Friday, March 13, 2009

South By So Real: Rapping with Matt Sonzala by Thomas Fawcett

And so it begins... SXSW '09...

Continuing the yearly tradition, fellow blogger, Thomas Fawcett from The Corner provides us with another great guest piece, an interview with Matt Sonzala and a glimpse into SXSW Hip Hop... Thanks Thomas!

Welcome to the second annual edition of South By So Real where I rap with SXSW booker and hustler extraordinaire Matt Sonzala about all things hip-hop at SXSW. He has a lot to say so we’ll cut straight to the interview but suffice to say if an MC is performing at the festival, Sonzala made it happen. For artists that took the time to upload a track to the SXSW site, I've linked them to mp3s so you can click their name and listen while you read. Also, rappers beware: if you see Sonzala in the house and you're rhyming over your CD with vocals, he will throw a bottle at you. After all, "This ain’t fucking Star Search, this is real life!"

The Corner: This is your first full year on the job. Did that make it any easier this year than last?

Matt Sonzala: Definitely not any easier because my responsibilities quadrupled. I deal with a lot of the bands coming from Europe, not just urban music now. It’s easier logistically in terms of convincing rappers to come down. Last year when we talked I said it was getting better as far as the industry recognizing and wanting to come down but this year everyone wants to come down. It’s really nice. I’m really happy with what we have this year. We couldn’t even take everything we wanted to. A lot of rappers actually applied on time this year!

TC: What about the festival has changed that makes hip-hop artists want to be a part of it?

MS: I really don’t think it’s changed that much. SXSW has done hip-hop forever even early on when I came back in 1990 and saw artists like Decadent Dub Team and MC Overlord. I saw Sociopath Left and groups like that way back then. There’s always been hip-hop. My role in Texas hip-hop has always been sort of a P.R. guy to an extent. We’re not a media center like New York or L.A. and we’ve suffered from that for a long time. SXSW is our outlet. You can get a lot done in those four days. Now people know that it’s the place to be.

TC: Given that, do you feel an obligation to book a certain number of local acts?

MS: Across the board, we all do. We know that this is Austin, man. We have to bring in some local acts but we can’t book every single local act. Rap-wise, if I see them working and they’re doing some things, yeah, I do feel kind of obligated to bring them in. That being said, a lot of the clubs don’t want rap and they don’t want local rap. I had an issue with a couple of acts that I had to take off shows because the clubs said, “No, we’ve had issues with them.” It’s hard because we can’t take every single rapper, there’s no way. Even some of the ones that are doing stuff and that I like didn’t apply on time, still haven’t applied, and it just didn’t work. I feel really bad that they aren’t on but I couldn’t add any more. But I think we have a good selection of local hip-hop. Could we do more? Yes and no. The clubs don’t want it. It’s not an easy sell. A lot of these guys are hustling and doing good work and I recognize that and I’m down for the dudes who really work. Still, a lot of them aren’t putting out albums. They’re not doing anything that proactive that I couldn’t leave them off. I can’t name one rapper in Austin who there is no way I could not book them. On a talent level there are plenty. I think Bavu Blakes is amazing. I think Set 4 Life, what Dok Holliday and Will Hustle and them do in the streets, is fantastic. Southbound is an incredible group. Dred Scott is an incredible group. I like to see guys like Dubb Sicks who go on the road and do little tours. But most of the groups get on because I want them to be a part of the conference. I want them to come learn something. I don’t want them to feel excluded. Back in the day people felt that if they were left off that they were being excluded but not one of those people filled out the application. The people who got in this year got their applications in on time. That being said you don’t have to necessarily do your 20-minute performance to get a benefit out of SXSW. The industry is here and whether you are wearing that badge or not you better be out there working. Don’t call me mad; get out there!

TC: What are a few Texas acts you think everyone should know about?

MS: I actually do wish that I had more Texas acts this year. I’m not doing a big Houston show this year because we’ve done it many times. Any one of those artists would have been welcome but they didn’t apply. Right now out of Texas I really love Question? from San Antonio. I like Fat Pimp out of Dallas, actually. I’m not big on club rap but he has more than just club raps he has some really smart stuff too. From Houston, Rob Quest from the Coughee Brothaz is coming this year. He has always performed with Devin (the Dude) but he’s got a solo album coming out. He’s a talent and he’s one of the production talents behind Houston. I’m excited about the Memphis guys, legends like 8Ball & MJG are coming down. It’s diverse this year. There’s everything from the biggest backpackers ever to club stuff to gangsta stuff and it’s all mixed together this year.

TC: I was really feeling H.I.S.D. What do you know about those guys?

MS: H.I.S.D. is a collective of guys from Houston’s indie scene. EQuality is one of the most incredible poets and Savvi is one of the most business savvy guys in that scene. Those guys are really incredible and they pooled their resources as opposed to trying to all be solo artists. They all came together and it’s obvious they’re making an impact. That whole scene has been going on for a long time but now they have strength in numbers and I think they’ll see big benefits from that this year. They’re releasing a record on the Wax Poetics label.

TC: There is a massive contingent of Canadian rappers coming this year. How did that come about?

MS: I’m a music geek so I know about all this stuff. I’m a little nervous cause I don’t know who else cares but Canada is right across the border and there are a lot of great MCs there. You hear about plenty of Canadian rock that has broken through on our radio but people don’t realize that there is some great hip-hop in Canada. People like Josh Martinez, he tours so people know him. But there are guys like Classified who is a legend. This guy Shad, he’s an up and comer and he’s brilliant. Keys N Crates kill it and Moka Only had a great run with Swollen Members. A bunch of these guys applied and I could have put them all on random shows but I put it all together and hopefully they’ll benefit. To be honest, I was nervous that they would come back and say they didn’t want to be on a Canadian hip-hop show. Everyone says “Put us on with Bun B” or “Put us on the big stage.” But every one of them was with it.

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