SXSW 09 Picks 2 Click

A septet of local acts with (inter)national appeal

SXSW 09 Picks 2 Click
Photo by Sandy Carson

Public Offenders

ATX hip-hop's call to action on the positive tip

The phrase "It's bigger than hip-hop" gets more use in the rap game these days than it probably should, but it's a sentiment that rings true with Public Offenders. The Austin quartet – Quincy Ockletree, Damien Williams, Yolanda Zapata, and Drailand Bell – makes music as a vehicle for something much more important: putting an end to domestic violence.

"We've always dealt with community issues and things that involve real life," says Zapata, a victim of abuse. "We lost a good friend through domestic abuse, and she's been a big inspiration for us. We're trying to give the message to ladies that you can prevail and make it through."

The foursome's road to the present has been a short and hectic one. After co-founding East Austin community activist organization the Cipher with Shannon Sandrea in 2007, the Offenders were tapped to perform at the STAR Conference, an annual local gathering focused on combating family violence. In attendance were Ted Bunch and Tony Porter, the co-founders of the New York-based A Call to Men, who asked the group to perform at its national conference in New Orleans.

"It's definitely been a stepping stone," says the group's leader, Ockletree. "We're already in contact with other organizations on the positive tip, but that's the aim we've taken on. We want to be speaking out on these issues, like poverty and oppression, that affect our people."

In that vein, they put together January's Drop Jewels, an 11-song call to action released through the A Call to Men organization. The album, which takes more from the positive aspects of Tupac Shakur's work than the Outlawz's entire post-'Pac catalog, is one of the most focused local hip-hop releases in recent memory.

"What separates us from others is the message that we bring," suggests Ockletree. "Everyone who's touching on the same thing is only following the industry. We're doing shows that have never had hip-hop at their events. That's what's keeping us alive in Austin. We feel it's our duty to keep pushing for people who are looking for this voice."

The members have been so committed that Ockletree's brother Christopher left the group after Drop Jewels came out to focus on running the Cipher organization. Don't expect the other four to follow suit.

"We're gonna keep the movement going until the day we drop in the casket," announces Williams. "We're already planning the next album, which will be called Permanent Oppression. As long as domestic violence is around in this world, PO will be around."


SXSW SHOWCASE: Thursday, March 19, 10pm @ Karma Lounge

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