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Bay Area Hip-Hop Domination at SXSW 2011

I'll be the first to admit that I've always been hesitant to check Erk Tha Jerk. Not like I haven't ever dug someone with a ridiculous handle – word to Trick Daddy – but I get a lot of shit in my inbox, and sometimes it's easiest to judge a book by the author's name. I don't open shit from Lil Young or Young Commercial either, though perhaps I should start.

Stupid me. Bay Area rapper Erk is a hella competent MC, capable of bridging several sides of the Bay Area's rap landscape – all of which were represented at this week's Audible Treats showcase. He's a smart dude with some jumpy, dare I say dumb-catchy tracks, and even I'll admit that rap needs more cats who inspire us to use our legs and brains. Call it post-hyphy if you want, but I won't.

As an East Coast snob who digs striking beats and powerhouse bravado, I've always shied away from more reclined Frisco acts – a clear result of my not having seen most of them live. This show, while dotted with sets by non-Bay acts like Black Milk (who slayed in his turn), was a true testament to not only the skill level in northern Cali, but to the scene's ingrained camaraderie.

The first few sets that I saw melted into one another seamlessly, as Erk blasted alongside Moe Green, and then as TRUTHLiVE joined the latter. Though all bring different flavors – from TRUTH's justice and Green's proletariat steeze to Erk's tomfoolery – they collaborated with zeal and gusto, no doubt the product of their rising through the ranks together.

With one Nate Dogg tribute and a “Fuck Bush” salute in the bag, the Bay gang brought up scene stalwart Mistah F.A.B. to lay it on. From there – and I was whacked, so my order may be screwed – Zion I and The Grouch spat selections from their next Heroes project. It's a deep album, but one that played out exceptionally well thanks to a receptive crowd amped on staples like Grouch's bohemian rhapsody “Artsy.”



F.A.B., Grouch, and Zion I, of course, weren't the only vets in tow, as Opio and Casual also crashed the Scoot. It was a bit disappointing that just two Hieroglyphics showed to party, but their set, a fulfilling mash of old, new, and unpredictable, made up for it. In fact just one Opio freestyle was enough to make me realize why Hiero is a Bay team that I've always gravitated to – it's because I've seen them rock so many times.

SXSW and no other entity has the ability to turn me onto artists who I wouldn't typically give a chance move me. Even for a cat whose album tracks I wouldn't ordinarily appreciate, live shows come down to straight spitting, and how fast you can think on your feet. This whole cast – from Moe and Erk to Grouch and Hiero – delivered like their hub depended on it. I still don't get E-40 (until further notice, at least), but I'm pretty sure my next Cali rap trip will bring me north of Los Angeles.

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