1 of 14
Rick Ross. Photos by Shawn Scallen.
2 of 14
3 of 14
4 of 14
5 of 14
6 of 14
7 of 14
8 of 14
9 of 14
10 of 14
11 of 14
12 of 14
13 of 14
SZA and ScHoolboy Q
14 of 14
Well, fuck you, too, Rick Ross. Just kidding. We like the rapper and Maybach Music founder well enough. But, in an anti-climactic closing set on Saturday, Ross put forth a remarkably average showing, disappointing SXSW's hip-hop contingent and those who had been regularly frequenting the unofficial but uber-popular day/evening Fader Fort performance series. This was supposed to be the Fort's biggest show. Ultimately, though, people who had been absolutely ramming the stage space for hours on end gave up halfway through, as Ross proved less than inspiring and people were probably damn tired from five days of festivalling, plus standing all day.
It was a strange set. First of all, it was two people's jobs to stand on either side of the stage propping up cardboard cut-outs of a bottle of Rose (stage right) and Ross himself (stage left). This seemed both humiliating and impractical (surely a mechanism to hold the cardboard upright could have been sorted?).
The songs themselves were lacklustre as well. Playing a smattering of hits plus tunes from his new, currently No. 1 album, Mastermind, Ross had trouble staying energized and on top of the beat. And, you realized just how many of his songs rely on the strength of other rappers. Weirdly, Ross didn't rework collaboration tunes to account for his collaborators' absence. So all of a sudden you'd just hear a tinny, recorded Drake verse while Ross moved about the stage.
And considering the over-hyped speculation that Ross would bring out special guests such as Outkast and Lil Wayne (which did not happen), it was weird and ill-timed that three-quarters of the way through his set, he brought out new, relatively unknown emcees instead. Southby is all about discovering new acts, and it should arguably be less about celebrating the huge ones, sure. But it felt like the wrong time for such a thing.
Ross's opener, Bun B, was actually quite a bit more exciting. It's insane how every person in Austin knows all the words to the UGK member and Texas native's songs. Although, even non-Texans joined in for Sippin' On Some Sizzurp.
There were some redeeming moments for Ross, though, when he seemed worthy of the grandiose image he promotes. Best were Fuck With Me You Know I Got It (his song on Jay Z's album) and a cover of Biggie's You're Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You), which Ross delivered with heartfelt, if dark, gravitas.
The best part of the show was when, during a guest appearance by Erykah Badu, she put him in his place, saying: "He thinks he's a boss." Hilarious, considering how cheesy he was earlier in the show, repeatedly referring to himself as such.
Earlier, Badu had the Fort spellbound for an unscheduled performance. Rocking a world-record-worthy afro (both its massiveness and overall awesomeness), she took us back to 1997 (when, she remarked, many in the audience were still babies) to perform hits from Baduizm. Also, he wasn't introduced (or if he was, I missed it), but bass-playing future-funk artist Thundercat was playing in her backing band. And he was marvelous on a solo that sounded very much like it belonged on his album Apocalypse.
Also on-hand at the Fort: Strokes frontman Julian Casablancas, who is trying out a new band - he played with The Voidz - and a new, punkier sound. The noisier stuff suits Casablancas well. But when he switched it up a bit - doing Instant Crush, his collab with Daft Punk from Random Access Memories - the crowd was instantly more dancey.
Then there was hyper-energized Houston rapper Travi$ Scott, who did his damndest to get everyone singing, jumping, shouting, moving, and singing along to songs like Clique and Sin City from GOOD Music's Cruel Summer album.
Unfortunately, Fader Fort went much later than scheduled (around 11 pm), meaning that most people going to night shows had to rejig their schedule. Missing Danny Brown at the Red Bull Sound Select party was a bummer, but catching emcee/producer Mannie Fresh on the mic (and behind the turntables) was cool. Very lively.
Plus, it's not like there wasn't a plethora of things to do earlier in the day. If you thought Southby was crawling with humans before, Saturday was a newer, crazier story. Streets were literally rammed with both festival-goers and locals popping into the slew of non-SXSW-affiliated, free shows. I stumbled across a hip-hop showcase and a rapper whose name I think was KID (but is impossible to google), who had a song called Cheerios and Milk that is either REALLY good or REALLY bad. Tough to say.
Over at Mohawk, VIBE magazine threw a party showcasing up-and-coming talent such as R&B singer Mack Wilds, also known as actor Tristan Wilds (aka MICHAEL FROM THE WIRE!). Very charming and almost overly charismatic (being a child actor must have something to do with this), Mack Wilds has a pretty voice, but I'm not sure if his songs will translate to anyone over 22 years old. Slightly more age-appropriate (at least for me) was a performance by Cali rapper Nipsey Hussle with a guest spot from Casey Veggies (although Veggies is barely out of teendom himself).
Saturday had a different vibe than the rest of the fest. The influx of people combined with the collective exhaustian of all the others, maybe, and the bummed-out feeling that it's all over now for another year. But what is exciting - and what we can look forward to - are the smaller acts that will explode as a direct result of this festival. Me, I'm hoping California singer/rapper 100s blows up and plays much larger shows in 2015. And the Los Angeles Times, for example, took a big shine to Toronto loud-rockers Greys, plus they've got a new album that drops this spring. For a lot of people, Southby is the beginning of big, big things.
Until next year.