Chicago rap's big day out at SXSW



Chance the Rapper
I spent parts of Thursday popping ibuprofen like some rappers pop molly (or so their songs lead me to believe) so I could fight off a sudden illness in order to see a couple key Chicago hip-hop showcases: Fake Shore Drive curated one of Red Bull's free outdoor shows, and later in the evening local rap label Lawless Inc. took over Club 119. Chicago's hip-hop scene became the source of unexpected international interest last year largely thanks to the ascendance of teenage rap phenom Chief Keef, whose breakthrough mixtape, Back From the Dead, came out a year ago this past Tuesday.

Keef was released from a two-month stint in jail Thursday, and his presence was felt beyond whatever shout-outs he received from people onstage. After all, he unintentionally threw the spotlight on other artists in his city; a select number of these rappers hit the stage in Austin, all of them performing with the intention of keeping Chicago's grip on the international rap spotlight intact in 2013. Gauging from the crowd reaction that's a distinct possibility for at least one MC—Chance the Rapper.

Chance has been promoting his forthcoming mixtape, Acid Rap, for months. He kicked that into high gear with a headlining gig at the Metro back in November—and lately it's been paying off, as his sleek videos have gotten attention from tastemaking music sites that didn't bother with last year's #10Day mixtape. He's supposed to drop Acid Rap next month, and some of the attendees seem to know his new material well enough; when he bounded onstage during the Fake Shore showcase, a couple fans posted in front of the stage screamed for him to play "Juice," which came out at the end of January. Chance did that and more—he spent his unfortunately short set gesticulating wildly, pumping his fist, stomping up and down, kicking the air, and dancing in a way Charlie Chaplin might have, if footwork had been around back then.

Chance the Rapper
For the most part the local offerings on the Fake Shore bill—which was headlined by New Orleans rapper Master P—were able to hold their own. ShowYouSuck delivered a reliably energetic set, gleefully hopping around onstage and belting out rhymes over booming beats. L.E.P. Bogus Boys had fun playing their bombastic gangsta-rap tracks; Moonie rolled out on a bike, rapped along with L.E.P.'s ski-mask-wearing manager, Dash (who was filling in for Moonie's partner in crime, Count), and brought out a whole mess of friends toward the end of the set. The Cool Kids, who sort of broke up several months ago, returned to the stage to give an assured though somewhat static performance. The one slight misstep of the afternoon was Spenzo, who was slotted to play after Chance the Rapper; that's a tough act to follow, especially considering a huge chunk of the crowd left after Chance finished. Spenzo had a tough time getting the folks who stuck around into his music, and spent most of his set shouting over his songs as if he were engaging in a battle with every note.

L.E.P. Bogus Boys

The Cool Kids Chuck Inglish

Spenzo had a slightly less difficult time engaging with the audience than most of the rappers on the first half of the bill for the Lawless Inc. showcase. The Fake Shore event seemed to foster an intense love and support of Chicago, even if not everyone in the crowd is a local resident or has even been there—at the Lawless showcase it looked quite difficult to even get the crowd to react or engage in anything other than apathy. Gravel-voiced rapper Vic Spencer made plenty of cracks that just seemed to go over people's heads, Broadway playfully shoved one attendee to get him to move to the music, and YP could only get a strong reaction from the crowd when he asked if anyone enjoyed smoking weed.

One MC who didn't have any trouble getting the crowd to show a hint of emotion was Chance; as soon as he hit the stage an army of iPhones popped up to capture as much of the set as possible, and suddenly people who seemed to have very little interest in being at the show were rapping along with every bar. By the time Chance started playing, Club 119 was really filling up, and even though it's an intimate venue—the stage is about a foot off the ground, if that—the energy in the room made it feel like it was one of the bigger concerts at SXSW. Considering there's so much happening at any one minute during SXSW, it's easy to feel like you're missing out on ten amazing things that aren't happening at the one place you decided to go; Chance's set at Club 119 made it feel like no other show mattered. That felt like a good note to end on—as much as I wanted to see King Louie, my body needed some rest.

Chance at Club 119

Inevitably, some things distracted me on my trek back to my friend's place. This time it was the heart-wrenching sound of "The Beauty Surrounds," the new single from formerly local electronic-pop duo Houses. I quickly made a beeline for whatever tent it was they were playing in to catch the end of Houses' set, which also happened to be the band's first live performance with two additional members—a drummer and a guitarist. I've got a few additional thoughts on the day below, and be sure to keep reading our SXSW coverage on the Bleader and on Twitter.

My official seapunk count: Six.

Best personal achievement of the day: Getting the fourth and fifth best scores on Burger Time at the Elysium while waiting to see Dena.

Biggest disappointment: That SXSWendy's, an unofficial party and underground showcase that's adjacent to a Wendy's close to SXSW's main drag, is no longer right next to Wendy's. Now I don't know what to believe anymore.

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