Tuesday, February 12, 2008

South By So Real - by Thomas Fawcett

SXSW '08 and it starts...

Fellow blogger, Thomas Fawcett from The Corner provides us with this great guest piece, an interview of Matt Sonzala and a glimpse into SXSW Hip Hop... Thanks Thomas!

Journalist, blogger, promoter, radio host and all-around hustler Matt Sonzala has been repping the Houston hip-hop scene to the fullest since before anyone outside the 281-area code knew the names Paul Wall and Mike Jones. Sonzala has been booking hip-hop artists for SXSW for several years but was recently hired on full-time by the festival. More than 150 hip-hop acts will take the stage in Austin from March 12-16 and whether they are living legends or local unknowns, Sonzala is the man responsible for getting them on the schedule. The Corner caught up with Sonzala yesterday to talk about the hip-hop lineup at SXSW 2008.

The Corner: What are you most excited about this year?

Matt Sonzala: David Banner and Killer Mike doing a panel together at the Carver Center on Saturday. Before they go on I’m showing a film called “Slingshot Hip Hop” which is a documentary about hip-hop in Palestine and another movie called, “I Love Hip Hop in Morocco.” After that there’s going to be a performance by World Trade, which is Bavu Blakes and Element 7D. The Carver Center event is what I’m most excited about. Also having Bun B and the whole UGK family is very exciting to me.

TC: You’re screening those two international hip-hop documentaries and it looks like there’s quite a bit of international hip-hop artists this year too. I’m looking forward to seeing Marcelo D2 from Brazil.

MS: It sucks a little for me because those guys are all coming in as part of world music shows. I want to see Tumi from South Africa and Marcelo D2. I saw Marcelo perform in Amsterdam with Planet Hemp in ’96 and I’ve followed his music for a long time. He’s a Brazilian hip-hop legend and Tumi is a South African hip-hop legend. I used to play both of them on my international show on KPFT in Houston. Honestly I wanted to make a whole international hip-hop showcase but a lot of people wouldn’t go. I’m excited to see all those acts. That’s pretty much a dream for me – if I get to see them.

TC: How many of these shows do you get to catch. Do you get to see all the artists you want to see?

MS: Almost none. I usually get stuck in a venue wherever the biggest rappers are and I have to make sure everything goes on time. I’m usually running back and forth between venues. I have seven or possibly eight venues I’m responsible for on Saturday so I don’t get to see much outside of that.

TC: Tell me a little bit about the Pimp C tribute. What’s going to go down for that?

MS: Basically Pimp C had his UGK records but that was always a loose collective of artists from Port Arthur and from the South - Vicious from the X-Mob, Hezeleo, Big Bubb, XVII, Bido, T.O.E, Bankroll Jonez, MDDL FNGZ. These were all people who were down with Pimp C, and I mean genuinely down with him. They’re all going to come together in one place at one time and really give it up for Pimp C.

TC: And what about the rest of the Houston scene - are they going to be well represented as well?

MS: Not so much this year. Chingo Bling is coming down this year as well as Rob G. We’ve got newcomers coming through like Karina Nistal; she mixes Latin hip-hop beats with reggaeton type stuff – she’s wild. Also Z-ro, Devin the Dude, Lil J Da Mex Connect. I’m focusing on the next generation and some new shit. If Slim Thug, Chamillionaire or Paul Wall wants to come I want them – I love them – but to me SXSW is still about new music and promoting what’s coming up not just about riding the wave of what’s already there. There’s no denying that when we first brought Bun B, Chamillionaire, Paul Wall on a show with Dizzee Rascal five years ago [at SXSW] every writer in the house was there. They actually got to touch these dudes and meet these dudes. SXSW wasn’t the only thing but when all the media started coming down on Houston that’s where they all met. They got to see this next wave of stuff and that’s my goal – to keep it fresh. There will big names of course – we need big names to get people to actually come out – but I’m trying to mix it up.

TC: So what do you think SXSW can do for young local artists – somebody like a Zeale 32?

MS: For people like Zeale they need to hustle up some press people to come out and see them, hustle up the industry to make sure they actually come to their show. That goes for anybody – the whole music industry world is here and it’s how you work it. Most of these rappers don’t work it at all. They come out and get on stage thinking they’re going to blow up and get a record deal but they didn’t make one phone call before the show. They didn’t send one email, they didn’t make a flyer, they didn’t go to the convention center. You need to get out there because everybody is here and what if you make 10 good contacts in those four days? You could make 100 contacts and make a whole new path for yourself because the music business is 100 percent about who you know. And that’s the beauty of SXSW – everybody can meet right here.

TC: You booked Ice Cube – is he going to be performing or is he just doing a panel?

MS: Ice Cube is actually doing the main stage on Town Lake with Talib Kweli, Jean Grae, Idle Warship and Strong Arm Steady. He’s also doing an interview at the convention center.

TC: The name that jumped out at me is Camp Lo. Uptown Saturday Night is one of my favorite hip-hop albums of all time but I haven’t heard anything from them in almost 10 years. Did you reach out to them or did they reach out to you.

MS: They reached out to me through a friend of mine. They were talking about how they wanted to play SXSW because they’re revamping their thing for next year. They were one of the first groups to come into the fold. They approached me and I was like, ‘Hell yeah, let’s do it.’ They’ve got a new album coming out next year.

TC: I'm from the Kansas City area - Lawrence, actually - so I was pleased to see KC is well represented this year with Mac Lethal, Tech N9ne, Kutt Calhoun and some others.

MS: Yeah, all those dudes. Tech N9ne's coming down because he's got new stuff coming out this year and he's got a tour with Paul Wall right after SXSW. I told him bring your artists, bring you're label because this is what it is all about - expose the new artists. If they're gonna come to see you we'll put those other artists on right before you and get them some exposure too. So he's bringing his whole Strange Music family and I put Mac Lethal on that same show because he requested to be on there with them. I'm excited about it - Kansas City's got a crazy rap scene that is underexposed.

TC: Any other artists flying under the radar that you’re particularly excited about?

MS: I’m a friend and a fan of Gerald G and Chalie Boy so I love seeing them. Locally, I think Ryno, Slim Gutta and Southbound are awesome. Also, Drojo from Corpus Christi. This dude Lars Vaular from Norway – he takes a down south sound and approach to the music and raps in Norwegian, it’s really dope. Dizzee Rascal is bringing the Newham Generals and Jammer. I’ve been wanting to do a grime showcase for the last four years but it never happens. We’ve had Lady Sovereign, Lethal Bizzle, Plan B and Dizzee Rascal before but Newham Generals and Jammer are on some real deep shit so I’m really excited for that.

Notable hip-hop acts at SXSW 2008: Ice Cube, Talib Kweli, El-P, Jean Grae, Grayskul, Lifesavas, Saul Williams, David Banner, Pigeon John, Devin the Dude, Chingo Bling, Zeale 32, Murs, Phranchyze, Bavu Blakes, Tech N9ne, Mac Lethal, Bun B, Ohmegga Watts, Aloe Blacc, Lyrics Born, Camp Lo, Gerald G, Living Legends, Marcelo D2, Kutt Calhoun, Public Offenders, J-Rocc, A-Alikes, Tee Double, Cunninlynguists, DJ Rapid Ric, King Britt, N.E.R.D, PPT, DJ Chicken George, C-Rayz Walz, Kosha Dillz and many many more.

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