Young Thug and Travis Scott
March 23 at 7
1204 Caroline St.
South by Southwest has come and gone, with all the highs and lows that festivals this expansive tend to have. Hundreds of artists, from wide-eyed newcomers hoping to make a splash to established superstars, performed for the tens of thousands of fans who flocked to downtown Austin over the past two weeks.
Other than an amazing showcase at The Empire Control Room by London’s fast-rising collective PC Music, I spent most of my time at The Fader Fort, which was sponsored by Converse. The four-day event featured around 50 artists divided among the site’s main stage, underneath a massive white tent, and a smaller, more relaxed DJ booth. There were free drinks and cool giveaways, yes, but also an awful lot of steady rain and shoe-ruining mud.
I was able to catch a handful of acts, both new and old, that left their mark. There was the Brooklyn-based songstress Tei Shi, confidently singing her sultry form of pop, which she describes as “mermaid music.” Atlanta’s Mike Will Made-It wowed the crowd by bringing out friends ranging from Rae Sremmurd, to Future, to Miley Cyrus. Bay Area R&B chanteuse Kehlani justified her growing buzz with an alluring mix of singing and synchronized dancing. During a set by Chicago rapper Tink, hip-hop super-producer Timbaland came on stage to announce that the R&B singer Aaliyah, who died in a plane crash in 2001, had spoken to him in a dream—she told him Tink was “the one.”
But the most resonant moment for me was Houston rapper and producer Travi$ Scott’s surprise appearance during G.O.O.D. Music labelmate Hudson Mohawke’s set on Saturday night. Scott, who grew up in Missouri City, has shown plenty of promise since he first gained attention in 2013 with his debut mixtape Owl Pharaoh. But SXSW was the first time, at least for me, that the 22-year-old rapper legitimately seemed like a star.
Mohawke, who hails from Glasgow, had the enormous task of closing out The Fader Fort, and the anticipation was only compounded by rumors that Kanye West was slated to show up. Well, Kanye never showed, and with each skittering hi-hat, electro synth stab, and thunderous drop of bass, the crowd only seemed to grow more anxious.
It wasn’t until Hudson Mohawke (HudMo for short) teased the instrumental to Scott’s hit song “Mamacita” that the crowd finally let loose. Swaggering out onto the stage, the Houston rapper was met with excited cheers, reeling off his verses before almost immediately diving into one of his other popular tracks, “Upper Echelon.” By this point, the crowd was lit, and while I’ve long considered myself a fan of the H-Town MC, even I hadn’t realized how big his name had gotten in the last few years.
Scott closed his performance out with “Skyfall” (no, not the Adele song), then stayed on stage as a hype man for HudMo, who proceeded to throw on Kanye’s monstrous new song “All Day.” The crowd went into a frenzy, thinking that Mr. West himself would finally grace us all with his presence. When that didn’t happen, fans contented themselves by rapping along to the song with Scott.
Before leaving, the Houston MC proudly proclaimed that Mohawke was “his favorite f***ing DJ,” a sentiment I somewhat agreed with. (I have a lot of favorite DJs.) Scott’s absence was felt immediately—not even a furious appearance from Twista, who performed “Overnight Celebrity,” was met with as much euphoria. Overall, SXSW 2015 had its share of mishaps, not to mention miserable weather. But as Travi$ Scott proved on Saturday, it’s still a place where underground artists can break through.
As a SXSW encore, Scott will play the House of Blues tonight, joined by Atlanta’s Young Thug. The two of them have proven a potent combo over the last year—no rap fan should miss it.