Written by Adam E. Smith (@theadamesmith)
South By Southwest is arguably the most extensive hip-hop event of the year. Everyone from Jay-Z to 50 Cent took full advantage of the six day music festival slash media circus, mostly as a means of showing they still claim the top tier. Beyond the hype and mainstream appeal, there was also a whole city crawling with the best up-and-coming talent in rap music. Witnessing intimate showcases that featured these relatively unknowns is one of the best experiences a hip-hop head can have. Even better was watching them get validated by soon to be veterans through out the week. With that being said, here are five of the more classic performances coming from SXSW 2012 after the jump.
1. Black Star Turns Into Talib Kweli & Friends at the Google Rooftop Party
Originally scheduled as the headlining hip-hop act for the Google rooftop party, Black Star lost half of it’s shine when Mos Def canceled his appearance at the last minute. Given the hyper-concentrated presence of hip-hop’s biggest names in Austin for the week, Talib was able to rally together past collaborative partners to make sure the show went off without a hitch. At first the crowd was skeptical, but in truth, the end result of Bun B, Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, 9th Wonder, Jean Grae and Pharoahe Monch’s impromptu appearances on the mic made it even more special than a private Black Star show. This is what South By Southwest is all about, and the creative genius behind Talib enabled him and his cohorts to make their mark during this once in a lifetime performance.
2. Top Dawg Entertainment Showcase Featuring Black Hippy & More
Originally scheduled as an uber-private party at a small bar on the periphery of the Austin downtown, the Top Dawg Entertainment Showcase quickly became a mob scene when they wouldn’t let some of the fans in. The Clive Bar security clearly had no idea how to react, and it didn’t help that TDE producer Brain Gang Blue jumped off the stage during his opening set to rile up the crowd behind the fence. Realizing that a half-filled show wasn’t going to sit well with the Black Hippy collective, the bar eventually let everyone in just as Fly Union took the stage. By the time BJ The Chicago Boy finished his time slot the crowd was as live as any that would be seen all weekend. Feeding off the contagious energy, Ab-Soul warmed things up with tracks from Longterm Mentality, Schoolboy Q killed yet another passionate performance, Jay Rock finally got to showcase his lyrical skill set, and the place went absolutely nuts when Kendrick Lamar spit his polished material for nearly an hour. Black Hippy members jumped in during each other’s sets to add featured verses, and the show ended with all four members hyping the crowd into a frenzy before punctuating the performance by stage diving. They will be hard pressed to put on a better show for a crowd that small, but you better hope you’re there when they do.
3. Freddie Gibbs & Spaceghostpurrp at the Thrasher Party
Yet another show located in an isolated district of the Austin downtown, the Trasher sponsored event was about as hood as it got during South By Southwest. At the shady venue a chain link fence surround the dirt dance floor, and bare bones stage setup was the perfect setting for an eclectic late night hip-hop party. The opening performers where not on point, but when Spaceghostpurrp took over rights to the mic, the stage and crowd became equally ridiculous dance parties. Not holding anything back, Muney Jordan busted out Blvckland Rvdio 66.6 tracks like “Grind On Me” and “Suck A Nigga Dick for 2011.” The latter subbing in “2012″ for the year by the mob on stage, and crowd that was jumping at the offbeat rapper for a chance to shout the lines into his mic. By the time he was done, the Miami native had almost as many people on stage as there were in the crowd, but everyone was feeling him.
Next on deck was Gary, Indiana’s East side hero Freddie Gibbs. Stepping out of his membership in P.O.C., Gangsta Gibbs came out swinging with solo selections both on and off of Str8 Killa. The only rapper all night that didn’t rely on vocal playback, Gibbs’ fluid flow danced over notoriously smooth instrumentals that rely heavily on bounce snare and hard strings. It quickly became clear why Jeezy signed him to CTE, and that Southern grit hip-hop was channeled through the filter of his unique Indiana-bred delivery. The crowd ate it up, and even the shady characters out back were blowing smoke into the air while their heads bobbed to “National Anthem (Fuck The World).” As the impassioned rapper relays the disconnect between mid-Western poverty stricken areas, and the world that doesn’t seem to acknowledge it unless an artist tells the story in rhymes, you could really feel the manifested distress behind his bars. If being real is a prerequisite for validation in the current hip-hop environ, then this man is about as authentic as they come.
4. Big K.R.I.T., G-Side & Main Attrakionz at The SPIN Party
Set to tear down one of the more exclusive Austin venues during an even more exclusive SPIN magazine party, the East and West Coast converged on the inside stage for a medley of buzz worthy novices and proven rookies. Showing up fashionably late, Main Attrakionz strutted right through the crowd, greeting every female member of the crowd they could find before jumping on stage. Joined by East Oakland’s Monsta, the duo of Squadda Bambino and Mondre Man made an effort to blaze through a handful of their viral tracks and get the crowd warmed up. When the room of half-enthused rap fans didn’t show love, the group jumped down on to the floor and literally made them feel it. Although it wasn’t the stand out performance of the showcase, their raw energy and charismatic performance was noteworthy. As soon as their set ended the Southern Hospitality crew rolled in about ten deep.
Alabama’s very own ST 2 Lettaz and Yung Clova of G-Side made their presence known from the first bass drop. Uniquely implementing two stunning back up singers to complement a live DJ, the duo kicked the showcase into firth gear with a flawless tour de force through their nu-Southern hip-hop catalog. The right concoction of lyrical wordplay, swag references and smooth flows had the room bumping as G-Side marked their official arrival at SXSW. To show their true chops both ST and Clova spit their entire last song a cappella. Yelawolf wasn’t the only ‘Bama rapper making moves in Austin.
One of the few rappers that jumped out of the underground and right into the playlists of any hip-hop head, K.R.I.T. has been the beacon of light for most that are disenfranchised with young rap pedigree. Key to his appeal is consistency over the course of an entire album, and now albums plural, with his newest mixtape release being proof of that. Beyond the material holding up on tape, the guy has polished showmanship and knows how to rock a mic. People pushed their way into a completely full room and the crowd was fully amped on the most promising contender for king of the South. K.R.I.T. met the energy half way and Mississippi anthems like “Country Shit” and “Somedayz” cut through the room like kinetic poetry. This wasn’t just a rapper on stage, but a true artist at work putting it all on his sleeve. All he had left when the last beat dropped was that knowing grin.
5. A$AP Mob Gets Into A Brawl With Audience Members
You can’t have this many rappers in town and not have at least one scrap. In defense of the A$AP Mob, the members of the crowd did continue to provoke them during their performance, but the real crazy part is how skillfully the crew jumps into the audience – this must have happened before? Not much to say that the video can’t show, but the lesson learned here: never throw anything at a member of the A$AP Mob during SXSW!