just went through, or understand that I need rest because of everything I just went through. Especially just this past year! I took on way more for the THHF this past year, leaped into full-time self-employment, finally completely ended a toxic relationship, sacrificed so much all in one year and now I've just felt... tired of making so decisions for myself to be honest. I love it but I need to learn how to take care of myself through it too. So I am still learning how to be better at "self-care" honest. I've just been go, go, go.

Ok-Tho: Slight pivot here, you recently did an interview with Tariq Cherif and with that you talk about how you actually got your start in hiphop through writing pieces like this will we be seeing more from you in the future?

Jocelyn: Thanks for taking note of that! I just really love interviews. I plan on writing more again, so yes. Expect more!

Ok-Tho: Like myself I notice you deal with a lot of artists DMing you and messaging you asking for your time. How do you deal with that and what is the proper way to approach you if someone is looking for advice or work.

Jocelyn: I'm really picky and I think I may be too hard on others and their professionalism too. I have to learn how to balance setting my standards for others high, yet also understanding that others may not have the knowledge, awareness or resources to live up to these standards too.

I personally like to be emailed first and then DM'd if they don't hear back. But a slide in the DM doesn't mean a pass on professionalism. Respect me please (treat me like the business woman and human that I am) and know what you want.

Ok-Tho: Your 2019 is off to an incredible start it seems what can expect from you for the rest of it?

Jocelyn: I'll let the cat out the bag. I'm planning a conference! I've been planning it in my head for years, and officially started working on it late last year/the start of this year. Took a break in February/March because of my fatigue, but am back on it. Super excited about it and working hard to self-discipline to follow through on making it happen.