SXSW Spotlight: Memphis Rap in the Mix



[Note: A more hectic and more day-driven schedule than normal this year swamped my usual on-site blogging from Austin's South by Southwest Music Festival last week. A cover story about local rock veterans Lucero, who launched their new album and tour at the festival, will be in this week's print edition. Over the next couple of days, I'll put up a few items here that I didn't have room for in print.]

Don Trip on stage at Haven, Friday night at SXSW.
  • Don Trip on stage at Haven, Friday night at SXSW.

The increasingly vibrant and diverse Memphis rap and hip-hop scene was a significant player at SXSW this year, with Interscope Records signee Don Trip leading the way. Trip was recently named one of the 2012 “Freshman Class” by national hip-hop magazine XXL, which annually picks 10 rappers set to break out in the coming year, and as Trip landed in Austin on Tuesday, the April issue of the magazine, with Trip (and the other nine picks) on the cover, was on display at the convention hall.

“They called me a few months back and told me I might make the cover,” Trip says. “We went out to shoot it in January, and after that it was like a top-secret. I couldn't tell anybody.”

By his own count, Trip played nine shows in Austin — showcasing "Help is On the Way" and "Like Me" from his new mixtape Guerrilla, along with his single "Letter to My Son" at most appearances — before flying back home on Saturday afternoon, including an XXL sponsored showcase Tuesday night and a Thursday night showcase that featured a couple of surprises, with superstar hip-hop producer Timbaland, who did an unannounced set before Trip took the stage, introducing him and Memphis compatriot Yo Gotti joining him on stage.

“He looked over and saw me,” Trip says of the intro. “Me and Timbaland go back a little bit, before the deal with Interscope. He told everybody he tried to steal me from [producers] Cool & Dre.”

As for Gotti, he wasn't on the official SXSW schedule, but showed up on 6th Street Thursday night with protege Zed Zilla, something he announced on Twitter.

Cities Aviv at Lustre Pearl on the opening night of the SXSW music festival.
  • Cities Aviv at Lustre Pearl on the opening night of the SXSW music festival.
“About an hour before the show, I found out Gotti was in town, so we put it together at the last minute,” Trip says. Trip and Gotti performed Trip's single “The Life” (Gotti has a verse on the remix) and then Trip ceded part of his set to let Gotti do his current single “I Got Dat Sack.”

The next night, in what has to be a first for a Memphis artist, Trip performed three official showcases, playing the undercard at Eminem's Shady Records showcase (headlined by 50 Cent), playing an oddly eclectic bill at Haven (including a self-described “hippy-hop” duo from Bloomington, Minnesota, that Trip watched bemusedly from side stage), and finishing the night at a Vibe magazine showcase at Kiss & Fly.

“It was a great first go-round,” Trip says of his SXSW debut. “It was chaotic, but in a good way. Every show was filled with the wave-your-hand-in-the-air people, who really loved hip-hop. And really mixed crowds. The music is quite widespread. You don't know who you're going to perform with when you walk into some of these clubs.

At the opposite end of the rap spectrum, and also making his SXSW debut, was Cities Aviv (Gavin Mays), the young Memphis artist whose out-of-leftfield sound was dubbed a “game changer” in an Austin Chronicle preview. Cities Aviv was the first Memphis artist with an official showcase, early Wednesday night at Lustre Pearl, where he shared the stage with other buzzed-about young indie-rap artists such as G-Side and Action Bronson and punks bands Trash Talk and Wavves (the latter featuring former Memphian Stephen Pope, who was on hand for the Cities Aviv set).

Accompanied by veteran Memphis DJ Luke Sexton, Mays played his Depeche Mode-sampling anthem “Die Young,” his recent hazy summer love single “W E T D R E A M,” and what might have been an unintentional SXSW anthem once the final night of the festival coincided with St. Patrick's Day: “Fuckeverybodyhere.”

“This is rap music for 2099,” Cities Aviv announced from the stage, closing his set by intoning his own spin on a Joy Division classic: “Love … love gonna tear us apart … again.” The next day, he played a packed-out day show for taste-making music site

Other Memphis rappers on the official schedule were Three 6 Mafia's Juicy J, in solo mode, and Skewby, who played multiple gigs, including an official showcase Saturday night, in advance of an upcoming EP.


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