by Eric Tullis
My official SXSW initiation came with having a stranger find and return my Blackberry to me after picking it up it in the middle of 4th Street, severely injuring my big-toe after tripping over a pole-stump and later holding a brief conversation with Madlib about his two-inch wide, gold, arm-bands that he inherited from his grandmother. “It’s for protection,” he said before following J-Rocc’s DJ set at the cozy Stones Throw showcase. “She was on that voodoo-shit. All grandmothers look out for their grandkids.” I couldn’t have agreed more. So, waking up today and thinking, “Wow, today, maybe I should ask all of the musicians that I run into about their grandmothers," didn’t seem like a bad idea. Until, that is, I realized that it was a bad idea.
Every music enthusiast here would probably agree that aside from being roommates with your favorite artists, SXSW is a dream come true. So, I felt guilty this afternoon when, instead of looking at the music festival schedule first, I looked for the best place to watch day one of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. After attending a few daytime panels and getting majorly pissed off at a moderator who seemed to think that his only job was to reinterpret your questions and tell you how stupid you were, I figured I’d fill-up on some shitty sports-bar food, sneak in a few glances at some college hoops’ scores, and then jump a few doors over to Aces Lounge where Hot 97’s DJ/radio personality Peter Rosenberg would be hosting his most recent edition of his Noisemakers series. This time, Rosenberg would be sitting down with Bun B, who, before his partner, Pimp C, passed away, was one-half of Texas’ famed rap-duo, U.G.K. Like Rosenberg has done in the past with hip-hop artists like DJ Premier, Raekwon, ?uestlove, and Q-Tip, he sat on stage with Bun B and asked the Port Arthur, Texas native biographical questions in front of a packed house of fans. In the en, everyone learned that Bun B is a kind and grateful dude, he used to go by “Bun B Ice,” Pimp C never wanted to record “Big Pimpin’” with Jay-Z, and that in the original script—which Bun B had before the movie was shot—for the film Menace II Society, O-Dog died instead of Caine. Rosenberg handles these interviews with a Charlie Rose-esque charm, along with touch of hip-hop humor which, for me, wasn’t a bad way to start of the night’s journey.
My first great accident of the night happened when I walked past the open window of Latitude 30 and overheard a British artist named Maverick Sabre cruising through the acoustic-soul cool of his “I Need” song. As a part of what was dubbed as the British Embassy’s United Kingdom SXSW Showcase, Sabre’s voice bounced in and out of those club windows and made its way through my nervous system. Earlier in the day, I sat in on a panel where an artist named Crumpler said to the audience, “If you make a good song, you don’t really have to do that much. It travels on its own.” “I Need” is what he was talking about. I wasn’t supposed to be at this spot, though. I had originally left Ace Lounge with the intentions of heading out to hear some non-hip hop acts and then making it back to see the D.C. hip hop group Diamond District perform. I never ended up making it back in time.
That’s just how SXSW is. Unless you stay at one venue all night long and wait for the artist(s) that you want to see (which I don’t recommend), you just have to hope that you make it there in time to catch more than half of the performance. Instead, I was a mile away at Scoot Inn checking out the Wax Poetics/DubSpot Presents Funk Aid For Africa event and watching DJ Rich Medina shift through a groove-athon of his 7” vinyl stack while the Austin band Grimy Styles set up for what turned out to be a thrilling dub-jam.
Usually, anything reggae-related renders me brain-dead and unwilling, especially at a venue like this—outside, with plenty of space and opportunity for me to run as far away as I can or find a port-o-potty to hide in until the rasta-ridiculousness is over. Just as the excitement of hearing a reggae band that I actually liked was beginning to wear off, a woman suddenly hopped on stage as if she was invited there. As it turned out, this insanely beautiful woman was Kingston, Jamaica’s Jovi Rockwell, who, backed by Grimy Styles performed her hit song “Rizzla” and a sexy R&B remake of the Smif-n-Wessun’s “Sound Bwoy Bureill”. Luckily, I was standing close enough to catch a glimpse of what looked like Rockwell’s small, womanly stretch-marks or what could have been imprints from where her jeans’ waistline was before she started doing all of the booty-whirling that loosened up her clothes a bit. It doesn’t matter though. I saw Jovi Rockwell’s hip-skin and you didn’t.
If that wasn’t enough to get my libido sparked, my trot back to Aces Lounge in hopes of catching one Jean Grae woo me some hype, sinister rhymes and hopefully, some sort of tight-fitting outfit to refill my Jean Grae-crush, since I hadn’t actually seen her live in a few years nor heard any large amounts of her new material. Instead, after Strong Arm Steady, joined by West Coast spitters Planet Asia, Chace Infinite, and Fashawn, left the stage reverberating with selections from the recent Madlib-produced In Search of Stoney Jackson LP, what I got was a tame Jean Grae, who wore a huge black and pink dress to match her black and pink hair and spent a bunch of time on stage heckling the crowd and rapping boring love songs. She even stole a beer from a girl in the front row who wouldn’t “put her hands up.” After taking the swig, Jean Grae then jokingly said that she had the cooties. If cooties makes someone perform like crap, then yeah, Jean Grae had definitely been infected.
I was bored, so I left and went to see Steve Aoki spin at Elysium. Steve Aoki’s set made me feel famous and euphoric. Everyone in the building was, in some way, dancing in a ritualistic fit. A couple of buckets of sweat later, I was back at my hotel room, checking the scores of all of the basketball games that took place that day.