Saturday morning. Fun Fun Fun Fest is just getting started for real. Food vendors are beginning to hum and the two distinct crowds that will huddle in front of the Black and Orange stages all day are filing in and sorting out. On the weekend the park never seemed very full until about five in the afternoon. That's to be expected, but disappointing nonetheless. From my perspective the most interesting performers were the ones who were most excited to be there, and they were all playing between 12 and 2 on Saturday and Sunday. This included all of the local bands invited to play the festival, other than the Austin Queen tribute band, Magnifico, who played first thing Friday evening.
Bringing a live drummer, a slick DJ, a hype lion, T-shirts, mixtapes, and a spectacle worthy of a headliner to the Blue Stage bright and early Saturday, The League of Extraordinary Gz set the bar high for Central Texas acts performing at Fun Fun Fun Fest. A supergroup formed from the personnel of smaller crews Dred Skott, Southbound, and Da C.O.D., the League have a variety of flow and beat styles that reflects their size and diversity. Heavier, leaner Dirty South tracks trade with melodic East Coast productions, and the live drums nod to the funked out L.A. style. They have as broad a selection of voices and rap styles as they do music, from rapid rants to thick Texas accents to commanding old-school cadences. On stage they keep the energy high, trading off featured performers and giving each rapper a chance to shine. Despite the variety they seem like a true crew, fans of each other's writing, shouting out on their favorite lines even when there's not enough microphones to go around for everybody. They had a lion mascot doing his best to get CD's to the most excited dancers in the crowd, and DJ Nick Nack dropped in a quick scratch showcase. Really nice set. You can check out some of the highlights on the Concealed Weapons 2 mixtape, available for free download at loegz.com.
Speaking later to Gz Tuk, Lowkey, Reggie, and Greezo, I learn a little bit more about the atmosphere surrounding hip-hop in Austin. I can see why they're not likely to take any opportunity to perform for granted. While Austin likes to consider itself an oasis of tolerance, a lot of music fans here might be surprised by how difficult it still is for hip-hop artists to earn the basic respect performers in other genres here take for granted. "We still in the South," the Gz tell me, and there are still clubs on 6th Street that it's hard for certain members of the League to even get into, just because of their race. In 2010. Think about that for a second.
After an incident at Spiro's in May of 2009, it's harder than ever for hip-hop acts to book shows in Austin. The League of Extraordinary Gz has formed, in part, out of response to that difficulty. The crew members are pragmatic about the situation, accepting that nowadays, it falls upon the group to convince clubs their shows aren't a risk. "A lot of hip-hop acts don't treat it like a profession." The League have combined forces to present a brand name to promoters that guarantees a different audience, one that brings with it safe, well-organized shows that are about bringing together fans of different backgrounds to enjoy live hip-hop. "We appreciate those spots" in Austin that will host hip-hop shows, including Aces Lounge, Club Crucial, and Lucky Lounge. Ultimately, booking bigger events in Austin has nothing to do with what genre you are -- "if your money's right," you can make it happen.
While their influences are all over the map, one consistent element in League of Extraordinary Gz songs is pride in Texas and Austin in particular. They rap proudly about being from the land of the Longhorns, and one chorus has the crowd shouting along, "AUSTIN! Where's that? TEXAS! Where's that? TEXAS!" In rap scenes where there isn't a long history of commercial successes, local MC's can sometimes be guilty of sounding like they'd rather be from somewhere else. The League of Gz are Austin to the core. Other area hip-hop they recommend: fellow Fun Fun Fun performers Crew 54, Poison Boyz, Das Lo.