Austin Mic Exchange

Showcasing next generation hip-hop every Tuesday

Rapper Brandon Nate trades bars with a friend during an early-May Mic Exchange.
Rapper Brandon Nate trades bars with a friend during an early-May Mic Exchange. (by Austin Mic Exchange)

Sitting atop a picnic table outside the Spiderhouse Ballroom Tuesday night, I took note of the faces filling out a hip-hop open mic: young kids, college-aged and rail-thin, with backpacks and hats on backwards. They laid down beats with their lips. Others rapped eight bars then passed the flow along.

Inside, I confided to KOOP development director Leah Manners that the rappers there had me feeling old.

“Hip-hop’s a young art,” she replied. “We’ve got them at the beginning.”

For the past year, Manners and River City rapper Adam “P-Tek” Protextor have shepherded the next generation of local hip-hop via Austin Mic Exchange, a weekly occurrence that functions as an unofficial training camp for homegrown MCs. Every Tuesday, free – 11pm until close – the evening gives aspiring rappers a much-needed platform for performance; enough time to spit a track or two in front of 60 fans and peers.

Some sets failed to muster any memorable moments, while others proved quite impressive. In many cases, Manners told me, the rappers we watched were delivering their lines in public for the very first time.

“It’s as much a networking event as it is a performance space,” she explained. “Young artists need that, too.”

Last night’s bill saw more than 25 acts sign up upon arrival, with some coming in crews and others rolling solo. P-Tek hosted, DJ Mr Burnz manned the decks, and regulars like Khilla Keys, Syx Synse, and the Underdogz got the showcase started. Others milled about waiting their turn. Those in the audience who stayed inside shouted along and threw their hands up in support.

It had me thinking that the future of Austin hip-hop might be in good hands. This particular corner of our city’s music scene has never been anything you could consider close to prodigious, but it exists, and it’s important to those involved with it. And any rapper in Austin – from the relatively successful ones like Bavu Blakes and the League of Extraordinary G’z all the way down to certifiable newbies like Trillion and Rull, two rappers who impressed me last night – can tell you about the importance of community.

Hip-hop in this city won’t blow up in a minute the way Houston’s scene did last decade, but it might start to see more people come out to its shows if the level of talent continues to rise. Last night, I saw the next wave of talent just beginning to get its feet wet, and it was solid. Serious.

The artists looked devoted. They sounded honest and fresh, like they craved the stage and wanted to get back up. One day soon, I hope, we as fans will pay to see these MCs rap.

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Austin Mic Exchange, Leah Manners, P-Tek, Adam Protextor, Syx Synce, Underdogz, Bavu Blakes, League of Extraordinary G'z, DJ Mr. Burnz, Khilla Keys, Trilion, Rull

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