Photos by Kyle Kramer
Austin’s South by Southwest festival is now 30 years old, and it’s never had more brand recognition than it does today, when it's known as an incubator for new talent and the top event for the most draining types of industry networking. You never know when you might end up in a room rapping for Wiz Khalifa or catch the eye of A$AP Rocky as he strolls down Sixth Street. But making it at SXSW isn’t easy: For one thing, most of the people who could actually give you a break are schmoozing on hotel rooftops or holed away in VIP events where the only thing longer than the line to get in is the list of people you have to go through to get a wristband. For another, thousands of other artists have the same idea.
Anecdotally, it’s gotten worse: I’ve only gone to Austin the last three years, but this year the main Sixth Street thoroughfare seemed more crowded with street teams for artists I’d never heard of and less of a destination for anyone who might be recognized in public than ever before. The divide between the official, badge-holding festival and the thousands of people who just swept into town to be part of the hoopla felt particularly pronounced. In part, that was because the official festival retains a focus that leans toward indie rock and internet hype while the unofficial version that fills the streets seems to skew about 90 percent toward hip-hop, with a particular emphasis on more street-focused Southern rap.
Artists who had come to the city with the hope of finally catching their big break were quite literally ending up in the festival’s garbage pile. As I strolled down Sixth Street in the late night hours after the end of the festival, I noticed hundreds of CDs, once so hopefully handed out, tossed to the ground to be carelessly and indiscriminately stepped on. The same people who had come to SXSW to discover new music were now walking over it on their way home from watching an invite-only Drake concert. To rectify this wrong, I decided to pick up as many CDs as I could find that seemed to be in playable condition rather than stomped to bits and listen to them. While I got a few weird looks for picking up garbage from the streets, I knew that, as they say, one man’s trash was another man’s classic. Here’s what I found:
Hefe Wine – "Heaven"
This one didn’t come with a CD, although it was in a CD case, so maybe someone is listening to it at home! It did have a possibly even more useless form of media, though: a QR code. Because I am committed to this project, I downloaded a QR code reader app for my phone, and it sent me to the YouTube page for the song, which has almost 32,000 views. Now we’re getting somewhere. A link to Hefe Wine’s Twitter reveals he’s from Houston/Miami, and the video appears to be set in Miami. The hook goes “I just wanna make some good love to you / can you feel it / do you feel it / I just wanna be the man on top of you / can you feel it / do you feel it / this feels like heaven.” Gotta say: My guy gets to the point, and the point in this case is being on top during sex. Hefe Wine raps in a super low voice and sings in a semi-high one, which suggests a full range of masculine appeal. And then he raps my favorite line, “My face is dripping I’m sweating I’m so committed.” A lot of artists might not be vulnerable enough to admit how sweaty they get during sex, but Hefe Wine does. As a generally sweaty guy myself, I appreciate his candor!
Bang & Shoot x T8MG x THU KASH LLC x DJ KDJ – R2ATX ROAD 2 AUSTIN VOL. 2 MIXTAPE
This is a compilation tape hosted by DJ KDJ, whose tagline is “of Strip Club Trappin” and whose Twitter account is @thebestdjinhou. Is DJ KDJ the best DJ in Houston? Hard to say. This tape isn’t really mixed. It’s 18 songs and all different artists, only one of which is something you might hear in any given strip club, Rae Sremmurd’s “By Chance.” Most of the songs have titles that are like contemporary rap Mad Libs (“The Plug,” “Dat Check,” “My Hitta,” “I’m Wit It,” etc.). Not all of them are on the internet, so I can’t link you, but some of them are here. What this tape has going for it is a very thorough communications strategy: There are links to social media for the DJs on the back, as well as an email address and their phone numbers. There’s also a website, R2ATX.com, which reveals the story here: You can pay these guys to represent you in Austin. The deal is “10k Mixtapes | 12 Shirts (Worn x my shirt team) | Vinyl Banner Backpacks | Grab Bags | Eblast | post on all Social Media & website & other major websites.” We are posting this on a major website, so looks like you got your money worth if you are on this mixtape. To be fair, since it’s 18 songs, I didn’t listen to the whole thing, but I will say that of the seven or so songs I listened to so far, TMC Nova and Ban Ban’s “Juggin & Finessin” is probably the best?
SNO GANG Presents: S.N.O. (Stiff Niggaz Only)
They say you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, so I won't, but I think it’s worth noting that this CD smells like actual shit. Who was pooping on Sixth Street? I have no idea. I’m just saying. The CD is pretty beat up, and iTunes incorrectly identifies it as a metal album called New Slavery World [EP] by a band called Sober Truth. The first song, “Look Like,” plays for about 15 seconds before skipping, and it sounds pretty pleasant and melodic, repeating the title for a hook. I’d like to go back and listen again to confirm this is what it sounded like, but trying to read the CD made iTunes crash twice. Despite the cover linking to a dead Instagram handle and a YouTube page, none of the songs on here are online, even “hit single” “Noe Money” featuring Ralo, which leads me to believe it is not much of a hit and that the title may be accurate. If I were to offer some constructive criticism, it would be: You’ve got 15 seconds of a good thing going, which is enough for an IG video, so put your music on the internet!
D.R.E.D. – One Way Ticket
Based on 513 area code of the booking number on this tape, D.R.E.D. must be from Cincinnati. He’s on Twitter and Instagram, where he posted this picture of all the CDs he was taking down to Austin. Also, all the music is on YouTube, which is a major plus, although the view counts for most of the songs are in the single digits. On the first song, D.R.E.D. never seems to quite catch up to the beat, but the second song, “More to Life,” has a good message (there’s more to life than the paper, including loving babies and smoking weed once in awhile; can’t argue with that) and shows that D.R.E.D.’s greater talent is coasting on more melodic flows, with a sound a lot like Atlanta’s YFN Lucci. He doesn’t have as great a talent for writing melodies, however, and a lot of this tape is pretty unremarkable. “Chemistry,” which brings in guest vocalist Tyah for the hook, kind of slaps, though, and “Dirty Dishes,” which paints a picture of a kitchen full of dirty pots and encourages reading more books, rises above obvious lyrical clichés.
15 Kings/Monstarr Musik presents Rich over Fame
The editor in me is instantly angry about this title’s structure: “Rich” is an adjective, while “Fame” is a noun, so it should be Riches over Fame or Rich over Famous. Monstarr Musik/15 Kings is the same label as D.R.E.D.’s tape, whatever that’s worth. Is Monstarr Musik crushing the game among mixtapes that no one is listening to? It’s hard to know what that would even mean. Is Monstarr a riff on “monster” or more like French for “my starr”? Once again, answers remain elusive. There’s no CD with this one, but there are social media links to an artist named Yung Yahs, so I was able to find a song on YouTube. It’s nothing to write home about, but it’s not bad, with a floating, Auto-Tuned hook and all three artists delivering rapid-fire verses, one of which convincingly begins “it ain’t no other way / fuck a job / either you hustle or fucking rob.” The plot of this video, which involves a dude’s car breaking down as he’s trying to hit a deadline to get drugs to a drug boss, is very stressful! As someone who often cuts it close on deadlines, I can relate. The moral of the story is: Make sure you have a spare tire and check your oil before agreeing to move any weight.
OG Beno – I Stopped Trappin
This guy follows me on Twitter, it turns out! I know because OG Beno has his shit together: There are links to Twitter (@ladieslovebeno), Instagram, Soundcloud, YouTube, and his website, plus an email and a phone number on this mixtape cover. And his CD has ID3 tags. OG Beno is from Columbia, South Carolina, and his standout song is called “Handle It.” And it… kind of rules? This is the first thing I’ve heard so far that doesn’t sound like a rehash of some more popular Atlanta rap, although it hits a few Rae Sremmurd-like cadences. The beat, by Deafh Beats, swoops into deep, skronky bass, and Beno himself hits a couple backflips over it, especially in the outro where he sings “I’m only rich ‘cause my plug consistent / and I’m only free ‘cause my dog wasn’t sniiitching, damn / I remember those pounds that I used to move with him / he gone for nine years so you know I’m gone miss him / and I’m only free ‘cause my dog wasn’t snitching, I swear.” I could see Drake trying to swipe that sound! The rest is a little more generic, including a “Summer Sixteen” freestyle, but OG Beno has some bars: “my fingernails still full of dirt / I’m really from the bottom.”
DJ Money Mook, DJ Cannon Banyon, and DJ Effect – Music Trafficking
There’s this song on here, “Panda,” by Desiigner, that I think could be big? It is pretty g.o.o.d. If anyone knows Pusha T, maybe you can send it to him? He might like it. There are also songs by under-the-radar guys like Fat Joe, Trouble and Fetty Wap, Lil Uzi Vert, Yo Gotti, French Montana, YFN Lucci, and Young Dolph. The Lil Yachty and Famous Dex song “4 Real” is on here, too, and that song rules. I’m beginning to think that DJ Money Mook, DJ Cannon Banyon, and DJ Effect are not the first guys to burn some of these onto a CD. Why would you print up a bunch of CDs with already released songs on them in 2016? Seems like an unnecessary legal risk in a post-Gangsta Grillz raid era, but I guess these guys are trafficking music in the quite literal sense, and that’s kind of dope. And honestly this is the most entertaining tape I’ve heard so far, with both hits and songs from a few new artists like Zoey Dollaz and Dae Dae that I might check out further. Roc & Yella, the South Carolina duo who have been working with DJ Burn One, really come through with a track on here called “Younginz.” So is this a “win” for these DJs? Printing CDs can add up, but, then again, maybe someone will hear French Montana and Kodak Black’s “Lockjaw” as they listen to this driving home from Austin and decide to book these DJs in their city.
Moneybagg Yo – Federal Reloaded
Moneybagg Yo has a perfect name for that joke where you say “Please, call me Moneybagg. Mr. Yo is my father.” But Moneybagg, who is a rapper from Memphis, is not joking around. I would probably not mention that joke to him if we met in person until I knew him better. A quick Google search reveals that the release party for this mixtape was raided by the police just a couple days before SXSW. They arrested 28 people, including Moneybagg, and confiscated ten loaded guns, some of which are, frankly, fucking enormous. Unsurprisingly, then, Federal Reloaded, which features production from fellow Memphis artist Drumma Boy and a song with the city’s standout rapper Young Dolph, is a solid street rap tape. Moneybagg isn’t the most distinctive rapper stylistically, but he’s a solid lyricist—”pockets getting fat / I’m talking Hungry Hungry Hippo”—and supremely comfortable on every track. This shit bangs. You can check it out here. Based on what Moneybagg’s retweeting, it’s already found some fans:
@MoneyBaggYo She sucked me UP G D what a feeling shawty had a nigga mind gone all in the ceiling she from da hood but she pretty
— PoohONEY (@pooh21jumpstree) March 21, 2016
This logo is fire and the name is even more so: Both members of the group are apparently dwarfs, so Big Runts is a badass riff on their stature. It has the official Noisey Name Cosign. I want these guys curb stomp the shit out of everyone. These dudes have the cleanest aesthetic of any of the tapes I stumbled across, which is good because I knew I could search for their music on both Soundcloud and YouTube when the CD didn’t work. The music is pretty run-of-the-mill battle rap type stuff, but, still, shouts out to Big Runts.
Rip Tha Rula
Rip Tha Rula is a rapper from Houston, and his most popular song is apparently “Riding Dirty,” the second track on this tape. He is not a Texas-themed Slick Rick tribute act, nor is the song a UGK cover. The song is pretty straightforward Houston turn up material, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Straightforward Houston rap will forever be entertaining. Based on dude’s Twitter and IG, OG Ron C and various slices of Texas radio seem to be fans. Maybe you can be too, although good luck finding the tape on the internet! Rip may be the rula of something, but it is not a kingdom where fire tweets are a valid currency because dude’s tweet metrics are not there.
Blacc Zacc – Streetz Still Dirty
This CD also doesn’t work, but it had the coolest cover of any of the ones I picked up, plus the title felt like good commentary for a project about picking garbage out of the streets to listen to, so I tracked it down on Spinrilla. Blacc Zacc is also from Columbia, South Carolina (does he know OG Beno? He should check him out!), and he has features from Young Dolph and Pee Wee Longway on his tape, which is a good look. His music is pretty straightforward trap—so straightforward, in fact, that there’s a guy on the tape named Trappa. Is Trappa a lost Super Mario Bros character? This beat would kind of work in an 8-bit version. But the song he’s on, “I Know How You Feel,” is a sad one about having friends and family go away to prison, so now I feel bad for making a joke about Trappa. Your name’s OK, buddy. Hang in there. A lot of people have made bad jokes about my name, too.
Kyle Kramer likes digging through trashcans for hot new Minidiscs, too. Follow him on Twitter.