It's only Wednesday, but we're already turned up for SXSW.
Chaz French, Photo Courtesy Rachel Topping
The space ASCAP used looked like a repurposed house that they had rented, what they called “The Blackheart.” The shows were taking place in the back, on a stage on the dirt-gravel “pit,” which was covered with a tent, probably to save us from the ever-looming rain. Act one of ASCAP’s showcase brought out R&B luminaries and newbies—BJ The Chicago Kid, Andra Day, Son Little, and Kevin Ross—but act two was going to be something really special, with Skeme, Martin $ky, OG Maco, Chaz French, GoldLink, and Dej Loaf.
Outfitted in head-to-toe Knicks gear (and, bro, aren’t you from Chicago? Why aren’t you reppin’ your city?), BJ the Chicago Kid closed out his set with a mash-up of MGMT’s “Electric Feel” and ScHoolboy Q’s “Studio,” which surprisingly enjoyable. Weirdly, the crowd didn't seem to appreciate it much, as tables of people were on their phones. Unforunately, attendees were a bit sleepy, something that became more prevalent between acts one and two.
Skeme, photo courtesy Rachel Topping.
California’s Skeme and Atlanta’s Two-9 shared the stage soon after, and the crowd got a bit more riled up—people stood on tables to get a better glimpse. Clearly, everyone was hyped for Dej and Maco, and having DJ Drama and DJ Don Cannon as hosts didn’t hurt either. Two-9 boasts a few members as part of its collective, including past member Key! During Two-9’s set, rappers were trading the mic; CEEJ, Two-9 member and one half of Retro Su$hi, had the surprising ill flow for a white boy with dreads. Lil Uzi Vert took the stage for a bit too, alluding to the idea that he can flip money and drugs at an alarming speed, “I turn five to a ten / I turn twenty to a fifty.” He was fine—more or less a poor man’s Young Thug.
DJ Drama was acting as hype man, having Cannon play a round of songs—“Blessings,” “Mamacita,” Lil Wayne’s “Coco” remix, and “Trap Queen”—that everyone knew, as a way to raise the energy. After Skeme and Two-9, Dej was supposed to perform, but in sauntered Maco, who told us, “There’s a point where y’all will get wild,” and opened with “Dyin Just From Livin.” This writer didn’t anticipate that Maco would sound so wildly similar to Rome Fortune, both sonically and vocally. Maco politely asked the crowd to clear some room for a mosh pit; yes, everyone went all in as he launched into his viral “U Guessed It.” Unfortunately, he made no mention of Korean rapper Keith Ape’s “It G Ma.” Maco has previously called Ape out for cultural appropriation, but no lie—“It G Ma” is fire, almost as hot as “U Guessed It.”
Dej Loaf, photo courtesy Earl Mack.
Indeed, hip-hop’s androgynous sweetheart Dej Loaf took the stage—and of course, we have to make note of what she was wearing, since she’s become a sort of style icon. She was actually dressed pretty regular, in sunglasses (as to be expected), an oversized denim hoodie, jeans (they had some whisking tho), and a white belt. She opened with “I Don’t Know” from her recent mixtape Sell Sole. She ran through a few songs off her tape and threw “Try Me” smack dab in the middle. It was odd how she didn’t open with the single, as everyone most likely expected. Seems like she wanted to build up some momentum to play her hit. She is very petite and has a small voice, but for whatever reason, you really believe her when she raps, “Turn a bitch to some macaroni.” She quickly finished her set and took time to talk with fans and take photos.
Just as we were going up, the whole thing pretty much crashed after Dej’s set, which felt very strange. Why were the headliners going first? It was quite possible that they had other sets, but the whole thing seemed to foreshadow a downfall. The crowd slightly dispersed after Dej, but it just got worse.
Martin $ky, photo courtesy Rachel Topping
Up next was Chicago’s Martin $ky, who might be fairly unknown to those who aren’t familiar with Chicago’s rap scene. He’s new, and he has a lot of promise. “I make every beat and write every line,” he declared, before firing off into “Plug,” one of the best songs off his recent mixtape Everywhere But Here. It’s a shame everyone cleared out, but $ky still carried high energy for the small crowd; the vibes of the show went from major-headliner-turn-up to a chill local rap show plus homies atmosphere This writer’s personal favorite moment of the night is when another Chicago rapper Saba jumped on stage with $ky to perform “Reach.” We interviewed Saba back in September and he’s come a long way since then (http://noisey.vice.com/en_au/blog/saba-comfortzone-chicago-interview-profile). Though the crowd was small, $ky was eternally appreciative of us. Sometimes you have to take what you can get when you’re on the come-up.
The crowd remained small, even though they hypeman kept telling us we had “the future of rap” still to come. When DMV’s Chaz French hit the stage and launched into “The Shit,” people from the outskirts of the venue came to the pit. “I’m going to make the best out of this situation. This is the most beautiful crowd I’ve ever seen,” he proclaimed—and he undoubtedly did. Maybe it’s his stature or his earnestness, but there’s something about Chaz that is charming; he definitely was able to captivate the audience as he went through song after song from his tape Happy Belated. We also have to note that Chaz was wearing a long black tee à la Childish Gambino’s white pocket Acne tee (the one Gambino didn’t take off for a very, very long time).
Chaz French and GoldLink, photo courtesy Rachel Topping
Finally, it was time for GoldLink. Many of us thought he wouldn’t even perform. There’s been so much buzz surrounding the DMV rapper that it was hard to imagine him playing to an almost-empty venue. Despite the unfavorably small crowd, GoldLink came out dancing, proving that the size of the crowd didn’t matter. He would have given as much energy to a big crowd as a small crowd. He gave the crowd, and this writer, life after a long day. Everyone who remained packed themselves onto the dusty pit for “Bedtime Story.” GoldLink reminded us that he’s got a set of pipes on him—he can sing just as well as he flows—when he ran through “Ay Ay” and the Kaytranada-produced track “Sober Thoughts.” He played a new track with Chaz, and closed with “Wassup,” bestowing upon us that sweet, sweet GoldLink, Timbaland, and Kaytranada mash-up.
“DC ‘bout to run SXSW,” GoldLink shouted between heaving breaths, beads of sweat on his forehead. And on that ending note, everyone got on stage and danced/thrashed/bounced to traditional DC go-go music. When you hear go-go, it ain’t from anywhere else but DC.
Tara Mahadevan is still dancing. She's on Twitter.