Faster Than Sound: A Month in Austin Rap

Three top-grade hip-hop albums emerged this fall. Let’s recap.


Chucky Blk (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Chucky Blk

After traversing the national slam poetry circuit, Charles Stephens, aka Chucky Blk, pivoted to hip-hop two years ago. His most elegant project yet, Late Summer // Early Fall, melds both identities with conversational vignettes and catchy lo-fi beats. Lush support comes from Soul Food Horns, who helped Blk begin producing.

"Getting into music, I had to overcome everybody being like, 'Oh, you're a conscious poet who thinks he can rap,'" explains the 26-year-old. "On this project, I came to terms with integrating poetic elements."

Alongside a shout-out to Kahlil Gibran on the triumphant "Smile Güd," the lyricist pins "Early Fall" as his most emotionally dense, prose-led excerpt. Just under five minutes, the tempo-shifting journey addresses the death of close friends and features ATX's Christelle Bofale.

"The whole song's about transitioning into adulthood and not being ashamed of the things I'm doing," he explains. "Whispering to someone 'I'm a rapper' is an injustice to myself. I'm trying to say it with my chest now."

Stephens moved to Austin in 2008 for his father's former role as a pastor at an Eastside church. Opener "My City" tributes his adopted hometown with comedic irreverence and soulful melodies from his two sisters. While crediting his dad for teaching him performance, this third EP searches for sanctity outside the church.

"Qualities of just speaking about your day can connect to something higher," he adds. "I'm really happy with 'just talking my shit' as a category of important things to speak on."

Chucky Blk joins monthly comedy/tarot convergence High Priestess tonight, Thu., Dec. 12, 7pm, at 7009 Langston Dr.


Blakchyl (l) & Tåsi (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Tåsi & Blakchyl

Te'aunna Moore's artistic journey begins in the small neighborhood of Heritage Heights, nestled between Huston-Tillotson University and the Texas State Cemetery. Walking the sleepy culs-de-sac, the East Austin native recalls late nights returning from youth hip-hop program the Cipher. Now known as Blakchyl, the lyricist honors the space on collaborative EP East 10th.

"Being real young and walking from Downtown to home seems like yesterday," adds Moore, formerly of Mindz of a Different Kind. "I'm still moving through these changes. Like, 'What's next for me?'"

Local rapper Tåsi, né Marlon Hedrick, rents a one-bedroom duplex just a few houses down from Moore's childhood home. Realizing the geographic through line, the two merge their mellow, unhurried styles for five songs. The comfortingly contemplative album weaves in local vox ChiClopz and French artist Cerbère, all assembled in Hedrick's tiny kitchen.

"Every time we recorded, we got closer as friends," adds Hedrick, who co-runs Spend Time Zine Mart with partner Clare Drummond. "We had time to walk to the store and talk about growing up, realizing a similar journey we've both been on."

The collection breathes with peer conversation, carrying just one explicit mention of gentrification. Where Moore conveys the dissonance of a displaced black community, Hedrick recalls his earliest years on the U.S. commonwealth island of Saipan. On guitar-strummed "Switch," he makes the poetic connection:

"I was born in the East/ Now the East is where I'm living."

Blakchyl adds to monthly reading series/open mic ATX Interfaces on Dec. 18, 7pm at Monkeywrench Books.


Mike Melinoe (Photo by Hannah Lasure)

Mike Melinoe

Dozens of bright, abstract canvases line the walls in Mike Melinoe's bedroom, as well as a dry erase board with 2019 ambitions. The mercurial rapper checked off a big one with fourth release Clajidu, accompanied by a city proclamation of Mike Melinoe Day. A funhouse collage of futuristic production and vocal warping, the 10 tracks emerged over a period of chaos in the multi-format artist's life.

After breaking up with his girlfriend, who led him to Austin four years ago from Detroit, getting fired from a job pushed Melinoe out on the street over the summer.

"I would go to the library all day, go to gigs if I had one, and then take the last bus up to the Domain and stay at the top of this parking lot, outside," explains the 27-year-old. "This project was just going to be a quick EP, but then I ended up homeless.

"It was like, 'Yo, if I was going to release something to the world and maybe die in a couple months, would I be proud of myself?'"

Abbreviating "Currently Laughing at Jokes I Don't Understand," Clajidu opens with immediate lyrical demand, "Y'all in the way/ I'm the new wave/ Make a new way for me." Local Ladi Earth joins in, opening the door for Melinoe's most confident, melodic vocals yet on the intense LP. Finale "Prosperous" recalls days "slicing government cheese," capping a portrait of underdog determination to pursue an artistic life.

Mike Melinoe performs at GhostBoy Jay$ee's album release, Dec. 13 at Cheer Up Charlies. He also closes out Austin Music Foundation's Music Mixer, Dec. 18 at Native Hostel.

Crosstalk

Ryman Hospitality Properties, owners of Nashville's historic Ryman Auditorium, plan to acquire flagship Austin venue ACL Live at the Moody Theater. Announced Monday, the company intends to buy the entire Block 21 development – including the W Austin Hotel, 3ten ACL Live, and Urban Outfitters – from Stratus Properties for $275 million, including some $141 million in mortgage debt.

Nine local acts – Beat Root Revival, Sydney Wright, Superfónicos, Dave Scher, Ley Line, Cari Hutson & Good Company, the Watters, Texas KGB, Western Youth – all received $20,000 grants from Austin nonprofit patrons Black Fret on Saturday at ACL Live. Another 10 homegrown alternates received $7,000 each: Tje Austin, Go Fever, Altamesa, Cilantro Boombox, Erika Wennerstrom, A. Sinclair, Good Field, Jonathan Terrell, Think No Think, and Dr. Joe.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Chucky Blk, Tåsi & Blakchyl, Mike Melinoe, Charles Stephens, Te'aunna Moore, Mindz of a Different Kind, Marlon Hedrick, Spend Time Zine Mart, Clare Drummond, Ladi Earth, Ryman Hospitality Properties, Ryman Auditorium, ACL Live at the Moody Theater, Block 21, 3ten ACL Live, Stratus Properties, Black Fret

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