Soon after landing in Atlanta, it was evident that the weekend ahead would be one of great personal progression. I made the journey to attend the A3C Hip-Hop Festival, a three-day series of performances and panel discussions all held at The Masquerade, a large complex located minutes from downtown that featured several indoor and outdoor stages. Minutes after arriving at the hotel I was in the lobby chatting it up with legendary hip-hop DJ Evil Dee. After checking in and dropping luggage off in the room, I was off to the venue.
Day one was heavy on performances and networking. The large, open complex was only beginning to welcome the hundreds of artists, press, and fans. With relatively everybody there for a common cause – the love of hip-hop and the music business – communication was simple. "Hi. How are you? Where you from? What are you involved with? How can we help one another?" It seemed like a mixed crowd of first-, second-, and third-time attendees, with people traveling from across the nation -- an online media site owner from Seattle was geographically the furthest traveler that I met.
The early performances were a mix of DJs, underground MCs and lesser known artists. An artist I was referred to prior to leaving the hotel was Marz Lovejoy, a 20-year-old MC from California. Coincidentally, a new friend -- first name Amariee -- crossed paths with Lovejoy and made an introduction. During our brief discussion, Lovejoy mentioned that one of her favorite performances she’s had was about a year ago at Pittsburgh’s Shadow Lounge, opening for fellow California rap group Pac Div. Soon after I met her, it was her time to shine. Less than halfway through her first song, the petite and soft-spoken image of Lovejoy left my mind as she worked her way around the stage performing several body-moving electro-hip hop tunes.
As the night progressed, Pittsburgh’s own Varsity Squad (MCs Beedie and Jon Quest with DJ Drastik) were set to take the stage following the iStandard Producer’s Showcase, an event that has recently enlisted Pittsburgh/Philly producer Premise to their show production staff. After the stage manager fumbled through helping Drastik connect the turntables, the crew’s performance began. Following an Outkast instrumental intro, Beedie and Jon Quest were ready to showcase their skills. Having performed at last year’s event as well, they were noticeably comfortable and confident in their ability to engage the crowd. They certainly made an impact with the 8-minute set that they earned, with audience hands waving and Beedie throwing shirts to the growing crowd. It would’ve been nice to have seen them rock for a few more songs – having seen them in Pittsburgh several times rocking 20+ minute sets to great reactions. However, that would be a trend throughout the festival. With more than 200 performers, only a select few were given more than 12-minute sets.
One of the best showcases of the festival was that of hip-hop website HipHopDX, which featured a combination of up-and-coming artists such as JYoung the General from Detroit and vets like former Rocafella Records MC Freeway. JYoung’s interaction with the audience guided a dope performance that showcased his charisma and impressive MCing abilities. Soon after, New York wordsmith Homeboy Sandman picked up where JYoung left off. With the large room comfortably full, he had people jumping up and down, arms waving side-to-side. His performance was so dope that I bought his album – on vinyl!
Day two featured personally intriguing panel discussions with successful music businessmen and women. The first was moderated by Wendy Day of the Rap Coalition, and dealt with building the infrastructure you need to succeed. Role players of the team included an A & R agent, artist manager, publicist, finance manager, and new media generator. Together the panel talked about the importance of finding each individual player to form your team and how each person dedicating themselves to their specific role can lead the business on a successful path.
The second night closed with Stay Productive, featuring Atlanta-based producers Count Bass D, Illastrate, DT, AmDex, Floyd the Locsmif, Dr. Conspiracy, and Baka. One by one they showcased their beats, while collectively being on stage with their individual sound machines. One of my favorite artists over the past decade or more has been Count Bass D. He took the stage wearing a cape of sorts, and was easily the most energetic of the bunch, often turning volume levels down to scream and yell.
Day three was the closing day of the festival. It was also a day that included three MCs with Pittsburgh backgrounds. RayDawn has been a factor for several years on the Pittsburgh hip-hop scene, and he had two performances on this day. Despite a technical difficulty opening his second set, he didn’t miss a beat. He performed his new single, "Heir," and finished with an acapella. When I entered the room at the beginning of his set it was nearly empty, and as I turned around at the end, I came to notice the room more than half full. His imprint was felt.
Taking to two of the other five stages were members of the Fab 5 Entertainment crew, which was founded in Pittsburgh. Detroit MC Young Scolla attended college in Pittsburgh and represented on an outside stage. His calls to the crowd of "We the RLES (pronounced realest, and an acronym for Real Life Entourage Shit) in this bitch," got the crowd response with a chanting "Wassup." His rendition of Pete Rock & CL Smooth’s classic hip-hop track "T.R.O.Y." received the best reaction, reflecting the overall atmosphere of the festival. Soon after Scolla’s performance, on an inside stage, fellow Fab 5 and RLES representative Devin Miles began his set. Devin hails from Pittsburgh and is currently a student at Duquesne University. A protégé of the Fab 5 team that played a role in the early success of Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller, Devin is a rising star. In his Diamond Supply t-shirt, backed by a hype man and DJ, Devin controlled the crowd performing verses from several head-nodding tracks.
The weekend festival was finalized with a performance by hip-hop pioneer Big Daddy Kane. After performing classic tracks, including "Set It Off," "I Get the Job Done," and "Another Victory," Kane brought out a special guest: former Juice Crew mate MC Shan. Shan, who has been something of a forgotten MC, performed his classic tune "The Bridge," a dedication to his hometown of Queensbridge, NY. Kane concluded his set with his top single, "Ain’t No Half Steppin’."
As the premier festival for hip-hop music, A3C is a must for any aspiring artist, press, or business. A relatively unlimited amount of opportunities to speak with up-and-coming and veteran professionals are made available throughout the three day festival. The festival has grown tremendously since its debut seven years ago, and it is without a doubt continuing to climb the ladder to become a greater entity in the foundation of hip-hop.