Hip-hop at ACL Fest: Chance is better than Jay-Z, plus 5 must-see acts
Years ago, roots-rock was the signature sound at the Austin City Limits Music Festival and the lineup rarely strayed into the urban music universe. Over the past few years, superstar rappers from Eminem to Outkast, have been some of the fest’s biggest draws. This year, two rappers ended up in headline spots Jay-Z and Chance the Rapper. The broad consensus coming out of weekend one was the young gun, Chance, put in the superior set.
In terms of energy there was really no comparison. Sure, Jay had the massive sing-along hits and the bigger crowd, but Chance has the fire, the mission. Jay came to play some songs he knew we’d love then jet back home to be with his babies. Chance came to have an experience with us, to move us and maybe save a few souls along the way.
Here are five more hip-hop acts you should check out at ACL Fest:
Ice Cube: It was the same Ice Cube of “Friday” and “Are We There Yet?” infamy that took the stage at ACL Fest, but lest the rabid throng forget the red-blooded MC’s original day job, he raced through a flurry of classics from his solo career and N.W.A tenure with jaw-dropping precision. Atop a collection of instantly recognizable, pulverizing beats, the rapper spat bars that were wickedly funny, aggressively masculine and unfailingly profane. — Bryan Rolli
Danny Brown: Brown’s madcap, idiosyncratic brand of rap can read like a deck of Trivial Pursuit cards in lyric form. It also reads like a shopping list for a Harmony Korine character. And on Sunday at Austin City Limits Music Festival, it always, always felt like an unrelenting sunstroke hallucination. It was, to use the parlance of the day, lit. — Eric Webb
Run the Jewels: With lyrical flows that regularly exceed 100 words per minute it’d be easy for each rapper’s delivery to turn into a blur of syllables, but the vocal control and movement in timbre and dynamics they put to use constantly adds an important textural variety within songs and individual verses. That helps preserve the inherent bounce that is so crucial to making Run The Jewels a group that stands pretty far apart from its peers. — Chad Swiatecki
Skepta: “Can I spit some lyrics, please?” Skepta asked the crowd before barreling into “Skepta Interlude,” which first appeared on Drake’s album-playlist hybrid “More Life” back in March. “Let’s get (expletive) lyrical.” It was a strange request, as the rapper had been getting lyrical all along. The 35-year-old British MC — real name Joseph Junior Adenuga — couched his dense statements inside pummeling grime bangers that kept droves of fans moving for the entirety of his hourlong performance. Skepta knew his late-afternoon set was not the time for introspection. This audience wanted bars. — Bryan Rolli
Tank and the Bangas: Tarriona “Tank” Ball is a slam poet who grew up in the shadow of Jazz Land. The band’s numbers meander, expand and contract as the music takes them where it wants to. That skill with verse made for a few folks likely smiling through their tears on “Rollercoaster.” Tank, playing pastor and best girlfriend, gave a spoken-word ode to the thrill of love and being free. It became an exhortation to find the one whose heart skips a beat for you. — Eric Webb