SXSW: Losing Touch With Its Musical Roots?
As corporations and stars such as Nas take over, emerging artists still hope to get noticed.
Nas is right. Hip-hop isn't dead. In fact, it was more alive than ever at the festival. B.o.B, Talib Kweli, Rick Ross and Snoop Dogg made their presence known. Yet it was emerging MCs such as Big K.R.I.T., Kendrick Lamar, Big Sean, Stalley and Action Bronson who were carrying the torch for the new school of hip-hop. Mississippi-born K.R.I.T. (aka King Remembered in Time) and California rapper Lamar, with his Black Hippy movement, were the most promising standouts showcased at the festival.
R&B performances were sparse this year. However, Miguel did his duty for the genre. The crooner played six showcases in support of his newest project, Art Dealer Chic Vol. 1. With rousing performances, the 25-year-old artist made new fans in Austin. Texas-based Badu, a longtime fan of the festival, came back this year with a special performance with her backing band, the Cannabinoids, while classic-soul artists Lee Fields & the Expressions made a rare appearance.
Some of the emerging black artists came from genres that many thought were dead: blues and folk. One of the most talked-about bands was the Alabama Shakes. Led by 21-year-old singer Brittany Howard, the Tuscaloosa, Ala., band (unknown seven months ago) sold out several shows. Austin-based bluesman Gary Clark Jr. also sold out shows and delighted fans with his down-home blues performances, while British folk singer Michael Kiwanuka had ears buzzing.
Unlike last year, when scrappy rap group Odd Future stole headlines, there didn't seem to be a clear fan favorite coming out of the festival, leading some to believe that the extra competition from chart-topping acts might be hurting some up-and-coming acts in the long run.
As South by Southwest enters its 26th year, some wonder if the festival has grown larger than its roots can handle. With more mainstream artists making the trip down to Austin, it is becoming harder for emerging artists to get noticed. One thing remains clear, however: South by Southwest should be on every music lover's cultural calendar.