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Hip Hop





Austin City Locals, Weekend One: Bat City’s Best

After months of impatient waiting — tantalized by lineup announcements, tormented by rumors of cancellations and pending permits — Austin City Limits is finally upon us. A slightly less star-studded lineup than usual has drawn more than its fair share of criticism, but here at The Deli Austin (and across the city at large) that is cause for celebration.  
Now more than ever, leading local luminaries and hopeful aspirants alike need support and an opportunity to rebound from a truly devastating 18 months. With ACL 2021, C3 Presents has provided that platform: over the course of two weekends, 25+ local (and quasi-local) acts will be showcasing their considerable talents all over Zilker Park. The Grammy-nominated Black Pumas will surely be the biggest draw, but don’t understand the appeal of Dayglow’s warm, fuzzy pop or MISSIO’s woozy, bass-driven alt-electro-hop either. With hundreds of millions of plays on streaming services rewarded with high-profile afternoon spots, we have no doubts that these local favorites’ adoring audiences will turn out in droves.
 
But we’re more interested in the more under-the-radar the acts for whom this opportunity is the culmination of years of blood, sweat and tears (rather than a remarkable and glorious homecoming), and for whom ACL 2021 could be the springboard to launch into the stratosphere of success with which Austin artists so frequently flirt, but all-too-rarely achieve.
 
We are beyond excited to witness these five local artists (and so many others) seize their moment. Play your part. Get to Zilker early. Buy merch. Give back to the community and the culture that has built our city into this tremendous mecca of music, and see for yourself why we are the Live Music Capital of the World.

Audic Empire — Friday at 1:00PM, Tito’s Handmade Vodka Stage
Armed with a decade’s worth of mellow, reggae-tinged jams, Audic Empire will be kicking off the festivities in style on the Tito’s Vodka Stage (Friday at 1:00PM — we know it’s early, but security is also notoriously more lax when it comes to daytime doobies).


Loosen ya limbs and lose yourself in a cloud of ganja smoke as these long-time Flamingo Cantina favorites unleash their signature strain of effervescent reggae-rock on an adoring hometown crowd. High-octane tracks like “Come and Toke It” showcase frontman Ronnie Bowen’s smooth hip-hop sensibility (and more than a sprinkling of Bradley Nowell) alongs with sharp solos from guitarist Travis Brown, while the hypnotically up-beat bounce behind “Don’t Wait Up” is sure to seduce audiences across Zilker into the skank pit (not what it sounds like), where frustration and negativity melt away into the liquid sunshine floating out of the speakers.

 
Nané — Friday at 1:00PM, Lady Bird Stage
First set time of the festival and we already have conflicts. Thanks C3 for getting that out of the way early. Nothing gold can stay. Those less tempted by Audic Empire’s fleeting promise of carefree youthfulness will find their own thrills during Nane’s woozy, bluesy set. Simultaneously slick and profoundly vulnerable, vocal virtuoso Daniel Sahad spearheads this thrilling six-piece outfit with psychedelic flair.


 Whether mourning love’s decay on neo-soul slow-burner “Ladybird” or half-moaning punk-infused angst on the pounding, pulsing anthem “Seventeen,” Sahad bleeds personality and exudes emotion with endearing abandon — and without drowning out the equally-incredible contributions of his tight and talented band, whose roster includes keyboardist JaRon Marshall (of Black Pumas fame) and fellow UT graduate and longtime collaborator Ian Green.


 

 
Nané is a young band with exceptional talent. They are adventurous and nostalgic, polished and raw, gritty and smooth — and barely a month into their first ever tour. As the group sheds the sonic skin of some more blatant inspirations (Black Pumas and Bloc Party stand out) to refine and define their sound, Nané is poised and primed for the limelight.


 

 

Primo the Alien — Friday W1 at 1:45PM

The 1980s are back with a vengeance. Between a bewildering revival for parachute pants and mullets and a frustrating rise in conservative politics, that might not be a good thing.

Thankfully, Primo the Alien is on a one-woman mission to ensure that glorious decade (which gave us the Talking Heads, Nintendo game systems, Do the Right Thing, MTV and so much more) is immortalized for the right reasons. Her glittery, gleaming brand of synth-pop reimagines and revitalizes the ‘80s as they could have been, as they should have been: bright, fun, sparkly, sexy.

 

 Merging Kavinsky’s infrared retro-wave aesthetic with CHVRCHES’ relentless, unabashedly pop energy, Primo effortlessly melds genres and generations, breathing new life into sounds that somehow still feel futuristic 30-odd years later. Maybe she really is from another dimension. Maybe, if we’re lucky, she’ll take us back with her.

Sir Woman — Saturday at 1:00PM, Tito’s Handmade Vodka Stage

What started as a means for escape and exploration for Wild Child frontwoman Kelsey Wilson quickly built momentum, snowballing out of control and into our hearts, minds and most beloved stages.
Leaving her band’s folksy limitations and lonely lamentations behind (at least temporarily), Wilson turned her talents toward funk and r&b, where she finds herself empowered to express herself in new and uplifting ways under a new moniker.

  

 The response has been deafening: with only a few singles under her belt, Wilson’s new project Sir Woman won Best New Act at the 2020 Austin Music Awards. New single “Blame It On The Water” is a particular standout, the joyful, jazzy break-up song from a woman ready for a new beginning.  Her set promises to be a joyful celebration of life, love and liberation.


 

Deezie Brown — Sunday at 12:15PM, Miller Lite Stage 

Backed by a Bastrop-rooted family with a profound generational love for Southern hip-hop (and connections to Houston hero/Smithville native DJ Screw), Deezie Brown has quickly and not-so-quietly hurdled past his competition to the forefront of the vibrant (and largely underestimated) Austin hip-hop community.
Over the course of three years and three albums, Deezie has drawn inspiration from and contributed to (in equal parts) the mythology of Southern hip-hop with a series of concept albums, all of which fit into a larger universe (his “Fifth Wheel Fairytale”) and message surrounding the possibility of imagination, and the imagination of possibility.

 
Though individual tracks like “Drive” or the Chris Bosh-featuring “Imitate” are immediate earworms, Deezie’s most cohesive project is recent collaboration with charismatic R&B smooth-talker Jake Lloyd, The Geto Gala EP, which spurns egotistic posturing and one-upmanship to invite audiences everywhere to a blue-collar celebration of a bright past and a brighter future.

 
Poetic, principled and profound, Deezie Brown’s music is a testament to the vitality—living, breathing, evolving—of the South’s legacy, a reminder that the region does indeed still have “Sumn’ To Say” and his performance will be as much a coronation as celebration.

 




Joseph Chilliams "I Ain't Been Outside"

Joseph Chilliams has released a new single called "I Ain't Been Outside". On the new track he throws out fantastic line after line, like "I was paranoid/listening to Paramore" and "If I write heat/I will never know defeat", over a beat by Minneapolis producer letmode.

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Flex Sinatra "Make A Song About Me"

Flex Sinatra has released the opening track, "Make A Song About Me", from his forthcoming EP, "Beyond Measure", which is set to drop tomorrow, September 24th.

Sinatra is half of the Hip Hop duo Hunit Boys and has released a series of singles this year. However, this EP feels like something vital and should not be slept on.

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Jason Griff & Alaska "Human Zoo"

Local Beat Maker Jason Griff has teamed up with the Philly-based emcee known as Alaska on a new project they are calling "Human Zoo". The album, which also features Defcee, Zilla Rocca, Open Mike Eagle, and many more, was released on September 3rd.

This week the duo released the video below for the project's title track.

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Homeboy Sandman shows off his work ethic on latest EP with Aesop Rock

Hover over the graphic below to listen to Homeboy Sandman's Anjelitu EP in its entirety. And if you like what you hear, you can head out to RE:GEN:CY in Red Hook, Brooklyn, tonight to see him perform live.

 
In modern-day America I think it's safe to say that most of us don’t know too much about our homeland’s labor history or workers’ rights movements. For example, it wasn't until I did some Labor Day googling yesterday that I first learned about the 100-year-old Battle of Blair Mountain, where 10,000 workers living in a West Virginia mining camp staged an armed insurrection against the bosses who apparently treated their interracial work force like slaves and carried out intimidation and assassination (!) campaigns against worker-residents who tried to unionize. The battle ended after five days (and about a hundred deaths) when the US Army intervened on the side of the coal mining company (interesting sidenote: the militant miners called themselves the “Red Neck Army” after the red bandanas they wore around their necks, meaning that some of the first “rednecks” were Black Americans, a term that was soon usurped by less enlightened elements).

It's pretty crazy I’d never heard of the uprising before—another piece of our history that’s been suppressed and kept out of school curricula (see the "Red Neck Army" link above) not unlike the Tulsa race massacre, a tragedy that likewise occurred in 1921 which was not exactly a banner year for this country (and ok, my own inherent laziness get some of the blame as well). Anyway, about now you may be thinking “what does this have to do with emerging music in New York City?” Because, let’s face it, labor history isn’t the most popular subject for songwriters with some notable exceptions of course. What’s arguably more surprising is how the broader topic of work is likewise not so popular as a musical subject, despite it occupying about half the waking hours of the full-time gainfully employed and even more time if we define work simply as “concerted effort put into a given task," but then again who wants to think about work when enjoying music or to think about making music as "work"?

Hip hop artists and audiences is who. Or at least it is judging by how often work is acknowledged in lyrics and in hip hop culture as a reality of life--with words like “hustle” and “grind” used frequently and approvingly. And pro-work tendencies are hardly limited to aspirational pop-rap, or serious-minded conscious rap, because even when attention is turned to such leisure activities as sex and drugs in hardcore-oriented rap, it’s notable how often (to the point of cliché by now) these subjects are framed less in terms of pleasure and more in terms of work, with the job security of "pimps, players, and pushers" guaranteed thanks to the insatiable desires of their clientele, an even more durable subject given the exploitational parallels drawn between "underground" and "legitimate" economies. As for mumble rappers, they stand proud and tall (ok, more slouched over really) for the slacker contingent. (notably country music used to excel at work songs too, but not so much anymore, since Nashville hitmakers stay busy these days writing songs about date nights at Applebee’s and sexy tractors).

Work is clearly front and center on the opening track (“Go Hard”) of Homeboy Sandman’s Anjelitu EP (Mello Music Group), the latest in a series of collaborations with fellow underground highly-productive worker bee Aesop Rock (who produced all of Anjelitu and contributes vocals on the last number “Lice Team, Baby”) that began back in 2015 with their first record together under the Lice moniker—a moniker most recently resuscitated for their MF Doom tribute single early this year. And Mr. Sandman is clearly pretty well-versed on the subject of work given his employment history (bartending, marketing, teaching in the NYC Public School System), the three years he spent at Hofstra Law School before dropping out to become a full-time emcee ("I want to make arguments and make points and back them up with details [and] specifics, and that's the type of stuff you work on at law school" he explained back in a 2012 interview), and finally, in his status as an underground "hip hop PhD".

And his partner Aesop Rock knows a thing or two about work too, considering that his breakthrough LP, Labor Days (Def Jux, 2001) was a concept album centered around the perils and the pleasures of labor as well as the larger plight of working-class America (“Now we the American working population / hate the fact that eight hours a day / is wasted on chasing the dream of someone that isn't us”), an album that’s still considered a landmark of independent hip hop, not to mention white rapperdom.

“Go Hard” is a phrase that one online dictionary defines as “to work hard or to do something with intensity” and boy does our ‘Boy Sand (as he refers to himself on the track) go hard on “Go Hard” as he bobs and weaves between the metronomic-yet-lopsided beat like Muhammad Ali playing rope-a-dope with bars that float like a butterfly and sting like a bee (“I’m like Fred Hampton chewing on rattlesnake plantain / in other words, I go hard”) unspooling in short bursts at first then turning into long flowing lines like a bebop solo (Mr. Sandman is a jazz fan and former sax player, and his Dominican father was a champion boxer before becoming a lawyer focused on local progressive causes, so the math adds up). And hey anyone who manages to rhyme string theory, chimichurri, cemetery, and seminary and make it flow seamlessly both musically and logically has clearly put in the work and isn’t afraid to let it show.



Over the subsequent five tracks, Sandman and Aesop offer a virtual correspondence course on underground hip hop beat-making—ranging from minimalist funk grooves to beats built on what sound like Spaghetti Western samples and that’s just in the next couple of tracks—and equally on the technically complex bars favored by many underground emcees including heavy doses of consonance and assonance, alliteration, speed rapping, slant rhyming, internal rhyming, multisyllabic rhyming (a.k.a. “multis”) and other techniques—it’s telling that most of these techniques can be heard in four random lines off Anjelitu like “Another clash, another classic down the massive drain / Gene Kelly dancing in the acid rain / beneath the moon, I penned the music for the village getting raided / play while lickin' shots, I’m still in shock from Ewing getting traded”—not to mention all the clever metaphors and allusions and colorful imagery and the constant switch-ups of flow and the lyrical callbacks to the likes of LL Cool J, Slick Rick, and Cypress Hill. With so much going on it can get pretty intense, just ask the Youtube reviewer above.

So if you wanna help support two hard-working indie hip hop stalwarts you’ll probably want to check out Anjelitu and perhaps drop the artists a few bones for their trouble. The record's title is a mashup of Homeboy Sandman’s childhood nickname (Angelito meaning “Little Angel”) and the well-known Chinese yin-yang symbol (taijitu) which symbolizes the fluctuating dynamic caused by opposing forces coming together to form a whole—which all makes good sense given the highly personal nature of the record (“My team ain’t make it to the playoffs / luckily my demons always make it to the seance”) and its shape-shifting nature (consistent with Sandman and Aesop’s discographies on the whole) holding true to the vow made on the EP to “go to hell and back 'fore I repeat myself.” And if you wanna witness some hip hop labor performed live before your very eyes, as stated above, you can head over to RE:GEN:CY in Red Hook, Brooklyn tonight (9/7) where our 'Boy Sand will do his thing. Or catch him touring across this great nation’s southern and western regions over the next couple months. (Jason Lee)

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