Ballistix, Unfadeable Young Guns, Ukalipthis, NOOK
Velvet/Velvet Patio Sometimes even hip-hop's four elements are no match for the older, more meterological ones. Thursday it came in the form of one of our patented blue northers, a (thankfully short-lived) torrent, every type of PA glitch imaginable, and for the writer, a deadline when his mom is still awake. One good thing -- the weather was cold, but the crowd came to party. Badges and wristbands didn't mean squat to them, as fully half were lacking any sort of SXSW accoutrement; they came because they loved hip-hop. Some danced, some nodded, some shivered, some mouthed along, and some didn't, but there was still much love in the room. Eventually. Austin speed rappers Ballistix came out first to a smattering of people on the patio, half into it, half indifferent. While their lightning-versed, minor-key-inflected attack may not be every Source subscriber's flavor of the month, their convictions and dedication to their craft shone through in both their relentless verbosity and intelligent topics, not to mention a vocabulary including "esoterically" and "verily." The DJ's foreboding samples, refracting flamenco guitar, horror-movie piano, and Bernard Herrmann-esque strings (among others) acutely complemented the bracing lyrical tone of the probing "School Daze" ("I hate AISD") and anti-intolerance treatise "Commentary." Houston's Ukalipthis came next, after some scratching from DJ Witness as vivid as Marvin Zindler's Action 13 reports. With "The Attack," the Wyclef-looking MC slunk around the stage whilst rhyming in a syrupy drawl resembling Slick Rick's, and -- no, I haven't been sniffing shrooms -- splicing in Seventies cheese-country like Burt Reynolds was in the next room. Before he could twist the crowd's wig any further, the heavens opened and washed away the patio portion of the showcase like so many leaves in a gutter. Inside, the Unfadeable Young Guns were engaging in a lengthy cut-up of N.W.A.'s "Dopeman" while the organizers brainstormed for ideas, settling on the only logical conclusion: Move the whole damn thing indoors. Soon enough, this resulted in at least 20 people onstage -- which would've been great if they all had microphones -- and a lengthy pause during which the Vinyl Runners performed surgery on a Public Enemy track. The day they invent a sound system that can keep up with the pressing demands of hip-hop technology will be a bigger holiday than Afrika Bambaataa's birthday. Doing the best he could, Austin's NOOK came out with three of his buddies, throwing a few "Who loves hip-hop?" bones to the by-then-fidgety audience before ripping into some fierce, bass-fired battle rappin'. If the crowd of mostly backpackers cooling their heels before Del tha Funkee Homosapien and the X-Ecutioners was a bit hesitant to launch themselves into strip-club mode, NOOK and friends spitting like the Three-Six Mafia only showed how wide hip-hop's umbrella has grown. Only thing was, last night we could have used a real one.