Hip-Hop culture-defining brands VIBE and Def Jam Records joined forces for a high-energy SXSW showcase in partnership with SAG-AFTRA’s Hip-Hop Alliance. On Wednesday evening (March 15), the Hip-Hop brands and the union (known for representing entertainment and media professionals including hip-hop artists, DJs, and more) brought a celebratory night to Austin, Texas with a slate of performances from the label’s roster of artists.
Dubbed “Hip-Hop’s Next & Now,” the event was held at EMPIRE Garage and featured a lineup that included headliner Jadakiss, as well as sets from Armani White, Lil Migo, Swavay, Pap Chanel, Marqus Clae, D Sturdy, and Philly Goats.
After the doors to the venue opened at 8 p.m., the steady stream of attendees gradually grew into a sea of fans. By the time the clock struck 9, the crowd—which was hyped up by the host and DJ HTX—was teeming with energy and anticipation of the first act. After various cuts were played from the Def Jam catalog, including classics like LL Cool J’s “Bad” and Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life,” D-Sturdy hit the stage for the opening performance and did not disappoint.
During his set, the Philly rep lived up to his name, displaying his nifty dance moves and footwork that had concertgoers going wild while running through fan favorites like “Walk em Like a Dog” and “Shake Dhat.” Joined by the Philly Goats, D-Sturdy garnered a warm reception throughout the building and got the public familiar with his magnetic personality and music.
Def Jam Records’ legacy may have began in the north, but it continues to be built upon by artists from all regions of the country. This includes Marqus Clae, a lyrically-adept spitter who made the drive up from Houston to Austin to give a breathtaking performance that resonated with longtime fans and put the uninitiated on notice. Clae brought an amped-up, yet intimate contrast to the prior set, serving as evidence of Def Jam’s diversity in talent. He even delivered a dedicatory cut to his mother as she looked on from aside the stage. Ripping into an a capella stanza prior to his exit, the rapper left no question that he’s an artist with the skill to get intricate or conceptual, but the commanding stage presence to match.
Being that March is the month of women, the presence of a lady speaking to and for that demographic was paramount to the ‘Hip-Hop’s Next & Now’ showcase’s success. Rising star Pap Chanel filled that role and more upon gracing the crowd with her presence, charging into a performance of her track “Apple Jacks,” which prompted a swift reaction from the crowd. Moving her body in a seductive manner while delivering her lyrics, the Atlanta native shined bright on the stage with a quick-strike performance that left attendees clamoring for more.
Memphis rapper Lil Migo showed up to the showcase with his crew in tow, but had no need for backup while serenading the crowd with a succession of street anthems. Draped in diamonds, the artist got the building rocking and swaying to his performance, which was among the most engaging the entire evening.
One rapper who made an impression on those present at the showcase was Swavay, the second of two ATL reps on the bill. The jovial creative won the crowd over by sheer force, putting forth a frenetic set full of captivating moments.
As midnight approached, Armani White, one of Def Jam Records’ most recent sensations, entered the building and wasted little time before the crowd was hanging onto every syllable spat. As expected, his runaway hit single “Billie Eillish” capped off his set, but the Philly export also tossed in lesser-known joints that also slapped and got newcomers further acquainted with his sound. Bringing the room to a tilt by the time he launched into his finale song, White’s set further disproved belief of him being a one-trick pony or potential viral flameout.
In addition to the scheduled performances, fans were treated to a few special surprises, as multiple Hip-Hop legends and celebs were in the building to enjoy the festivities and show support. Actor and singer Rotimi slid through, while rap icon Kurtis Blow gave a performance of his classic single “The Breaks” and gave a heartfelt speech to the crowd regarding his love for the culture.
The Harlem native and cofounder of the SAG-AFTRA partner Hip-Hop Alliance voiced his desire to see it continue to evolve and grow through the efforts of those who’ve walked in his footsteps. Another unplanned moment was when Papoose took the stage for an impromptu performance, which was well-received and noted as one of the highlights of the night.
Def Jam and VIBE’s “Hip-Hop’s Next & Now” showcase included plenty of firepower and was indicative of Def Jam Records’ present and future, which appears to be promising, as the label continues to curate its stable of artists. However, its legacy wouldn’t be what it is today without the past contributions of acts signed to the label, such as Jadakiss, who was tapped as the closing act for the evening.
With a career spanning over 25 years, the raspy one had plenty of source material to choose from, opting to jump around his discography and reel off some of his hottest verses to date. From The Lox cuts like “Money, Power, Respect” and “We Gonna Make It” to features like Ruff Ryders’ “WWIII,” Jada went full metal jacket, capping off a night full of jams and vibes in masterful fashion.
See additional photos from the night below.