- By Deborah Sengupta Stith American-Statesman Staff
Over the past decade hip-hop has grown into one of the biggest genres to showcase each year at South by Southwest. It’s also traditionally the last one to release a lineup each year. Expect new names to be added in the days leading up to the festival and anticipate surprise pop-ins. But don’t get caught up star-chasing, dig into the lineup and take chances. You might just find your new favorite rapper.
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Rapsody. After kicking around the underground for over a decade, the North Carolina rapper landed in the national spotlight in 2015 when Kendrick Lamar tapped her for the only rap feature on “To Pimp A Butterfly.” She signed to Roc Nation and late last year dropped “Laila’s Wisdom,” a powerful, personal, 14-track treatise, heavy with knowledge and bolstered by the funky rhythms and soulful harmonies from the likes of Anderson.Paak, Musiq Soulchild. Guest features from Lamar, Black Thought and Busta Rhymes didn’t hurt either. Her profile’s on the rise. When the lineup for Rhymesayers’ Soundset Festival came out in February, the hip-hop dudes (the dudes) chopping it up on my Facebook feed argued that Rapsody could body 90 percent of the rappers on the top tier of the roster. (12:10 a.m. March 15, the Belmont)
Kodie Shane. The Atlanta artist sensually sing raps over hazy after-hours club beats with the effortless swagger of a female Drake. That is, if Drake was actually legit hot instead of trusty puppy adorable. She follows the same cadences of many of her Trap compadres, including Lil Yachty — who christened her First Lady of his Sailing Team — but the clear, plaintive quality of her voice elevates the urgency far beyond the realm of mumble rap. (1:10 a.m. March 16, Empire Control Room)
Princess Nokia. She’s a “New York Puerto Rican like a rough kind of dude,” the 25-year-old rapper spits on “Bart Simpson,” the lead track on “1992,” the 2016 mixtape, re-released as a full album last year. The out and proud Latinx came up through the New York City queer club scene, and her sound splices soulful ‘90s hip-hop with aggressively electronic club bangers to make you “Pop, lock and drop it.” (11 p.m. March 15, Clive Bar)
Rich Brian. Look, none of us know exactly how we feel about the song “Dat $tick,” and the fact that the 18-year-old Indonesian rapper also known as Brian Imanuel used to call himself Rich Chigga is immensely regrettable, but he’s parlayed viral fame into a real career and his new album “Amen” is an enjoyable collection of pop R&B and stormy trap that is going to make him a massive star. (TBA)
Duckwrth. On his “Xtra Ugly Mixtape,” the California rapper swaggers over summery West Coast funk with “Michuul,” an ode to Michael Jackson in the form of a suave love song, incites an uprising with rock ‘n’ roll bravado on “Wake Up” and indulges in sentimental story rap on “Bummer/2Bucks.” If his live show lives up to the promise of the rich and varied release, he’ll be one of this year’s big breakouts. (10:45 p.m. March 13, Lustre Pearl; 12:30 a.m. March 16, Empire Control Room)
THE BIG DOGS
Action Bronson. (Midnight March 15, Bangers)
August Greene (Common, Robert Glasper, Karriem Riggins). (12:20 a.m. March 14, Stubb’s)
Bun B. (1 a.m. March 14, Highland Lounge)
DMC. (11 p.m. March 16, Clive Bar)
Trae Tha Truth. (TBA)
Trinidad Jame$. (TBA)
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Let’s be real: SXSW hip-hop artists tend to play short sets. It’s not unusual for an emcee to be programmed for 20 minutes or less. If you don’t feel like hoofing it all over town, look for tightly programmed showcases that present a few artists you know mixed with a host of new talent that runs in the same vein. The good news for the badgeless masses is, if you show up early enough, you should be able to pay cover at most of these shows.
March 13: RAS Day Presents at the Parish. RAS Day, the annual event curated by husband/wife hip-hop duo Riders Against the Storm, is Austin’s answer to the NYC-based Afropunk festival, a somewhat more bohemian celebration of alternative African and African American culture with an emphasis on empowerment through self-care. RAS plays the show alongside the excellent Afro-futuristic hip-hop soul project Oshun, created by a pair of talented NYU students and headliners, and Clear Soul Forces, a soulful boom-bap crew from Motown.
March 14: Welcome to the South at Ironwood Hall. Oh, you like it dirty? Atlanta artist YFN Lucci, whose highly anticipated debut full-length, “Ray Ray from Sugar Hill,” is scheduled to drop March 9 and he headlines this showcase with crewmates YFN Kay and YFN Trae Pound. The evening also includes performances from Houston artists Maxo Kream and Beatking, Austin’s Kenny Gee, and Lousiana’s Damar Jackson.
March 15: Digiwaxx presents Wyclef and Friends at Highland Lounge. Refugee all-star Wyclef Jean is the kingpin of melodic hip-hop that blends in Afro Caribbean elements. If his worldly approach to rap is your jam, then the party starts well before Clef’s 12:30 a.m. showcase. Openers include collaborators such as Jazzy Amra, who appear on his newest album, “The Carnival III: The Rise and Fall of a Refugee,” alongside global artists such as Nigerian soul singer Seyi Shay and UK-based Afro-pop artist Silvastone.
March 16: The Breaks ATX hip-hop showcase at Karma Lounge. ATX hip-hop has been on a steady rise and this showcase, solidly curated by hosts of the Breaks hip-hop show on KUTX, presents some of the city’s top talents. Electrifying live band hip-hop act Magna Carda headlines with a supporting cast that includes ballistic oddball Sertified and LNS Crew heavies Kydd Jones and Tank Washington.
March 16: Digiwaxx presents Talib Kweli and more at Highland Lounge. Hip-hop’s most relentless Twitter warrior, Kweli, headlines this showcase, but don’t sleep on the openers. South African hip-hop artist Kwesta tackles weighty topics with a lyrical flow. His compatriot AKA is also on the bill alongside Nigerian rapper Adekunle Gold and NYC-based artists Kofi Black and Steelyone mixing up hip-hop and R&B.
March 17: H1ghr Music Presents at the Main. Jay Park, a Korean American singer, rapper and former K-Pop star who just signed to Roc Nation, founded the label H1ghr Music with collaborator Cha Cha Malone. They set it up as a global enterprise featuring Korean and American rappers. Park and Malone host this showcase that features Seattle rappers Raz Simone and Avatar Darko alongside South Korean Ph-1.
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