The nature of Springboard South was evident just looking for parking on St. Emanuel to get to the event at Warehouse Live on Friday night.
The upstart, three-day music fest opened the evening with its hip hop and R&B acts. The dearth of available street parking had little to do with Springboard, though. The cars that flooded the area were mostly driven by rap fans who were headed to BBVA Compass Stadium for the H-Town Beat Down.
Maybe Springboard's organizers intentionally scheduled these acts Friday night to capture some of the foot traffic departing the soccer stadium after hearing Kendrick Lamar and a host of established rap acts. It could have been pure coincidence. Either way, the symbiosis wasn't lost on the handful of us there to watch Springboard's emerging rappers and soulful singers. You had to be careful walking into Warehouse to not trip over the umbilical cord that connected these acts from those performing a stadium show just steps away in downtown Houston.
The rap acts were prominently grouped into the more intimate Studio room at Warehouse Live. Good thing, since they played 15-minute sets to scarce crowds the entire night. That says a lot less about them as talents than it does about Houston music fans. More on that in a bit.
I hadn't even slurped the foam from my first beer when I'd already found a Google-worthy act, Trap Sensei. Rapper Mike Leww hit the stage around 8 o'clock with some 1 a.m. energy and had heads bobbing to "Embrace the Enemies." That's a standout track on the Trap Sensei Soundcloud page, and sounds even better chopped.
When Austin rapper Read Richarts was done with his set, I knew I was in the right place. First, who knew there were rappers amid the indie-rockers in the ATX? And second, who knew there was one as good as Richarts? He has a Kanye-like tenor to his voice and his music sounds like places west of Houston, even further west than Austin. "B.A.L.L. (Be a Living Legend)" stuck with me.
Ike Allday took the stage looking like the guy next door. The one whose rhymes are clear and refreshing as glacier waters. He might be the only Houston rapper who could pull off a line like "ever since she heard my CD, she's been trying to grab my wee-wee." His "Cigarillos" video features more you-oughta-know talent from singer Kayla Robison. He was followed by Keem the Franchize, who wore his heart on his shirt; it read, "Cancer Survivor." Without getting into the gory details, he kicked off his set by telling us he'd been in a three-year battle and was happy to be alive and performing for us. Then he proved it with a solid, upbeat set. Bonus points for doing his first two songs while wearing a dope-ass backpack shaped like an NES controller.
Over in the Ballroom, the music leaned to R&B and, as could be expected, there were some stellar voices. I played my best Idol judge and put through to the next round two big talents, Bel-Ami and Wayne Brezz. The former sang in front of a full live band, which was nice considering all the DJ-driven sets we'd heard. He had wifey swooning to "(U Do) That Thing," a throwback jam. Being from The Clarke, I'm happy to hear any talent coming from South Post Oak area, so my ears perked up when Wayne Brezz, a Willowridge grad, was introduced. He did the rest with like-butter vocals.
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While they were getting suavecito in the Ballroom, they were getting serious back in the Studio. A personal favorite, Jon Black, was getting his fuse lit by some technical difficulties that threatened to cut into his 15 minutes. He doesn't need much to spark a brash attitude that befits his countercultural rhymes. I particularly enjoyed his "shout out" to HPD for being in the house and that he told us he came to H-town from San Diego mostly because of UGK. Before he really got into things, he called out a girl for giving him "stink face"; by the end of his set, she and a crowd she'd come with were doing call-and-response with him.
It's a long story that's of no interest to you, but there may not be a bigger fan of the song "Too Turned Up to Go Home" than my middle-aged wife. This is a woman who once told me she thought the Run DMC/Beastie Boys show we'd just seen was "too loud."
She and a handful of others got crunk with Duck and Bigg Fatts, who teamed for this local hit. They both did solo sets that night. Jointly or separately, their music had the most "Houston" feel to it, the flow and beats that people recognize as from here. They're two artists who could be Houston's next breakout rappers, and played to mostly empty space Friday night.
There were lots of music fans in the area, but not enough -- or not enough adventurous ones -- to stop by Springboard to see what's coming next. It was a bitter pill to swallow when chatting with Read Richarts, the Austinite who was performing his first Houston show ever to a lot of empty chairs in a city that's supposed to be the state's rap stronghold.
"I think it was good. For me, this is definitely a good thing, to get in front of a Houston crowd and Houston artists and get out there and network," he said. He looked over his shoulder towards BBVA and reminded me, "That's the goal. To be in there."
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