If the rest of the Weird City Hip Hop Festival had one third of the passion and positivity as the fest’s centerpiece events, a pair of shows at Empire on Saturday, we can all rest assured that the spirit of hip hop culture is alive and well in Austin. Around 9:45 p.m. a diverse crowd pushed to the front of the garage stage where Crew 54, a power duo from Killeen dropped a blistering set. They put the crowd to work. Hands in the air, screaming along at the top of their lungs, folks were pumped.
Thirty minutes or so later festival headliners, L.A. underground crew Dilated Peoples, touring to support their first release in seven years, stormed the stage with a fiery rendition of “Good As Gone,” proving in no uncertain terms that the group is back in full effect. With a driving set that included a turntable clinic from master World Famous Beat Junkie, DJ Babu the bar for the event was set high well before midnight.
Meanwhile, inside the club local husband/wife team Riders Against the Storm did Austin proud, tearing a page out of the Parliament playbook and remaking their hip hop grooves into sprawling funky jams, augmenting hooks with vocal harmonies while proving the have the chops to go toe to toe with any emcee out there.
In a shocking turn for a hip hop event, the show was running so smoothly that Jean Grae, who was co-headlining inside, actually hit the stage a few minutes early. Anyone who pays attention to underground hip hop knows that Grae is quite possibly the most vital female emcee in the game right now. What you might not know is that she is one of the most charismatic and hysterically funny performers out there period. Clad in a Siouxie and the Banshees t-shirt, she laid out “the rules” for the set in the beginning, including a strict directive against videotaping the show to post to YouTube. Consequences, for not obeying the rules, she explained ranged, from being personally drop kicked by Grae to having the crowd turned on you in a “zombie apocalypse” type situation.
From there she launched into a set that mixed flexing her wicked flow on her own tracks with dance demonstrations, an exploration of hip hop love songs through the years and random hilarity. With the crowd fully engaged, she closed her set by jumping into the audience, cutting a path through the crowd and leading a Soul Train style dance line to take it out.
By the time Pharoahe Monch hit the stage to support his killer new album “P.T.S.D.” the energy in the room was through the roof hype. With explosive energy and a furious flow, he delivered. In a sense, the inaugural Weird City Hip Hop Festival was a test to see if Austin had the fan base and the enthusiasm to support a dedicated hip hop festival. Based on the caliber of performances and the bombastic crowd responses at the Saturday shows, they knocked it out of the park.