Ways to Celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Hip-Hop in Austin

The Illharmonic Orchestra, Bavu Blakes, and more reflect on the genre's golden jubilee

The Illharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall

In the early August dog days of summer 1973, the Jamaica-born, Bronx-based DJ Kool Herc electrified a neighborhood block party with a high-energy vinyl set. As Herc mixed funk and soul records into a rapid succession of rhythmic breaks, MCs spun stories on the mic for an enraptured teenage crowd. Fifty years later, the August 11 party remains the stuff of legend and serves as the ceremonial birthdate of hip-hop.

To celebrate the genre's golden jubilee, we've rounded up a list of local and touring talent hitting the stage this week. From heavy-hitting showcases to kid-friendly workshops, hip-hop lovers from all walks of life are welcome.

Thee Phantom & the Illharmonic Orchestra

Long Center for the Performing Arts, Saturday 12, 7:30pm

Some may doubt the viability of combining hip-hop and classical music, but Thee Phantom, maestro of the genre-blending Illharmonic Orchestra, is used to these suspicions. In 1987, a 13-year-old Phantom mixed Beastie Boys' bratty classic "Paul Revere" with Beethoven's melodic Symphony No. 5 and brought the tape to his best friend's house for review.

"He ejected it, threw it across the room, and said it would never work," laughs Phantom. "From that moment, I became galvanized to the idea that I would mix hip-hop and classical music and do it on a major level."

Alongside his wife, the Phoenix, who holds the title of Mistress of Ceremony, Phantom leads the Illharmonic Orchestra through instrumental renditions of Nineties rap classics. Crowd-pleasers include interpretations of Outkast's "SpottieOttieDopalicious," the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Big Poppa," and Pete Rock's "T.R.O.Y.," each backed by a full band of strings, horns, woodwinds, and piano.

"They seem like such polar opposites, but at the end of the day, music is music, right?" says the Phoenix, whose soaring vocals send the Orchestra's live sets to new heights. "If you go back and listen to some of the hip-hop greats, they always use instrumentation that exists in an orchestra – it's actually a pretty natural progression to put them together."

The Breakfast Boogie

Bavu Blakes

50 Years of Hip Hop w/ Anastasia Hera
ACC Highland Campus, Friday 11, 6pm

The Breakfast Boogie w/ DJ Smackola
Far Out Lounge, Saturday 12, 10am

As a conscious rap connoisseur and longtime Austin educator, Bavu Blakes rightly leads two weekend festivities. On Friday, he offers a free performance in ACC Highland's Recital Hall with MC Anastasia Hera and their trackless, no-computers-allowed cover band Classic Hip Hop Live. Saturday, to satisfy your pint-sized hip-hop head, look no further than Breakfast Boogie's family-friendly celebration of the genre's half-century.

Spearheaded by Charlie Faye (lead of Motown-inspired Charlie Faye & the Fayettes, and more recently, kid-focused group Charlie Faye & the Fanimals) and Cindy Haws (of queer family band Strawbitty Yops), the weekly series brings age-appropriate live music to the Far Out Lounge's spacious patio on Saturdays.

Living up to his nickname of Scholar Emcee, Blakes waxed poetic on the significance of hip-hop's 50th anniversary. "Hip-hop is turning 50 in the year that I'm turning 49, so I'm what you'd call a first-generation hip-hopper," says Blakes, who founded the forward-thinking educational agency Hip Hop Grew Up. "This is a celebration of the culture being that age."

"There's this resilient, undying, loud, in-your-face, creative spirit that some have said wouldn't be around, and now it's the thing to be," he continues. "Go to the top 20 country videos and you'll see a heavy hip-hop influence. Or go to what's supposed to be pop, or to ESPN, or the news, and you'll hear that influence everywhere.

"That's what this really marks – a celebration of that, no matter how hard you try, you can't stop us now."

Lynn (Photo by Nathan Nguyen [@ngyvision])

CupcakKe, Lynn, Ladi Earth

Antone’s, Wednesday 16, 8pm

For a decidedly non-family-friendly hip-hop celebration, catch CupcakKe, the Chicago-born trap-pop performer known for spitting hilariously hypersexual lyrics over club-ready beats. Her set serendipitously coincides with Austin Pride week: The outspoken ally's 2016 hit "LGBT" is required listening at any queer function ("Fuck out my way when you see me/ I'm rollin' with the LGBT").

Female rap talent runs deep in the night's lineup, including Ladi Earth, the Austin-based R&B singer who leads cleansing "twerk and heal" workshops at Windsor Park art studio Brass Ovaries. Also joining as support is Lynn, the Alabama-born, Killeen-based rapper who floats between hard-hitting bravado and melancholic pensiveness with a maturity that far surpasses her 22 years.

"When you listen, you're definitely gonna feel every emotion," shares Lynn, who also scored an opening slot for Three 6 Mafia's DJ Paul at Antone's last month. "I'm very, very fierce, and give a hint of that vulgarness that you feel from Lil Kim or Foxy [Brown]."

Lynn, no stranger to the struggle of making moves in the historically male-dominated genre, values hip-hop's shift to a more female-friendly environment in recent years. "It's definitely a guy's game, but there's been a lot of progress, from the A-listers all the way down to the rappers like me who are still just getting started.

"We're definitely going hard, we're making names for ourselves," she continues. "We're just breaking generational curses and knocking down doors, and it feels good to be in these conversations and on these stages."

Envy N

Fresh Fridaze: Hip-Hop’s 50th Birthday

Independence Brewing Co., Friday 11, 8pm

In our guitar-crazed town, Jsun the Prophesor and Michael "Big Mic" Pereida co-founded the College of Hip Hop Knowledge to build community around a shared love for the hip-hop art form. The duo's monthly Fresh Fridaze showcase recruits seasoned veterans as well as up-and-coming artists looking to hone their live chops. August's second Friday coincidentally falls on the genre's b-day, recruiting Cap Lewis, Bars Robinson, Ill4Real, Akademics, Space Goonz, and Northside Bully.

One of Friday's rising talents is Envy N, an East Austin native who combines the Southern swagger of Houston's Screwed Up Click with Trina's infectious energy. Her stage name is a phoneticized version of "Nikolette vs. Nichelle," with the former representing her artistic alter ego and the latter signifying her birth name.

"I'd get bullied in elementary because I was the Black girl with the big lips and the big eyebrows," she shares. "That kind of hurt my ego – I was this sweet girl, and I had to put on a mask because people didn't accept me for who I was.

"That's where Envy N comes in – it's my alter ego versus my real personality. I struggle with those two because I'm over here trying to make everybody else happy, and then another part of me wants to just be myself."

The 24-year-old cites her art form as a cathartic tool for self-expression while navigating inner turmoil.

"Hip-hop – it teaches you things, it teaches you about your culture," she shares. "I'm hoping people realize the importance of hip-hop on its 50th anniversary, because you can grow with it. It's a lifestyle, you know?"

The 50th Anniversary of Hip-Hop

Spokesman Coffee Roasters, Friday 11, 4pm

Austin collective Expo '79 presents a free, all-ages celebration with DJs spinning vinyl records, MCs freestyling on the mic, live graffiti artists, and B-boys/B-girls. Performers include Ben Buck, Bijan, DJ KICKIT, and Taprecords, as well as a DJ battle hosted by Scratch Theory of Tejas.

Bounce Motel

Austin Motel, Sunday 13, 2pm

Bounce trailblazer Big Freedia hosts poolside performances supporting the Transgender Education Network of Texas.

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Bavu Blakes, Lynn, Envy N, Thee Phantom, The Illharmonic Orchestra, Anastasia Hera, The Breakfast Boogie, CupcakKe, Ladi Earth, Fresh Fridaze

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