SXSW Film Panel: Nelson George Keynote

Influential multihyphenate talks hip-hop and The Get Down

Nelson George is amongst the last of something not quite fingered, because of the altering perceptions of space and time around the beginnings of hip-hop. The incredibly accomplished critic/columnist/author/filmmaker was at the forefront of a movement, scribe to early hip-hop’s pied pipers.

Nelson George at SXSW (Photo by John Anderson)

But hearing him speak on himself, you’d think he was a “fly on the wall,” instead of the movement’s intelligent literary voice who provided credibility among the culture critic set.

Driving the audience down the CliffsNotes shortcut from blaxploitation film into the beginnings of hip-hop music and culture, he initially covered it as a music editor at Billboard. Writing about artists like Springsteen and Madonna, he began to understand the importance of influential points of view, which would be critical to the rise of the “rapper.” Simultaneously concerned with the intersection and passing of genres, he published, among other works, 1988’s The Death of Rhythm & Blues, where he noted R&B’s “lack of urgency,” still affecting hip-hop in the present day.

The Q&A yielded interesting insights. Unsurprisingly, he still uses the basics for his writing process – a pen and an old-school composition book. He claims to have “300 to 400 books lying around the house.” He envisions television, not film, as the modern equalizer for increased diversity, in the wake of the divisive #OscarsSoWhite controversy.

His latest project, the upcoming Netflix scripted series The Get Down, ventures into the origins of hip-hop, through a similar version of himself – a young man surviving the lawlessness of Queens during the late Seventies. Created by Baz Luhrmann(!), there will be multiple musical productions, intertwining disco’s heyday with the germination of hip-hop.

Obviously still more concerned with preserving foundations, George knows where he stands in the ever-youthful genre’s paradigm. “It’s always dangerous for a middle-aged man to discuss contemporary hip-hop,” he explains in a careful tone. He says he’s fan of current torchbearer Kendrick Lamar, and of rap’s dominant subgenre, even with its regressive limitations. “I love trap music, [but] I hate trap lyrics.”

Keep up with all our SXSW coverage at austinchronicle.com/sxsw. Sign up for our South By-specific newsletter at austinchronicle.com/newsletters for news, reviews, and previews delivered to your inbox every day of the Fest. And for the latest tweets, follow @ChronSXSW.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
Sound on Sound Review: Car Seat Headrest
Sound on Sound Review: Car Seat Headrest
Slacker Pavement hooks meet James Murphy’s drollness

Doug Freeman, Nov. 6, 2016

ACL Review: Anderson Paak
ACL Review: Anderson Paak
Hip-hop/R&B fusionist takes an ATX victory lap

Alejandra Ramirez, Oct. 9, 2016

More by Kahron Spearman
Organ Great James Polk Works Wonders Outside the Limelight
Organ Great James Polk Works Wonders Outside the Limelight
We speak with Austin’s esteemed multi-instrumentalist and former arranger for Ray Charles

Jan. 18, 2019

Sun Ra’s Cosmic Jazz Epic <I>Space Is the Place</I> Touches Down
Sun Ra’s Cosmic Jazz Epic Space Is the Place Touches Down

Jan. 11, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

SXSW 2016, SXSW Film 2016, Nelson George, Keynote, The Getdown, Netflix

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle