By now you’ve already heard the running list of hip-hop artists who played SXSW 2012. Jay-Z, Kanye West, T.I., 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Mobb Deep, Big K,R.I.T., Kendrick Lamar and the list goes on and on, and on. I can imagine someone unfamiliar with SXSW might have thought it was just a hip-hop festival by the coverage on the blogs and the hip-hoperatti tweets.
The New York centric music media descended upon Austin with the same fervor as the corporate brands that co-opted stages and parties around downtown. VIP rooms were filled with “influencers” slurping down free drinks and clamoring for interviews with the same artists that play New York, have been playing New York, and will play New York, again and again, and again. But there we were in Austin, TX, where over 2000 acts were playing, and it seemed like very few were interested in truly discovering anything new.
It hit me somewhere midway through 50 Cent’s show that I was completely uninterested in being there and likely missing the point of SXSW. I don’t even like 50 Cent and considering he was performing songs from “Get Rich or Die Tryin” there was no music discovery happening in there. After throwing somewhat of a tantrum to get my crew to leave with me, we took a walk down to 5th street and fell in to a show case of African artists that was purely amazing. Nigerian rapper Naeto-C shut it down before Ghanian band Blitz The Ambassador took the stage and played a set that literally set my soul on fire. As I sat there smiling, dancing and having the time of my life, I thought about how unfair it was that these guys were going up against 50 Cent. Nevertheless, the venue was packed with a mixture of African Diasporic fans and a few curious White guys who said they had just stumbled in. They kept asking me the names of the artists because, “the music was awesome” and they wanted to hear more.
A few blocks away Kenyan artists “Sautisol” were playing a set. They played several shows throughout the festival to small crowds because elsewhere Mystikal and Rick Ross were playing. You probably won’t see them mentioned on too many other blogs but they’re incredible. So are other lesser known talents like Nigerian born rapper 2Face and Brooklyn’s own Max Burgundy (whose headlining performance went up against Erykah Badu and Nas).
Don’t get me wrong, Nas put on a great show. As a super Kanye fan, his surprise pop-up was a highlight. But SXSW is about music discovery. It’s about the opportunity to stumble upon artists like Mobley and Allen Stone; or hear BJ The Chicago Kid sing “Fair East Side High” in an alleyway; or dance your feet off to sets by DaleEarnheartJrJr, A-Trak and Questlove. To be fair, I don’t ever really think standing around watching rappers with no musicians behind them “ride around and get it” is fun, but I certainly had no intention in doing so in Austin.
This was Blitz The Ambassador’s first SXSW. He was excited to participate in the African showcase because those are the artists he identifies as his peers but startled by the competition. “You’re pretty much competing with Jay-Z for showcase time… and for me being my first time that made it a little challenging,” he says. “[But I wanted] to really force the hand out here and let the people know that hip-hop music, pop music, soul music, there’s a voice coming from the continent that needs to be heard.” Well at least this one writer had the opportunity to hear him.
Blitz now lives in the states. He’s a super cool cat who through his own hard work, dedication and persistence has created a following that has allowed him to push over 100,000 units in Europe. He cites Nas and Rakim as his inspirations and his flow reflects it. In a word, he’s dope. It sure would be cool if the self-anointed tastemakers and influencers would tell you about him next year. Because by the way, he was at SXSW too.