March 17, 2015: Day 1 of SXSW
I spent the first night of the SXSW Music Festival at a small venue on Rainey St. called The Blackheart. It’s a really cool old timey saloon style bar in the Colorado River waterfront area of Austin, which is actually a historic house. The venue has its stage in the backyard, which is where Dej Loaf, BJ The Chicago Kid, and OG Maco, among others, were scheduled to perform last night. It was a good night of music, but the show was stolen early.
Starting off the night was a soul singer by the name of Andra Day, accompanied by a single guitarist. Andra Day’s beautiful voice had everybody swaying to her rhythm with glassed over eyes. Guys were falling in love with her, and women were bonding with her strong feminine stage presence. Her style is akin to Erykah Badu, with sweet melodies about love, pain, and everything else, that people can just connect to. There was no glitz and glam to her performance, just raw talent as she sat on a stool, holding her microphone, soothing the wary crowd who had spent the better part of the day battling hordes of drunk St. Paddy’s Day festival goers. Then to get everybody into a more Hip Hop vibe, she went into a jazzy and soulful rendition of Biggy’s classic, “Big Poppa.” Dope is an understatement! She nailed it, killed it, and set it on fire, for which she received a roar of applause and praise at the end of her performance.
The vibe that Ms. Day created was a hard one to come on stage behind, and unfortunately, Berklee grad, Kevin Ross couldn’t keep up. He hit the stage with a two piece band, and all of the dramatic movements of an arena show, but after the sweet simplicity of Andra Day’s performance, the crowd wasn’t connecting with his cliché R&B. He ran through a few of his singles including “Money Over Love,” and all disconnections aside, he actually did a very good job. His voice is naturally strong, and he doesn’t need the help of DAWs to sound good. I think the problem with the audience was simply an incompatibility of his style with the lineup he was put with.
Next up was BJ The Chicago Kid, who came on stage with a three man accompaniment of a guitarist, bassist, and drummer. BJ brought back the fire in the crowd. He serenaded the audience with tracks from his album, “Pineapple Now-Laters,” along with segments of his single with Schoolboy Q, “It’s True.” The energy of his band was on point. All three players were extremely talented, and kept rhythm for BJ perfectly, while highlighting their abilities. The end of the performance tore the house down with a monstrous guitar and drum solo that had everybody wildin’! The talk around the audience during the break between artists was that there was no way anyone was going to top that.
And they were kinda right. Hosts DJ Drama and DJ Cannon took the stage to a very welcoming crowd, and showed off a couple of their up-and-comers, to which the audience gave polite applause. Then OG Maco took the stage. Maco’s style may sound good after being mastered in a studio, and played through headphones where you can really listen to what he’s saying; but it doesn’t translate very well in a live performance. Don’t get me wrong, Maco’s stage presence is great. He has a dramatic flair, and never breaks character, but his erratic flow just sounds like a bunch of gibberish on a live mic. The crowd wasn’t really into it, to which he showed frustration by yelling at them: “Yall don’t even know my music?!” We do OGG, it’s just that “U Guessed It” sounds terrible live. In all fairness, you did make the song while you were blackout, so… Needless to say, the crowd was kind of sick of him by the time he got off the stage, and ready to see Dej Loaf.
When Dej Loaf hit the stage, everyone in the venue packed toward the front of the stage. This prompted the Fire Marshall to threaten everyone with shutting down the venue if they didn’t comply with fire codes. I’m guessing the city of Austin wasn’t trying to have another situation on their hands like last year’s Tyler the Creator show. When the crowd got in place, Dej kicked off her performance with “We Good,” and kept it moving through mixtape tracks like “Bird Call,” and “No Hoe In My Blood.” The people were happy, the Fire Marshall was happy, and Dej’s performance was pulled off without a problem.
All in all it was a good night for Hip Hop culture. However I couldn’t shake the feeling that BJ the Chicago Kid and Andra Day were the true stars of the night, even though they weren’t the headliners. At the end of the night, as I went back to war with the ranks of undead St. Paddy’s Day drunks, Ms. Day’s rendition of “Big Poppa” was on repeat in my head. She’s definitely someone who should be paid attention to, and will probably be seen at a venue near you soon. Keep an eye out.
Stay tuned for more updates throughout the week. Tonight I cover Curren$y and Action Bronson from the historic Scoot Inn.