SXSW Day 3: A Chicago Takeover From Jamila Woods, Noname & More [Recap]
SXSW photos taken by Vickey Ford of Sneakshot Photography for Okayplayer.
Our very own Elijah Watson is in Austin for SXSW. Check back each day to see what stories he has to share!
Chicago has constantly been a cultural export for decades, being the birthplace of music that continues to define and redefine the musical landscape at large.
If you had any doubt about that then let me be the one to tell you — Chicago is still killing shit.
Most of my day during day 3 of SXSW was spent watching all of the young and promising talent coming out of the Windy City, and seeing the ways in which they all complement and support one another through their artistry.
Courtesy of House of Vans and Chicago music curator Fake Shore Drive, most of Chicago was under the same roof at Austin's Mohawk venue. Saba, Joey Purp, Kweku Collins, Noname, The Cool Kids — the event was a who's who of up-and-coming and already known artists from the city, with each one providing their own stories of a place that isn't acknowledged for being a bedrock of talent, but for being — in the words of Donald Trump — a "war zone."
When generalizing a city as such and not contextualizing the reasons as to why a city is how it is, it's easy to disregard the humanity of that city. Art can be used as a means to introduce one to a world that they have no idea of, and leave with some understanding of how a place shaped a person's work.
As I watched Saba, Joey Purp and Noname perform back to back, I was being offered different lenses with which to see Chicago.
"I remember finding that revolver I was looking through my closet / Trying to find my remote control charger," rapped Purp on "Cornerstone." A loss of innocence told in one phrase, less than a few seconds long — this is a reality that the rapper was born into. The kids of Chicago grow up quicker than they should, the veil of innocence lifted from their eyes each day, never knowing if their next door neighbor, friend, family member, or themselves, may live to see another day.
It's a poignant revelation, but like any human comes a multi-faceted complexity. Purp will rap about his hardships, but he'll also celebrate the beauty of Chicago. Shit, just seeing him head bang during the final moments of his performance to a packed crowd, rapping about his life in Chicago from a stage in Austin, is a means for celebration.
Same with Saba. Skinny and animated Saba moves about with a cartoonish charm and an infectious grin, dancing about onstage with an energy that is alluring. Hearing him do parts of "Angels," his collaborative track with Chance The Rapper, was so nice, but it was also great to hear him perform tracks off of his latest release, Bucket List Project.
Then, of course, there's Noname. Playful, with a dash of deadpan humor, the rapper and singer warned the crowd beforehand that she wasn't like the artists that came before her, at least sonically. But the energy was all the same, and hearing some of her soulful tracks come to life by a full backing band was rejuvenating. From "Diddy Bop" to "Shadow Man," Noname led her band with a calm cool, while also bringing back Saba to the stage, as well as singer Ravyn Lenae, to contribute throughout the set.
Following Noname was the highly-anticipated return of The Cool Kids, the duo of Sir Michael Rocks and Chuck Inglish that first turned heads in the late 2000s with their contemporary take on Golden Age hip-hop. After breaking up in 2012, the twosome came back in 2016 to announce that they were reuniting, and in the process of creating new music.
Getting the opportunity to hear some of that new music live was nice, but arguably the best part of seeing Michael and Chuck back onstage is being reminded of the two's undeniable chemistry. The former's deeper tone; the latter's high-pitched, nasally delivery. What makes a pair great is how they complement one another with their differences. The Cool Kids do that and they do it well.
Around midnight I left Mohawk to go see Jamila Woods at a venue called Barracuda. By now I was exhausted — I lost my voice, consumed nothing but alcohol and my feet were... well, I couldn't feel them anymore.
But witnessing Woods live made it all worth it. Starting off with "Heavn," Woods' distinguishable vocal delivery fluttered over the soulful keyboard chords and luscious bass that accompanied her right from the jump. At one point she performed a new track for us, which maintained the sound that we've come to associate with her, but with a sonically harder feel. All I can remember is the keyboardist plinking his piano keys with an intensity that was only emphasized by how well the rest of the band stayed in pocket, with Woods front and center, feeding off the energy.
"It's so satisfying seeing Chicago fam kill at SXSW," Woods wrote on her Twitter before her performance.
I couldn't have said it any better.
If you’re looking for real-time coverage of SXSW, or are “looking to build” and “f**k with the vision” while in Austin, make sure to follow Elijah on Twitter (@ElijahCWatson)!