I don’t know about you, but I can remember when hip-hop was unwelcome in many public spaces. Surely there are places in the world where this remains. When I was growing up, authority figures –particularly teachers and principals—discouraged rappers and their supporters from congregating. Even rap music itself was locked in cases at record stores because, you know, “those people” steal.
The ninth year of A3C made me realize just how far we’d come. The Meliá hotel in Midtown Atlanta was a central meeting place; the site of most of interview sessions and panel discussions. We, and when I say we, I mean all of us – the media, the artists, the producers and the fans from the most buttoned-up plain folks to the gold-grilled, tatted up, peacocking standouts – were not only welcomed, but with open arms. And no it wasn’t the money; hip-hop has always had money. The global cultural force is simply undeniable.
It’s the only event where an inexperienced MC can have his or her name appear in the same program as an international mogul.
To paraphrase the First Lady, this was one of the few times in my adult life where I can say I’m proud of hip-hop. I was proud to see so many different kinds of people come together not only peacefully, but productively while having a great time.
Here is the breakdown of highlights from all five days:
I headed to the Quad downtown to check out the Dunk X Change after party headlined by Too $hort.
Nappy Roots dropped in as a pleasant surprise with amped up renditions of “Po’ Folks” “Aw Naw.”
Too $hort ran through the most popular of his long catalogue of hits, “Gettin’ It,” “Freaky Tales” and “Don’t Fight the Feelin.’” Back in the day, I snuck and listened to Too $hort. As a good kid in a protective household, this felt very rebellious, like Richard Pryor set to a beat. As a grown-ass woman, his nasty rap shtick is useless, misogynist tripe that has no place in my life. The crowd must have agreed because they mostly dipped out well before his set was finished.
The real gem of this showcase was Tom P, whose concise stage set ended in a super-fast flow veering into Twista territory. More on this guy, coming up.
The A3C Film Series presented Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton: This is Stones Throw Records at the Plaza Theater. Attendees were treated to the very first ever showing of the film’s final cut. The story of the iconic label was told through rare photos and video clips of Chris Manak aka Peanut Butter Wolf along with commentary from Questlove, Kanye West, Common and more. Both director Jeff Broadway and Wolf were in attendance. Wolf is a rare label magnate who stands up for his artists, no matter how different or commercially viable they are.
Once again A3C enjoyed some Wu Tang representation, this year in the form of a headlining Ghostface Killah at Variety Playhouse. Also on the bill were the grossly underrated Jean Grae and Phoroahe Monch who performed with an energy usually reserved for new artists. I hate to say it, but Ghostface was a little disappointing. He rocked alongside former Lox member, Sheek Louch. The two traded bars in a series of their popular group and solo tracks. Unfortunately Ghost’s late start resulted in an abbreviated show. Instead of hearing verses from his first hit, “Daytona 500,” the instrumental played as background music to the audience’s exit.
In a live interview session with Big Rock of Heltah Skeltah, Jean Grae and Pharoahe Monch, the three veteran MCs broke down the meanings and madness of their upcoming projects.
Grae literally completed Gotham Down in her hotel room after the show and dropped it exclusively on her site, jeangrae.com.
“Mine comes with orphans, kittens and free crack. I just try to push envelope; not for anyone else but myself,” said Grae, exhausted but still funny.
“Three months behind on my rent and car payments. I need people to support. No,” Pharoahe Monch said only half-joking.
“It’s a follow up to the last project I did called W.A.R. PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, deals with health issues mental issues in the sense of being an independent artist… Just like the W.A.R. which stands for We Are Renegades, this talks about the reality of the situation.”
“I’ve been in the game in the long time, but I’m essentially a new artist with this solo release. I’ve written my whole life to this moment. It’s easy to write things that rhyme, but things that rhyme ain’t always the truth. I can’t help that I’m intense,” Big Rock added.
On the panel front, engineer, DJ and producer,Young Guru held it down with A3C founder, Brian Knott during “The Evolution of Production from a Music and Event Perspective.”
“You gotta change your mind on what success is and what you want. You have access to the world now,” said Guru on gaining traction through international outreach.
Later at Old Fourth Ward’s, Space 2, the Man Bites Dog Records session jammed with performances from J-Live, Copywrite and Boog Brown – who generated the most lively crowd response. Rasyrious and Yamin Semali laid down the sounds through the evening.
Veteran lyricist Talib Kweli paired with influential A&R Dante Ross for “How Technology Has Affected Artist Branding.” Kweli talked about releasing independent music and his unique relationship with MC Hammer. He went from dissing: “f*ck Hammer” to “thank you” after forming a business friendship.
“[As] an artist who’s a lyrical, miracle, spiritual – you need to pay attention to what’s happening in your industry whether you like their music or not,” said Kweli in dispelling “conscious rapper” myths. Kweli dropped lots of quotables. I could listen to that guy talk all day.
That evening Schoolboy Q was entertaining, but overall underwhelming on Old Fourth Ward stage in a headlining show, performing “Hands on the Wheel” and “Collard Greens” along with a new track from his upcoming Oxymoron.
A few streets over, the Stuart McClean Gallery housed The Art of War of Art 2: Talk Panels of Death, Fabian Williams’ visual art trash-talking smackdown as part of the A3C lineup for the first time. Featured artists included P.S. I’m Dope, who garnered attention at earlier events with her powerful renderings of hip-hop artists. CP the Artist Palmer created what could be described as the Best Visual Art Depiction of a Hip-Hop Metaphor when he presented a pre-painted “cheat piece” of a battered and hospitalized Williams while quoting Notorious B.I.G.’s “beef is when I see you, guaranteed to be in ICU.”
Saturday night went well into overtime as East Atlanta was home to a series of late night performances as iNDEED and Scotty ATL packed 529 with DJ Burn One mixing it up between sets.
Because A3C cares, there were two awesome events free and open to the public.
The one and only Questlove stopped by Criminal Records for a quick signing of his memoir, Mo’ Meta Blues, The World According to Questlove. I snapped a quick phone pic with the funky drummer.
He (and I) then hightailed it to the Fourth Ward Stage on Edgewood Avenue for The Best Block Party Ever. It really was the Best.Block. Party. Ever.
Questo jammed in a crowd-pleasing, time-traveling, mutli-genre set before the heavy rain forced everyone to take cover.
The festival wrapped with DJ Premier at Space 2 as an appropriate finale to an excellent week in hip-hop.
Images: Big Rock, Pharoahe Monch, I and Jean Grae
CP The Artist’s Art of War of Art 2 “cheat piece.”
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