South by did an amazing job at showcasing well-known and up-coming artists in the conglomerate of hip-hop, ranging from old school rap to new school alternative R&B. Whether it was Ludacris performing before TV On the Radio at Stubb’s, Miley Cyrus making an appearance with Mike WiLL Made-It, J. Cole serenading the ACL Moody Theatre, Chance the Rapper’s own day party or Run the Jewels proving they can’t be stopped (literally), the genre proved its powerful position. Perhaps one of the most important features of hip-hop is the assertive and suggestive nature that comes with it. Several rap artists within the past year have been those at the forefront of political and social issues with their commentary via music, such as D’Angelo’s critically acclaimed Black Messiah or Kendrick Lamar‘s just released To Pimp A Butterfly.
In a contemporary world that seems increasingly dominated by indie rock or pop hits, the assertive and suggestive nature of hip-hop stands is unafraid to make progressive statements in the most stark manner. So no wonder the genre is has grasped the attention of a variety of people, including the indie-rock fans who usually swarm the streets of Austin during March. After coming back out of the SXSW festival frenzy and into reality, here are five hip-hop artists (and one big name artist) across the genre’s broad spectrum that were memorable.
1. Joey Bada$$
Brooklyn native Jo-Vaughn Scott has been causing a stir in the music scene lately thanks to his full-length album B4.DA.$$ released earlier this year. His ability to blend old school hip-hop beats, aggressive lyrics and instrumental elements such as saxophone, drums and piano prove his talent as not just a rapper but producer. Other artists have been taking notice of the raw talent promised in the 19-year-old as well. B4.DA.$$ brought collaborations with Action Bronson and Kiezsa along with production credits from not only his Pro Era crew but also with members of The Roots.
During SXSW, I had the opportunity to see Joey twice: once during the day, outside at Waterloo Records, and again that night at ACL Moody Theatre. Live, he is just as aggressive as the hip-hop artists whom his style has been heavily influenced. He is backed up by the Pro Era crew on-stage, calling for mosh pits, slinging water and crowd surfing through the highly dedicated fans. Following his set at Waterloo, Joey was scheduled to autograph copies of the new album – the line wrapped around the building and extended a block down the street. If there is anyone to be keeping an eye on this year, he should be at the top of that list.
2. Vince Staples
While Staples performed several times during the week, I caught his afternoon set at Mohawk. Pitchfork x House of Vans had arguably one of the best schedules Thursday through Saturday. The lines were almost always apparent, and I feel bad for those who were lined down the block without wristbands. Staples went on after Waxahatchee, whose set was oppositely mellow – a moment of rest between the raucous Title Fight before. When Staples took the stage, his following was evident – several of them were staked out near the front, willing to listen to some chill indie rock to be closer to Vince.
The Cutthroat Boyz rapper showcased hits like “Hands Up” and “Blue Suede” off his latest release Hell Can Wait in the forty-ish minutes he was given. He consistently encouraged the crowd to keep their hands in the air, rocking with the beat as he kept the energy high; swerving, dodging and bouncing across the stage. At the end, he did the honors of diving into the tightly packed crowd and floating effortlessly – like the guy who had done so a few songs before whilst smoking a joint. It also doesn’t hurt that Staples was rocking some of the Vans S8 High shoes, a little celebrity advertising to remind everyone of the sponsor that provided the kick-ass show.
While the French-Cuban twins, Naomi and Lisa Diaz, are a bit of a deviation from the other hip-hop artists mentioned here, they were too mesmerizing not to mention. I’d never heard of them before walking into their performance during Waterloo Records Day Show, but am extremely happy I decided to do so. Their musical aesthetic under the moniker Ibeyi (ee-bey-ee) exists more so in the vein of alternative R&B with Naomi playing a range of percussive instruments and Lisa on keys. Together, they harmonize to tell stories with spiritual themes, laced together through lulling rhythms. On a side note, the twins are strongly connected to their father’s Yoruba culture, one that has the highest twinning rate in the World – Ibeyi translates from Yoruba to literally mean “Twins.”
4. Earl Sweatshirt
Earl is the one hip-hop artist that I was not able to see during SXSW but I’d be doing a huge disservice not to mention him. His album I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside was dropped a few days after the festival closed and has been well received by both loyal Sweatshirt fans and music critics alike. While still involved with the Odd Future crew, Sweatshirt has seamlessly separated himself from the hip-hop powerhouse to showcase his own talent. I couldn’t catch him in Texas but I did experience his live performance at Governor’s Ball last year and it blew me away. The 20-year old, L.A. native has the energy his audience craves and a refined producer and rapper skill. Keep in mind, his debut Earl was released when he was just sixteen and named one of the best albums of 2010 by Complex Magazine.
5. Rae Sremmurd
Drummers Ear, spelled backwards, is the duo of Mississippi-raised brothers Swae Lee and Slim Jimmi Brown who were catapulted into the hip-hop scene after their two singles, “No Type” and “Throw Sum More” blew up, the latter featuring Nicki Minaj. Those successes were largely thanks to the production credit of Mike WiLL Made-It, who has apparently been delivering most of the chart-topping hip-hop singles lately. Of course, that is not to suggest Mike WiLL is the only reason for their success – the boys had developed enough of a following on their own before the producers came to them. Upon the suggestion of Mississippi-based producer P-Nasty, Swae Lee and Slim Jimmi were one of the first artists signed to Mike WiLL’s Eardruma Records and have proven themselves as a major standout on the label ever since.
6. Wiz Khalifa & Taylor Gang
The prior experience I had with Wiz Khalifa was solo at Bonnaroo. He performed a majority of his new 2014 material and kept everything mellow – chilled out on the weed he smokes so profusely. However, his ACL Moody Theatre take-over at SXSW was a whole other story. That night showcased the aggressive Wiz Khalifa, who goes out on the weekends and parties hard with his friends. At first, Wiz acted as the DJ and gave his crew a chance to showcase their talent. Later on, he stepped down to join the fully packed stage and completely own it. The set was compiled from a variety of his music, ranging from “So High” off his latest album Blacc Hollywood to his older releases, such as the obvious choice of “Taylor Gang” off Rolling Papers in 2012.
In comparison, I definitely preferred the latter performance from the weed mogul. Khalifa seemed to be enjoying himself even more so that night; sharing his joints with the crowd, thrusting against a monitor, bouncing across the stage and ripping off his shirt. The tatted up, Pittsburgh raised artist definitely proved himself that night and I couldn’t have asked for a better show. And to be honest, he gave out the best free stuff – quality rolling papers and black & milds.
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