As anyone who follows SXSW can tell you, SXSW is no longer just the place to see up-and-coming indie rockers: Plenty of rappers are making their name there now too. Last year, for instance, Yelawolf parlayed a bunch of well-received performances at the fest into a deal with Interscope (him being a great rapper probably helped too). It’s a good place to catch up on the hot stars of the rap blogs, and for coming out parties for MCs who have been on the periphery and are ready to blow up. And since there are around 2,000 acts confirmed for SXSW, we decided to try to make it easy on hip-hop heads—and people trying to catch up on the year in blog-rap: Here’s a list of the 10 rappers who you can’t afford to miss at SXSW this year.
Why you can’t miss him: A Prefix Artist to Watch for nearly a year, Big K.R.I.T. had a huge 2010, which saw him releasing his well-received K.R.I.T. Wuz Here mixtape — our number one mixtape of 2010— and getting signed to Def Jam. K.R.I.T. is a true rarity in hip-hop. He self-produces all of his own material, coming off like the Dirty South’s answer to Kanye West. When no one would give him beats, K.R.I.T. made his own, delivering a micro-soul masterpiece. His Def Jam debut is due out later this year.
Why you can’t miss him: Another P.A.W. and Best Mixtapes alumnus, DaVinci is can’t miss because he’s delivering Nas-style street journalism about a woefully underrepresented topic (gentrification of the ghetto) from an underrepresented locale (the projects of San Francisco). He’s less hyphy or West Coast chill than New York technical, a hard-charging, lyrically focused MC with a flair for soul and political speech samples. We think so highly of him, he’s playing Prefix’s night party at Nuvola on Friday, March 18.
Why you can’t miss them: You could make a pretty sane argument that no one has more to lose, or gain, at SXSW 2011 than Das Racist. After a 2010 that saw them rehab their image from the “Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell” hucksters to full-blown blog-rap superstars thanks to the endlessly rewarding one-two punch of the Shut Up, Dude and Sit Down, Man mixtapes (collectively our #15 album of 2010), 2011 is when they have to show and prove. SXSW will be their first time in front of the general music press since the mixtapes blew up, and if their performances go well, you could see them getting signed to a label and getting into publications like Rolling Stone and beyond. Kool A.D., Dap and Heems will be blanketing SXSW with a round of shows, including Prefix’s day party at Studio ND on Thursday, March 17.
Why you can’t miss him: Shabazz Palaces is the alter ego of Digable Planets’ Ishmael Butler, who signed to Sub Pop last year after two self-released, and darkly enchanting, EPs in 2009. His buzz was biggest then, but he’s readying his Sub Pop debut for release this spring, and he’ll presumably be playing new material. If it’s half as bonkers as “Belhaven Meridian,” we’ll be in for a real treat:
Why you can’t miss him: As Canada’s third most visible MC ever (behind Snow and Drake), Shad is a throwback to the lyricism of the early ’90s, but instead of focusing on his surroundings, he focuses on himself, saying “I hate the catchphrase Canadian rap sensation” and “the only thing I like more than rapping is napping.” Shad may brag about not being on a blog or Twitter, but he’s all self-reflection, just like the Facebook generation.
Why you can’t miss her: Until Nicki Minaj came out, Dessa was hip-hop’s great female hope, a relentlessly unique MC who wasn’t trying to emulate the flow or subject matter of male counterparts. Unlike Nicki, Dessa never sold out; she’s still doing her idiosyncratic mix of jazz, hip-hop and spoken word on releases from the Doomtree Collective. Her debut album, A Badly Broken Code, was slept-on like crazy, something she can hopefully change at SXSW.
Why you can’t miss him: As Doomtree’s unlikely breakout star (he’s the fastest rising Minneapolis musical celebrity since Rhymesayers launched), P.O.S. mixes emo-like confessionals, punk and rock, taking Atmosphere’s template to its logical conclusion. Following in Atmosphere’s footsteps in more ways than one, he’s poised to take Minneapolis hip-hop national with the right exposure, as his music could become a multi-quadrant hit in the right circumstances. He’s working on a follow-up to his breakthrough album, Never Better, which is reportedly due out later this year.
Why you can’t miss him: Massachusetts rapper Reks has the most vaunted of co-signs: DJ Premier has taken a shine to the guy, producing part of his upcoming album, R.E.K.S. It doesn’t take much to understand why Premo like Reks: His knotty rhymes are perfect over Premier’s boom-bap, a throwback to Nas’ work on Illmatic. Premo even samples one of his Nas productions on “25th Hour,” to date Reks’ best track.
Why you can’t miss him: As Canada’s fourth most-known MC, Edmonton’s Cadence Weapon (a.k.a. former music journo Rollie Pemberton) has seemed poised for a breakthrough for a while, but he’s probably comfortable floating on the periphery, releasing self-confessional and wordy mixtapes like last year’s Tron Legacy and enchanting albums like 2008’s Afterparty Babies. He’s releasing a new album, Roquentin, sometime this spring.
Why you can’t miss them: The only group on this list signed to a major label, the Knux are known mostly for being the rap group that barely escaped Hurricane Katrina before decamping in Los Angeles. Since then, they got signed to Interscope, and released Remind Me in 3 Days, a solid album that suffered the typical Interscope injustice: it wasn’t promoted heavily when the first single bricked. But what a lot of people didn’t know was that these guys recorded all their own beats, doing most of the instruments on their own, creating a mix of rock and rap that was better than anything you can think of when those two genres get together. The Knux are promising their long-delayed sophomore album will be out this year, and it has a Pixies influence. Color us intrigued.
Read SXSW 2011 Preview Part 1: 10 Can’t Miss Bands