A3C 2015 just wrapped up this past Sunday in Atlanta. What does five days at ‘the top Hip Hop festival and conference in the US, and one of the key destination for music fans, artists and professionals’ (as their blurb proclaims) entail? Read below…
This was my 6th or 7th (sorry – foggy memory) time at A3C. As the festival has grown in size, scale, location, and length I have had more great times in Atlanta each year than I can even remember – chalk this up again to the old age and alcohol which attack my frazzled brain with vigor every October.
With the growth in the festival though, I’d be remiss not to mention the shift in the lineup as the years have progressed. (Be warned I’m about to use some shitty pigeonhole type tags and sweeping generalizations, but its only done to help make a more understandable overall point.)
Now call me selfish, but it always seemed to me that commercial Hiphop already have their own awards, festivals, and large scale concerts… A3C always seemed more ‘our’ deal though – focused on giving underground Hiphop up and comers the same amount of shine as the legends from the 80’s and 90’s that usually headlined each night.
Over the past 3 years especially, the artist roster has definitely moved to begin featuring more commercial artists alongside the people that I (and others of my unwashed ilk) look forward to seeing. I understand this up to a point… after all money has to be made to pay for all this and still make a profit, and have been willing to grudgingly accept this as the cost of attendance to see and hear what I want to see and hear. If a 2 Chainz appearance sells a grip of tickets that allows Ghostface to rock a show, and everyone gets to see their artist of choice, then everyone’s happy – right?
This year was definitely different on that score. But rather than launch into a wholly negative list of whinging, lets make a little pros and cons list – that way we can also talk about the positive things too.
Getting around seemed so much easier this year. All events seemed to be held either at venues on Edgewood or a venue on Flat Shoals. With Edgewood within walking distance of the A3C sponsored hotel (and our own less exquisite Motel 6), we could easily stroll to the Edgewood spots, and then grab an Uber over to the venues on Flat Shoals for less than $10 a time. The conference venue this year was the Loudermilk Center on Courtland Street which is about halfway between the Edgewood venues and the hotels, so again, extra points for making everything easy to get around.
The Loudermilk Center was pretty dope and the wristbands were nice.
That’s about it.
Bookings and scheduling. As I’ve already mentioned, there seems to have been a rise in commercial artists appearing as headliners at A3C over the past few years. This year there really seemed to be a lot more focus and importance on ‘the turn up’ over everything else. It showed in the schedule and the artist line up in a big way, with major events each night featuring a slew of commercial-styled Southern Hiphop, while smaller events seemed to just throw artists together regardless of their musical output. For example, I DJ-ed a performance at an event on Thursday for my brother Big Lo, which saw his excellent set of hardcore boom bap hiphop sandwiched between a live band replaying Outkast numbers with trumpets and a turn up cat talking about money and bitches over the same tired trap beats that flood out of any commercial radio station.
The imbalance was so striking that on Wednesday there was NOTHING of any real interest to anyone not into commercial southern Hiphop. Thursday’s main attraction was a Stretch Armstrong & Bobbito documentary that wasn’t even an official A3C event. I then jetted from that to the above Big Lo event, before returning to Edgewood to find anything worth seeing. (And stumbling into Lil Boosie lazily performing over his own lyrics at the Music Room – a highlight for all the wrong reasons.)
Then on Friday, when there actually were some events worth a look, we had to choose between Kool Keith, or Pharoahe Monch & Jean Grae, or Camron & Beanie Sigel. All scheduled for roughly the same times at 3 different venues.
Saturday was De La Soul Day – and we weren’t really focused on anything else, although the Hipnott Records joint also managed to clash nicely with the headlining event.
Sunday saw A3C closed out by Wiz Khalifa and Currensy, which meant we basically got on the road as soon as we checked out of the hotel.
Rappers be rapping. And rappers be late. Which meant that we were able to catch Camron and Beans on Friday and still get across town to see Pharoahe and Jean Grae. Hooray for rappers’ stereotypical tardiness!
Rappers be rapping. And rappers be late. And nobody seemed to plan for this. Which meant that De La Soul Day – a day dedicated to one of the greatest Hiphop groups of all time ended with De La getting their own set cut short due to an outdoor noise curfew. Couple this with also cutting Rakim’s set short, and this was pretty embarrassing for A3C in my opinion. Especially when you factor in the fact that some of the other artists on the De La bill had absolutely no business being on that stage. The Difference Machine and Soulection may well be hometown heroes, but their 15 minutes of pretty worthless performances could easily have been deleted and replaced with more Ra and De La. Even some of the other artists at the back of the stage seemed embarrassed by The Difference Machine in particular, who ended their set by attempting and failing to smash their own instruments. At the time, their ‘performances’ were met by muted applause and an exodus of people to the bar and the bathrooms, but as it sunk in later that these artists presence had caused Rakim and De La to get shutdown early, people around me definitely were complaining. In addition, how the hell did they get on AFTER the Jungle Brothers and Prince Po & Oh No who both SMASHED their sets earlier than the lackluster fellas who came on stage later in the night.
Lots more conferences and panel events.
Mislabeled and non-labeled conference events on the schedule, starting late, and forcing early exits to try to get to other panels which then also started late. One example was a Maschine ‘How To Make Hiphop Beats’ demonstration that I was amped for. It started almost an hour late, and ended up being less about someone showing how to chop up samples from dusty old records, and more about how to make shitty trap beats. Another more glaring example – Combat Jack interviews are something that interest me greatly as I’m a huge fan of the podcast. Combat Jack interviews at A3C which feature off-the-cuff chats with Travis Porter and interview slots that turn into listening sessions, because a) the artist hasn’t bothered to turn up or b) because A3C have just thrown anyone at the host are both weak and disrespectful to the host and the attendees. As a matter of fact, the general relegation of Combat Jack, one of the most well-respected people in the industry to a side room and a ‘who knows who will turn up’ promise, while fuckboy Johnny-come-latelys like Rosenberg get the headline interview on the main day with De La Soul, really echoed the feeling around this year’s whole festival that the artists who put work in and helped A3C grow in status and success in the formative years were being relegated to the side, or dropped altogether in favor of the trendy names of the moment.
Where was 9th Wonder? The man A3C like to tag as their ‘ambassador’ didn’t even attend this year. Where were the Beatminerz? My brothers Bazarro and Chin made it there with the Mood Doctors, but an A3C without Evil Dee and Mr. Walt just doesn’t seem right. Still I’m sure Young Chop’s appearance and the subsequent fight he helped spark at Harlem Nights was a worthwhile substitute for someone.
Many others will have had different, more positive experience I’m sure. But for me, this was not only the most expensive A3C in terms of ticket package prices, but also the least memorable, and has led to having to consider (with a heavy heart) my non-attendance at next year’s event if the festival continues to move in the direction it seems to be intent on pursuing. I understand that some of my gripes may well be unsolvable due to artists being booked on alternative nights already (leading to the Friday clashes), but I’d be willing to bet that wasn’t the case. Especially when the War Monkey camp especially were on deck all weekend. I’m sure that not many give a shit though overall, and as A3C probably made money, they will look at this with a nice
response, but who knows? Maybe somebody will pay attention. Here’s hoping.