Two Takes on the A3C Hip-Hop Festival

Take One

Where: The Masquerade / Atlanta, GA
When: Oct 6-8, 2011
Highlight: Inside, 9th Wonder provided the beats for local MCs to showcase their freestyle skills.  Outside, Canadian rapper-in-a-skirt Eternia spat her way from the back of the crowd to the stage and back again.

For the past seven years, A3C – Atlanta’s annual hip-hop festival — has done nothing but grow. In 2010, the festival boasted over 15,000 attendees.  In the recession that won’t quit, how does something like a music festival keep growing?

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At its core, hip-hop is about bootstraps.  It’s about coming from nothing and grabbing everything.  The A3C Festival embodies this aspect of hip-hop culture in more ways than one.  Established artists play on the same stages as up-and-comers.  Merchandise booths sell more microphones than T-shirts.  And everybody you bump into is saying, “Hey, sorry ‘bout that.  Here’s my [card, CD, download code, etc].”

People go to this festival, not just to enjoy the music (and, hell yeah, they enjoy the music!), but to be a part of it, to see if they can use this to jump themselves to the next level.  “The only difference between him and me is he’s up there, and I’m down here.  Next year, Imma be up there.”

Justin Aswell of Mr. Invisible says, “My Maschine Demo this year was crazy fun for me. People didn’t just come to see my performance they also came for networking and knowledge. The entire event was like that. I can’t wait for next year.” Aswell is not alone.  Photographers, journalists, sound techs, DJs and MCs all traded knowledge and contact info at every turn.  The whole festival vibrated with hustle.

Whereas other music festivals seem to be about selling the mystique of the guys on stage, emphasizing the distance between fans and artists, A3C strives to eradicate that distance, to break those barriers.  The MC you saw on stage a minute ago is at the back of the crowd watching the DJ who watched her last year.  Fans are artists are fans are artists.  This is hip-hop.

-Amelia Shackelford

Take Two

Since 2005, the A3C Festival has been one of Atlanta’s largest and most renowned hip-hop festivals. In the past, A3C’s event coordinators have recruited the talents of hip-hop’s heavyweights to grace their stages, including rap artists such as Clipse, Wale, and Killer Mike. This year’s festival was no different and featured a diverse and extensive roster, ranging from hard knock and gutter rap emcees like M.O.P and Freddie Gibbs to more eccentric hip-hop and soul artists such as 9th Wonder and Aleon Craft. Nonetheless, while A3C offered nearly 300 different flavors of hip-hop sounds, many of the performances felt rehashed and redundant. Several of the artists took the same traditional, yet stale approach to their live performance by simply blasting beats over the PA and rapping unrecognizable phrases in a rhythmic flurry. Hip-hop is a 30-year-old genre now and I would like to think that a live rap performance has evolved past this dingy basement show aspect.

However, there were some standout acts. I felt Canadian artist Eternia performed a great set. She had a wonderful stage presence, dope beats and got the crowd hyped. Another entertaining emcee was rapper Max Burgundy from the Bronx. His sound was described as, “equal parts Slug, MURS and Del tha Funky Homosapien.” I personally did not hear many of those artistic references; his flow reminded me more of Aesop Rock or Atmosphere, but Max Burgundy lacked the lyrical prowess of the aforementioned rappers. Nonetheless, I enjoy and respect the huge amount of energy and passion that he brought to the stage, walking out into the crowd and directly confronting the audience members with his unique sound and presence.

My favorite live performances were from New Orleans via Cali emcee G. Eazy and local Atlanta rapper and soul artist Jack Preston. Preston attempted to veer from the traditional rap formula by recruiting three talented back-up singers and he performed over tasteful soul samples. In addition, his vocal cadence and delivery was clear and crisp, while his lyrics remained thought-provoking and charismatic. G-Eazy had a very different message and sound from Jack Preston, his chill flow and rude class clown imagery reminded me of Asher Roth or a younger Eminem. G-Eazy had a spectacular stage presence, even standing on top of the 12-foot high PA subs at one point. He threw a live drummer into the mix, who added an explosive sound to the performance.

Overall, I had a good time at A3C, but felt it was too much at once. There were several music business panels that, while informative, ultimately detracted from the live music and cut into the artists’ sets. Festival attendees received a good deal on the price of tickets considering the sheer number of artists, but there were so many acts that some were relegated to performing at the whim of a merciless and calculated timer. Many of the performances avalanched together and as a listener, I felt overwhelmed, but also guilty that I was missing the opportunity to see another great performance occurring at the same time within the venue. Ironically, I felt the most consistent and entertaining portion of A3C was the break-dancing, occurring on the top level or “heaven” section of the Masquerade.

Hopefully next year, the event coordinators will focus less on publicizing the brands of pay for play artists, will better schedule panels, and focus more on trimming the artist roster and allowing the real talent to shine longer than ten minutes on stage.

photos by Brandon Belcher

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