There was something different about SXSW this year that was hard to put a finger on at first. Parking was more difficult. Drinks were less potent and there were suddenly women showing up on 6th street at night wearing short skirts and stilettos. The indie event was starting to feel like a tourism spectacle, but the changes were mostly subtle.
That was until Diddy cooked.
Let’s rewind. Heading into SXSW, I knew I had to see Lil B and witness firsthand the madness he creates when he does a live show. As I’ve said before in no uncertain terms, B makes horrible music but I do respect his ability to navigate the attention given him and am fascinated by his following. So when I saw that B would be headlining the Fader Fort on Saturday, I was there.
When I walked into the Fort, the buzz was already permeating from the tent. Four white guys next to me had computer paper with “SWAG!” written in technicolor while about a dozen other fans were waving egg beaters and spatulas in the front row before the prolific rookie even hit the stage.
Before the crowd could cook with their anti-hero, Diddy shocked everybody by coming on stage doing B’s dances and introducing him as “the future of Hip-Hop.” When Lil B hit the stage, the crowd came unglued.
B defenders have argued that the rapper has two personae: the “deep” or “complex” lyricist and the Based God that has hoes on his d*ck because he looks like Jesus. It was clear which artist the fans came to see. When Lil B opened with “Age Of Information,” the crowd kind of just stood around perplexed. But as soon as the lights changed and B started cursing and swearing that he was the greatest rapper alive, the Fort exploded. Once “Wonton Soup” started up, it was a tremendous party, and, admittedly, I had a blast. For a few minutes, I was enjoying the most fun show at SXSW in 2011. Then, Lil B The Rapper reared his ugly head again. He spit over ambient noise and tried his hand at the pseudo-lyrical music, but you could tell the crowd was just waiting for songs like “Bieber” and “Like A Martian.” Lil B’s set was truly a tale of two shows with fans coming unhinged for the Based God then standing silently for everything else.
Then the show got weird. Lil B ended his set by talking about the environment and pitching his book – his first go as a “book author” – before quietly walking off stage to a slightly confused crowd. Enter Diddy, who came out to ostensibly hype Lil B’s performance, while promoting himself and rocking the stage for his “Oh Let’s Do It” verse, “Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems” and a few other tracks before bringing out Odd Future to perform “Sandwiches”. Tyler had a can thrown at him. He threatened to beat up fans. And then they plunged into the crowd, knocking people around.
I left the Fort feeling like I had witnessed something important. Diddy proclaimed the future of Hip-Hop to be two young entities that are as divisive as any artists we’ve ever seen. In the same way that Jazz and Funk had to deal with new artists, Hip-Hop seems to be undergoing a changing of the guard. The arrival of Lil B and Odd Future presents Hip-Hop’s first generational gap. As fans, we’ve always been able to adapt with the changing music and newcomers, but this is different. Lil B and Odd Future present a new, different Hip-Hop that the traditionalists – myself included – are struggling to understand. And, just like our parents told us about what we listened to growing up, this new music sounds like noise. Even Diddy had to stand at the back of the stage and try to understand what was going on when Odd Future took over. The lyrics are more profane and have somehow raised the bar on appalling – Odd Future raps about God being cancer while Lil B blasphemes about how him looking like Jesus garners him more sexual exploits. And for the life of me, I don’t see the reason for all of the fuss. But that’s part of their appeal. Odd Future and Lil B are rebelling against the music Hip-Hop grew up on, and their SXSW takeover means their emergence is undeniable.
A more immediate change that March 19th brought was the possible end of the Indie-era of SXSW. When the highlights of the final night are Diddy, Kanye and Snoop, the event stops being about independent artists. It was only a matter of time, but the mainstream has invaded SXSW, much to the chagrin of skinny jeans-donning anarchists across the country. SXSW is apparently no longer anti-establishment. The establishment has taken over and the worry is that new artists are going to get lost under the wave of mainstream acts trying to raise their street cred by mixing it up with the common folk. The day Diddy cooked and Yeezy made people wait until 2am for a show marks the end of the SXSW underground.
That doesn’t mean the event has lost its way. Since there are so many venues, the fan still dominates the news. Sure, you can wait in line for G.O.O.D. music, but you can also walk into a small bar and discover the next great music. The beauty of SXSW will still always be seeing artists like Yelawolf, Gibbs and Kendrick Lamar grow each year and watch Lil B and Odd Future cut their teeth in front of the bright lights. Let Diddy and Yeezy try to jump in on the spotlight, but the diehard fans will still know where the festival’s heart will permanently reside.