INSIDE ILLMORE: Night One [SXSW 2016]
Photo Credit Paul Ramirez
When The Illmore started, it was a modest getaway for the festival’s big performers. Situated off Veterans and Mopac in a mansion that would need a new floor after a Kendrick Lamar performance upstairs caused it to break. By the time SXSW 2014 rolled around, Illmore, founded by Scoremore, an Austin-based concert promotion company, and Illroots, a popular hip-hop blog, was sponsored by Beats By Dre and held in a giant warehouse on Austin’s south side. For the final Illmore, the sponsor is Budlight and the location is much more central. The hours, however, are still the same: 11 PM til 4 AM. But I have to get there first, so let’s rewind to a bit earlier in the evening.
It’s about 9 PM. I’m at the Four Seasons talking with The Suffers at the Grammy Block Party when Future glides through to the elevator. I look down at my phone. 21%. Damn.
“Need to charge my phone so bad, should I come by the hotel?” I text to Bun B.
“Yes,” says Bun.
When I get there, Bun is sitting at the bar playing the new 2 Chainz x Lil Wayne album on some portable speakers. He hands me his spare Mophie case and starts bugging out about Lil Wayne scatting on the lead single, “Gotta Lotta.”
“It’s like if Cab Calloway wrote a song about pushing drugs,” I comment.
“Rap scatting,” says Bun, “it’s brilliant.”
“Bop ba-dap bop” is going to be a recurring line throughout the night. Thanks a lot, Bun.
Our bar is outdoors, across from the legendary blues nightclub, Antone’s, now co-owned by Gary Clark Jr. Bun is telling me how bad he feels for missing Gary’s Houston show when Sascha Stone, co-founder of the Illmore, happens to walk by. He also manages Tory Lanez and invites us to catch Tory’s set just one block away at Brazos Hall in about 30 minutes.
As we’re coordinating on our phones, I ask Bun, “Did you ever have a pager?”
“Whaaaat? Did you?”
“Sama’an, I was a rapper in the 90s. Yes, I had a pager.”
Bun makes a run up to his room which gives me enough time to run and put money in my parking meter. On the way, I bump into Cody ChesnuTT and dap him up.
An hour later, after stopping by to see Tory Lanez, we are walking into the Mass Appeal show with… you guessed it… Cody ChesnuTT.
Cody disappears with Just Blaze and I suggest that maybe Bun should invite Cody to play his birthday concert the next evening. Bun, though a big fan, says it probably wouldn’t match the vibe of the birthday show. I’m disappointed, but I understand.
Now we’re in a room with DJ Khaled, Wyclef Jean, and Nardwuar. Nardwuar is telling Bun what he told me just one night prior, that Parquet Courts are huge fans of Bun B and would love to get him on a remix. My heart explodes when Bun signals that he’d be interested. We, as patriotic Americans, need to make that collab happen.
After Khaled runs through Bun’s surprise set list, he takes a few snapchats and I wind up in one that’s captioned “Shottas in the building,” which I think qualifies me as a Shotta. I don’t know exactly how the process works, but I’m pretty sure that counts.
As the backstage halls get crowded, Bun is typically reserved. Standing in a corner waiting to be called on, rather than injecting himself in mad rush to get on stage. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from Bun, it’s patience.
When Khaled says he has a special guest to rep Texas, the crowd starts stirring. When Bun walks out on stage, they explode. Khaled starts Bun off with “Big Pimpin.” Something about that beat. In the right setting, when it drops, there’s nothing you can do to stop the energy comin your way.
Three songs and Bun is out as quickly as he came in. It’s all about efficiency with Bun. We bump into Talib Kweli and Freeway on our way out and exchange praises. Before Freeway could say “mashallah” three times fast, Bun and I are in a pedicab back to the hotel where we’ll part ways for the evening.
I’m heading to the Illmore, Bun is on husband duties.
I tell Bun I’ll be back at the hotel at 10 AM for his keynote panel with Rap-A-Lot founder, J. Prince, but when I walk into the Illmore to find Joe Budden bowling in the basement of what we’ll call the “Blue Room,” and Rembert talking about sneaking Wendy’s into FADER Fort, I soon realize that this is going to be a long night.
It’s a smaller venue than Illmore’s of the recent past, but there are so many rooms that it’s kind of like being in a castle. Via text, Lakim (of Soulection) tells me he’s in the building, but the nature of the three-story Biergarten is such that I never found Lakim despite searching for a good half hour.
I love it. Desiigner is on stage at the Illmore and Rembert is in deep conversation when 2 Chainz walks in.
“Bop ba-dap bop,” I sing in my head. Thanks, Bun.
I’m sober, on my third water of the night, but Hannibal Buress is walking in now (with tour mate Byron Bowers) and it looks like he’s having his own Hunter S. Thompson kind of night. What you have to love about Hannibal is that he’s really a fan at heart. The VIP treatment is cool, but he wanders out into the crowd to get the full experience. Once he ventured away from the bowling alley, I wouldn’t see him again for the rest of the night.
Moving upstairs, I find Tory Lanez, Yousef of Young & Reckless, and David Amaya, of Complex, all bouncing around what we’ll call the “Red Room.” Seeing the faces you know from Twitter all in one place is kind of a trip, but it’s a good reminder that SXSW (and the Illmore, specifically) is the only setting where these folks can all find themselves in one place.
Most importantly, there’s a pop-up hookah lounge on the rooftop where Claire Bogle (another Illmore co-founder) is partaking with her loyal squad. Claire also manages Kali Uchis; she reminds me that I wasn’t an early fan of Kali.
“Sorry for being honest!” I say in my defense, “Kali’s features on Tyler, The Creator’s last album were amazing, though.”
I sit down for a few puffs of hookah and ask Claire, “What time are you gonna get to sleep tonight?”
“Probably like seven,” she says. “I’m doing like four or five espresso shots a day. And I could still take a nap afterwards.”
“You’re probably dreaming in fast-forward,” I reply.
It’s 3:15 now, I need to do one more lap before things shut down at 4. Walking down through the blue room I see Lil B moving around with a camera crew. I make sure to dap him up and tell him “All praise due to the most based,” and continue out onto the patio, where Trinidad James is sitting at a bench with what I assume is his crew. At the Illmore, it’s possible that he didn’t even get in.
A few benches over, Soulection’s Dpat is talking with Houston radio host, and one of Drake’s BFFs, DJ Mr. Rogers.
“They’re talking about having me do a set here on Saturday,” says Rogers.
“Please do that, man, please!” Dpat pleads.
Right then, security bursts out of the door and announces that we don’t have to go home, but… you know the rest.
Night one is in the books. It’s not wild compared to year’s past. But we’ve still got two nights to go!