SXSW 08: It's a Wrap

Most Surreal Scene: Bun B
Fuze was a crazy scene Wednesday night, with only badge-wearers squeezing through the door and plenty of irked UGK fans left out in the street. Inside was no less chaotic, dozens of people crowding the stage at any given time, including some very mediocre rappers who had more diamonds than mic skills. Geto Boys veteran Bushwick Bill took control of the stage with an entertaining half-hour of drunken freestyles and ad-libs when a scheduled act failed to show. With serious sound problems and no sign of Bun B by 1:30am, the show teetered on the edge of disaster before Bun walked through a back door and, with no introduction, delivered one of the coldest performances I’ve ever witnessed. Surrounded by people on all sides, including the late Pimp C’s mother and child, Bun’s no-nonsense set included a verse from Dizzee Rascal (who rapped along to every word in the background for the rest of the performance) and a long moment of silence for Pimp C.

Most Likely to Kill You in Your Sleep: Game Rebellion
If screamcore rap-metal outfit Game Rebellion doesn’t think the audience is quite hype enough, frontman Netic will jump offstage, shove the nearest audience member, and stomp around scowling at people. At one point I thought he might actually punch me in the face for not rocking hard enough. At times like this, writers are advised to put away their notebooks and start doing some serious headbanging.

Most Miraculous Comeback: Darondo
Is it really possible this singer/rumored pimp/cable TV star has performed only a handful of shows in his life? In his third performance since releasing three incredible 7-inch singles in the 1970s, Darondo delivered the most memorable performance of SXSW Saturday at Club de Ville. I can only hope to have a fraction of Darondo’s energy – not to mention killer dance moves – when I’m 60 years old. The highlight of the night was his breakdown on “How I Got Over,” encouraging audience members to stop by the store on the way home for “some whip cream and cherries.” He then explained, in enough detail to make Luke Campbell blush, what to do next. Perhaps only Peaches has used the word “titties” so much on stage.

Next Big Thing: Santogold
With her buzz simmering just below a boil, the Brooklyn-based Philly native didn’t disappoint with her performance at Stubb’s Friday night. While no carbon copy, her dubbed-out electro mash-ups make her the U.S. answer to M.I.A. Be on the lookout for Santogold’s debut album next month.

Emerging Trend: Year of the Femcee
Santogold, Kid Sister, Mala Rodriguez, and Jean Grae all represented hard for the ladies. Will this be the year I stop yearning for the return of Lauryn Hill?

Best Pipes: Maya Azucena
In addition to being stunningly beautiful, Maya Azucena was far and away the best singer I saw at SXSW. It’s a shame more people weren’t there to catch her great performance of earthy neo-soul at Prague Thursday.

Most Ubiquitous Little Person: Bushwick Bill
Bill was seemingly everywhere last week and more than happy to bum rush the stage and commandeer the mic for long stretches. He held down a chaotic scene as de facto host at Fuze as a restless crowd waited for Bun B’s arrival. He was on hand at Ice Cube’s Saturday performance at Auditorium Shores and took the stage at Scoot Inn with an impromptu set. He was eventually invited to leave the stage by festival organizers so El-P could perform.

Most Fun: Lucy & the Popsonics/Afrobots
Brasilia’s Lucy & the Popsonics and the Los Angeles-based Afrobots, fronted by São Paulo’s Rico Dolce Riot, each turned the stage into their own personal playgrounds during early showcases. Both groups incited riotous dance parties with thrashing high-energy electro-rocka and a man in a chipmunk costume (or was it a raccoon?) rushed the stage for the Afrobots' finale.

Don’t Believe the Hype: The Cool Kids
The Cool Kids rocked Emo’s Main Room on Friday and the crowd went crazy over this Chicago throwback hip-hop duo. So why am I sipping Haterade? They would be one of my top choices to rock a house party, but they don’t pass the headphone test; if I don’t want to listen to an MC on a city bus, they don’t make the cut. Take away the fly gear and admittedly charismatic stage presence, and you are left with two average MCs rapping about not much at all. Of course, the same could be said about fellow Chi-town rapper Kanye West, and he’s managed to do OK for himself.

Least Inspiring Performance: GZA
Having spent most of the night at Club de Ville I decided to catch GZA’s late Saturday set across the street at Stubb’s. GZA was always my favorite Wu-Tang Clansman back in the day and his cryptic rhymes make 1995’s Liquid Swords one of the most slept-on hip-hop albums ever. They don’t call him the Genius for nothing. But it seemed GZA had a dozen places he’d rather be on this night. Sure he ran through the requisite Wu-bangers but his performance was lifeless. Save Pretty Toney, I’m officially done with the Wu.

Best Panel: Hip-Hop, Politics & the Ever Changing Music Business
Hats off to Matt Sonzala and the folks at SXSW for involving the Austin community by scheduling this free hip-hop panel at the Carver Museum. And the community showed up, one audience member declaring himself the hip-hop messiah Tupac prophesized about and offering his demo to a panel of hip-hop heavyweights. The panel itself was lively and at times contentious. Kansas rapper Tech N9ne and Bay Area hip-hop activist Davey D, the panel’s most vocal speakers, engaged in a back-and-forth about whether kids in the ‘hood wanted to hear political rap music or simply wanted to party. As a former Clear Channel DJ, Davey D gave first hand accounts of labels and industry insiders suppressing political records.

Maybe Next Year: I wanted to see N.E.R.D. in concert but was down the street taking in an excellent performance by crack-rap kingpins Clipse on Friday. Alas, I missed N.E.R.D. at the Fader Fort as well. Same goes for David Banner, who by all accounts was feeling mighty free at the Fader Fort on Saturday, jumping into the crowd and instigating a wild mosh pit while rocking with a live band and DJ Mannie Fresh. I was across town at the Carver Museum at the time, where Banner was scheduled to speak. Turns out he had other plans.

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SXSW, David Banner, Bun B, Darondo, GZA, Game Rebellion, Bushwick Bill, Santogold, Maya Azucena

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