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Hip Hop started at SXSW in the ‘80’s, Not With The Fader Fort Interview With Keir Worthy By Matt Sonzala @Pushermania

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Keir Worthy with his partner Ward White, EPMD, Michael Mixer and Roger Troutman

This interview should have happened years ago. What you are about to read is by no means the definitive history of hip-hop at SXSW, nor is it the entire story of Keir Worthy. This interview covers the early career of a man I looked up to in the music industry in Texas, before I was even a blip on the radar. From the days when I was standing alone in the back of the clubs till 2am waiting for the performance to start. The days when I was recording Kids Jam on KTSU in Houston on cassettes to listen to the rest of the week. The days when my eyes were opening up to the powerful force that hip hop is.

Keir Worthy was hustling rap records in Texas since the mid 1980’s. More importantly though he was a mentor to so many people coming up in the Texas hip hop scene, especially as the Central Texas hip hop scene was just getting started. He was our internet, many of us got the music and the music news from him. He was not the only one, but he was there really doing it and never really was one to just scream his name. He just did the work and got results.

Keir was an integral part of the Austin music community around the time that SXSW started in 1987. They didn’t book a ton of hip hop until the late 90’s, and it didn’t become what it is today until the mid-2000’s, but Keir was booking hip hop showcases, and bringing urban music industry execs to the conference from its second year. That’s 1988. I wanted to do something bigger with Keir, and I will, but had to get this story out before SXSW 2018 kicks in because of a book put out by The Fader Magazine that makes the claim that they were the first to bring hip hop to SXSW, in 2005. I normally wouldn’t even care about this type of shit — so many people have told me to my face that they brought hip hop to SXSW first, I’m serious and it’s ludicrous — but in one paragraph in the books intro the Fader dudes said “The FADER brought hip hop to SXSW. It was an indie rock festival then, and nobody was booking rap acts — until The Fader came through with a Texas extravaganza featuring Bun B, Slim Thug, Chingo Bling and Paul Wall.”

That’s simply not true. And I booked that show they reference for them via a woman named Lin Yee Yuan who then worked at The Fader. And I don’t think Paul and Slim were on it (but could be wrong but I don’t have photos of them from that show so I think I am right). They also said that Amy Winehouse only played The Fader Fort which is not true and they said some things about Kendrick Lamar and TDE, when I remember the day Bavu Blakes gave Dave Free my number and we had our first conversation. Literally nothing at SXSW started with The Fader.

Anyway this is not about me, and it’s definitely not about The Fader Fort (who I fully admit helped hip hop to break through at SXSW).

This is about Keir Worthy and real hip hop history as it pertains to a certain era in Austin, when the little festival that could was just starting out in a shed behind the Austin Chronicle offices by a few guys with an idea. It’s crazy to see what it has become. Much respect to Andre Walker (who brought me in the SXSW game in 1993), Tee Double, Hip Hop Mecca and B. Hobbs for all they have done to enhance and expand the culture and the music at the festival, and extra loud and large respect to Craig Stewart who fought for me to be able to come in do what I did. And everyone else who supported and contributed and continue to this day.

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Keir Worthy

Matt: I want to talk to you about the early days of SXSW because I know that you were instrumental in more than just bringing hip hop shows and urban music into SXSW. You were there like day one. But I want to start out by recognizing the fact that when I was a teenager and hoping to get in the music industry, and was in Houston seeing people like yourself, and Steve Fournier, Captain Jack, etc, you were one of those people that I was looking up to as someone who was there from the home team representing on a major level in the industry. Tell me a bit about your start in the music industry.

Keir: Well I was in Detroit, I was born and raised in Detroit. I came to Houston in 1983 and did high school in Sharpstown and after that I went back to Detroit for a minute, maybe close to a year. I had actually gotten two scholarships to the University of Texas and I deferred them because I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, and I needed to raise some more money for school. So I went home and while I was home one of my best friends at the time is a brother named Jeff Mills and he and I tried to put together a show that was basically like what the Fresh Fest ended up being. We both DJed and did some break dancing, but we had some break dancers that were really good and we had some rappers and wanted to do a little state wide tour thing. In putting that together I stumbled across a record label called Megatone Records. Now Megatone had nothing to do with hip hop, it was a dance label, high energy dance music. Their biggest acts were Sylvester, The Weather Girls, they ended up having Billy Preston, and more. But for some reason my intuition said to contact them, and I met with a woman named Demetra Mavis. A very,very high energy woman. She said to me, “Look, I like your spirit, I like your energy, we need a person to do local promotions.” I said “OK I’m down with that, but I’m getting ready to go back to Houston and then I’m going to go to college.” She said, “Well that’s even better because Houston is one of our biggest markets.” So I got back to Houston and I started doing local promotions for them because they were starting a kind of R&B division, so I went out armed with some 12″’s. I promoted a song called “Can’t Keep Holding On” by Kenny James which by the grace of God ended up getting to #30 on the local station there, Majic 102. In doing promotion for that record I started going around and meeting all the DJs in town, guys who headed up the record pool and pretty much tried to tap myself into everything that was going on in Houston musically. That was my entry.

Matt: Was that in 1984?

Keir: Yeah that was 1984. I still DJed, and I would fill in for people at certain clubs. I met Captain Jack. I met Chill Will who used to do the Soul Train club. There was a brother who was hot down there called Damien Black, and also Steve Fournier, who was on the come up. This was pre-Rhinestone Wrangler which was Steve’s showcase venue. So I was promoting songs from Detroit, and songs that were hot in the Midwest and the East Coast, in Texas. There was a song that was a cutting record by Hashim called “The Soul,” everybody knows it by the opening phrase “It’s Tiiiime,” that was the record. Breakdancers loved it and everybody loved that record. I brought that with me and the cats in Houston had never heard it. They lost their minds. And that record ended up being an even extra entry for me, because guys would be like “Why don’t you come by and spin tonight and bring that record with you.” So I did almost every club in town behind having that record. And it took forever for other guys to get a copy of that record. So that ingratiated me even more with most of the DJs around town.

Matt: People don’t understand how important that was in those days. If you were a DJ you had to have the vinyl or you didn’t have the song.

Keir: Yeah you did, and there were no alternatives.

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EASY MO BEE, REDMAN aka Reggie Noble, KEIR WORTHY, OMAR EPPS, AWESOME TWO (Teddy Tedd & Special K), CHRIS ROCK and KOOL DJ RED ALERT

Matt: And a lot of these things weren’t for sale. If it was from Detroit, it wasn’t just in every record store in Houston unless someone was walking it in there.

Keir: Right and back then they had limited pressings and they were small independent labels who didn’t have the money to press as many copies as say, Sony. So that led me to dealing with everyone in Houston, meeting all the DJs, and since I had met other record promotion people from other companies, people like Manny Bella at Profile, cats from like Supertronics, Sleeping Bag, etc, I really started to get a lot more product. Stuff that I wasn’t even working, but I would play myself when DJing. I also DJed at a place called Showbiz Pizza, which was Chuck E. Cheese’s direct competition. They used to have really fierce battles for audience. So there was a guy named Rod at a Showbiz Pizza in Southwest Houston who allowed me to DJ and I started doing these teen parties for them and I got to get really creative with it. I got to do themes, and that allowed me to connect with even more people at the labels so I could do promotions and give aways. I did that until I went to University of Texas in Austin in the fall. I continued working for Megatone, but I got a call from Demetra and she said, “Hey, we’re not doing the r&b thing anymore. They were treating it like an experiment and we’re not doing it.” So I felt kind of out there like dang what am I gonna do? I still want to do the promotion thing so I got a wild idea to start a promotion and marketing company, in my second semester.

Matt: This was on the University of Texas campus?

Keir: Yes. I got to Austin and I started DJing all over campus. I was DJing multiple frat parties. I eventually started DJing Soul Night which was like the big, Black soul music night on campus. I did it every other Thursday at the student union. I had made a friend at UT when I got there named Ward White. Ward and I became best buddies and decided to do this company together. I had to talk him into it basically. You will enjoy this story. This is how it came together. I was getting product from all these independent labels and I said, “You know, there’s got to be a way to become a sort of satellite office for all these independent labels that can’t afford to have an office here.” There was a ton of them at the time and some had deals with majors and a lot of them didn’t. I started reaching out to labels and saying that I can be their guy. Ward was skeptical, and wasn’t sure if we could do this. I said “Look, we can do this! No money, no money down!” We were broke. We had an idea and that was it. And in trying to talk him into it, Run DMC happened to come to town, for their first ever show in Austin. And they played this spot called Liberty Lunch which ended up being fairly legendary. So when I heard they were coming, I called up Manny Bella at Profile…

Matt: Was that around 1984? For them to play Liberty Lunch that had to have been early in their career.

Keir: It was 1985. Summer of 1985. What it was is they were out on the Fresh Fest tour and were able to do a side date. Austin was a side date. So on Friday night they did a show in Austin, and Saturday night they did Fresh Fest at Astroworld. So I called Manny and told him I wanted to go to the show. And he said “Alright let me call you back.” Remember there was no cell phones at that time, no internet, no Snapchat. So I had to sit around and wait for that phone call. So he calls me back and he tells me they are at some little hotel up heading north and told me to call their road manager, Andre Harrell. So I call Andre and he was like “Alright meet us at the venue, we’ll take care of you.” Now I have been in the business for a long time and seen a lot of shows, it was one of the most incredible shows ever. Run DMC was just balls out and the stage at Liberty Lunch would bounce, so the record would jump. This is how I knew Jam Master Jay was a master DJ. I watched him catch the needle in mid air and put it back down on beat when it would jump. He was ridiculous, he was so underrated as a live DJ. They killed the show and people went berzerk. So after the show, they wanted to get out of there and impatient like New Yorkers can be, they were like “Where’s our ride?” They said “Hey, y’all got a car?” And we all piled into Wards car and it was him, me, Andre Harrell, Run, DMC and Jam Master Jay, to go back to the hotel. You know, we were over the top. We were like “WE HAVE RUN DMC IN THE CAR!” So we get back to the hotel and they say to us “Yo, y’all gonna be at the show tomorrow in Houston?” and we said yes, and you know, after the guys leave we drive off and Ward looks at me and he’s like, “OK, I’m in. We’re doing this company.”

Matt: I have to ask, do you remember who would have opened that show?

Keir: No. I don’t think they had an opener, but we got there right when they started. I was sitting around waiting for that phone call man. So we did go down to Houston for the show. We had to be in Houston no matter what. So we had backstage passes for that night and we went and got them laminated, and it was the second Fresh Fest tour. It was out of control man. This was hip hop at its finest. Run DMC, Whodini, Fat Boys, Rocksteady Crew, New York City Breakers, it was bananas. And you know how Houston fans were. So they were at Astroworld in this amusement park. It was thousands and thousands of kids. After the show they stayed across the street at the Astro Hotel and everybody found out about it. Man there had to be like 6,000 kids out there for most of the night trying to meet them. It was insane.

Matt: Ward White later became a huge entertainment attorney. He still represents Erykah Badu I think right?

Keir: He sure does, from the start of her career.

Matt: You mentioned being the regional connect for these labels in Texas but were there already regional offices in Dallas at the time? Because I remember that Dallas was like a hub for satellite offices.

Keir: The only people who had offices were the majors. MCA, Warner, CBS and their affiliated labels, it wasn’t Sony yet. They all had satellite offices. And I knew all those reps also, but for independents, no. At that time if an independent hip hop record came to Texas it probably came through us, for a while. Boogie Down productions first album on B-Boy Records, Joeski Love, everything on Sleeping Bag from Mantronix to Just-ice to T La Rock, all that stuff. When Uptown first started we did their first products. We did Heavy D, we did Al B Sure. Actually the first record that actually gave us our first respect was from a label called Sugarscoop, Importe/12 out of New York. They were really known at the time for having “Hip Hop, Be Bop (Don’t Stop)” by Man Parrish which was a big record for dancers and breakers. Then they had Man Parrish featuring Freeze Force, “Boogie Down (Bronx)” and that was the first really big record that we really did. That song kind of put us on the map and gave us some respect with New York cats because it was such a New York record. They were surprised we got that record happening in Texas. Because we would call people up there and they would say “There’s people in Texas? Who like Hip Hop? All we heard about is steers and queers…”

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Professor Griff, Keir Worthy and Chuck D

Matt: Man I can only imagine how you went through that in the 80’s but they were still saying that shit in the 90’s. It was driving me crazy.

Keir: What’s even worse is I was in Austin, I wasn’t even in Houston at the time. I wasn’t in a major center. No one was checking for Austin at the time, but we were like “Hey look, we can get you results.” And when they saw these records showing up with some sales, they were like “Hey something is going on here.” So after a while we started getting calls instead of having to make calls.

Matt: South By Southwest starts this week. It’s been going on since 1987 and I know that you were someone who had the vision to utilize things like the New Music Seminar in its earliest stage and things like this. Can you tell me about what you remember about those early days here before SXSW? I know you were a part of it pretty much from Day One, if not before.

Keir: Well, to be completely honest, the cats who started SXSW, it was Roland Swenson, Louis Black and Louis Meyers…

Matt: You know Louis Meyers passed away? Two years ago, right at the start of SXSW 2016.

Keir: Aw man, no! He was a really great guy. Not that the other guys weren’t cool, but he just had personality man. He was a really congenial guy and smart and affable. Great guy. Roland is really cool but he was a lot more reserved and laid back. But Louis Meyers, man that guy had that energy.

Matt: He was the face of SXSW to me when I was young for sure.

Keir: So what happened was, this is the story that I know about SXSW. The guys at The Chronicle, it was always kind of their version of the Village Voice, the Austin Chronicle. They decided to do a music festival kind of on the trail of the New Music Seminar in New York, which was started by Tom Silverman who runs and owns Tommy Boy Records. They were also one of our clients. They were an incredible force in hip hop and dance music. Everything from Stetsasonic to De La Soul, Queen Latifah, TKA, all that stuff. So they wanted to do a festival similar to New Music Seminar and it was a chance for them to meet their rock and roll heroes. It was definitely a rock leaning affair, because that was the predominant vibe for the guys who ran the Chronicle, you know the post peace, love and hippy vibes, that was Austin’s thing. So they knew I had been working on the hip hop and on the urban tip and they told me they wanted me to come in and help them with that component. So even more than booking hip hop shows, I was trying to get them panelists. I reached out to Nelson George who was writing for the Village Voice. Greg Tate and so on. I brought the editor from Hype Magazine down for a panel. Benny Medina, who was head of a&r at Warner Brothers and later went on to do The Fresh Prince of Bel Aire, and worked with Prince. He is now running J-Lo’s career. So I reached out to those guys to come and be kind of the Black piece to the conference. Now it was not what it is now, over the top global, but Black music was still very viable. So that’s how I got started. They also had me as a panelist the first year, and they had me reaching out to people the second year. Kind of on the administrative side and trying to pull in talent and what not. That’s when I ended up booking the first hip hop stuff they ever did. We had Ultramagnetic MCs, you know crazy ass Kool Keith man.

Matt: Who to this day still comes to SXSW.

Keir: They actually stayed at my crib one night before they go their hotels. I had YZ and his crew out of Jersey.

Matt: The “Thinking of a Master Plan” video was shot in Houston!

Keir: Yeah because they all loved Texas! At one point his whole crew all lived in Texas.

Matt: Yeah man Be-Fyne and Pumis and them came to Houston in those days.

Keir: I spoke to Fyne a month ago or so, he is in DC, and Pumis is still in Houston. They really did fall in love with the place when they came down. They were on the bill, Decadent Dub Team, my man Jeff Liles from Dallas. I think we had Nemesis from Dallas on that show too. We had some local acts too, we had Project Crew, Gary G aka Kingpin Gary G, Cooly Girls, and I think one other local act, oh also the first performance for my man Citizen Cope, who became a huge alternative artist. Ward and I were the first people to manage Citizen Cope, under our banner. It was a really, really excellent show. We were just glad to get something done man.

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Keir with Erykah Badu, Amp Fiddler and Jay Electronica

Matt: But weren’t you even traveling with the SXSW founders a bit and going to New Music Seminar with them?

Keir: Well what happened with that was I ended up getting a job with Def Jam who was a client.

Matt: That’s how I first heard of you.

Keir: They were one of our clients so we did promotion for LL Cool J, Slick Rick, Public Enemy, Chuck D and I are good buddies to this day. So when they finally decided to have a staff I became one of the first regionals. My territory was Texas to Michigan, I had Missouri, Louisiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, etc. I did some travelling then. After that I ended up getting the position at Elektra and was their first national promotions and marketing director for the first ever rap department at a major. It was a department of two, myself and Dante Ross. Dante did A&R, I did Promotions and Marketing. So I went to New York in 1990, right before the New Music Seminar. And I had the Austin contingency come up and I took those guys around, tried to introduce them to everybody possible. I was still very Texas, still very Austin hip hop oriented. I wanted to see these guys win. Like I said we had managed some cats, Citizen Cope, Chuk and Quince, and later Papa Chuk ended up getting a deal with Pendulum under Elektra after I left. Same label as Digable Planets. Pendulum was started by a guy named Ruben Rodriguez, he is still a colleague of mine to this day. He was previously the head of promotions at Sony. He was a well respected record man. He came in to Elektra and got a sub-label called Pendulum and put out Digable Planets and they blew up. And he signed Papa Chuk from Austin.

Matt: I remember when Papa Chuk was coming out, we were so excited.

Keir: Yeah, that was big. I hate that they didn’t get the duo — Chuk & Quince, but you know sometimes that happens. So the guys they came up and I thought they made an admirable showing. Roland came up with the Austin contingency and I guess he was doing his intel to put towards SXSW, and they had success and continue to have success. It’s huge.

Matt: I know that Nemesis was at Liberty Lunch during SXSW one year, do you have a good memory of how those shows were perceived at the time?

Keir: Everyone did pretty well. Let’s be honest, a lot of artists in hip hop back then didn’t really have a chance to perform much. You would make your songs and maybe get played around your city, around your region but it was very rare that you would get the chance to go do it live.

Matt: Well people do not understand that back then it wasn’t even that long ago that there weren’t a lot of hip hop tours. The venues were terrified of even the most conscious and cool hip hop. De La Soul would even be looked upon as a potential liability. You would have to get super huge insurance just to have rap acts in your venue if the venue was even open to do it. It wasn’t like today. And it’s not perfect today.

Keir: People have to understand the context. Rap records weren’t getting played on radio. There was a really large anti hip hop sentiment. Go find Ice Cube’s first album. There’s a skit that is like a radio DJ saying “We won’t be playing rap, get that shit out of here.” And that was real. It was very real. It was segmented. It might have played during the mix show. Or maybe some sort of night time slot to get the kids or whatever. Otherwise, a rap record making it into day time rotation, that was serious business. It eventually happened, but it wasn’t the norm. It was very much an underground situation. So you weren’t getting to play the large clubs unless you were like Run DMC and had a huge record. Even Ice T. We worked Ice T’s first records. “6 in the Morning” was a hip hop classic, but it wasn’t over ground. It wasn’t allowing Ice T to go play an arena at the time. He wasn’t the same guy then they he is now from a recognition factor.

Matt: Man I tell my kids all the time, back in the day everybody definitely did not like hip hop. Nowadays you see rednecks jammin’ it. It was hated! And myself, it’s funny because I did an interview with this podcast called The Feedbak and they asked me how I got into hip hop, and I haven’t been asked that in a long time! When I was younger though, everyone was like “How did YOU get into hip hop? Why?”

Keir: If you ever saw the movie Brown Sugar and actually the writer is a good friend of mine. He used to have a show called Krush Video, and became an editor at The Source. Anyway, he really did reflect our life very well. if you remember when the lead character Dre got with Mos Def to go try and do this label he was sitting up in the radio stations all the time waiting to get seen. It was very real. I sat up in K104 and Majic 102 many, many days trying to get some props. Trying to get them to check these records. Which you know, it made me come up with other ideas to put pressure on these major stations to play these records. And the pressure points came from dealing with the smaller stations around the state, college stations, community stations and going out and getting kids at high school in various parts of the city, primarily in Houston and Dallas and some in San Antonio, and they really became street teams. We did this in like 1986. We had a bunch of kids in high school across Texas and we would give them stickers and t-shirts and whatever promo stuff we had, and they were all kind of cool, like the “influencers’ of their groups and we would say “hey, give these to your friends, talk it up.” We gave them all the phone numbers to the radio stations and the record stores and we said call these places up and request this stuff, and that was the genesis of the whole street team thing. That was before I went to Def Jam or any of that, we were doing our own independent things. And it worked. Because once you got pressure from outside sources you started looking like a sucker if you weren’t playing these songs. So songs like Chubb Rock — “Rock and Roll Dude,” became big on regular radio. UTFO — “Cold Want To Be With Me” became big. Mantronix — “Bassline” and “Fresh Is The Word” started getting played on radio. So by the time Heavy D’s “Overweight Lover” came out we had entree already.

Matt: Those early days when Ultramagnetic and them were at SXSW were they on straight up hip hop showcases? Or was there a mix of artists on the shows?

Keir: It was a showcase that I put together. These guys weren’t on anyone elses show. It was a straight rap showcase. Rap was hated, rap was rebellious, don’t play rap music. So we had a rap showcase period. And all these guys were on that show. For some of the people who performed it was their first time being on a stage like that. The locals etc, for some it was the first time.

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Jesse Jackson, Keir Worthy

Matt: Well that was one of the beautiful things about SXSW and the history of it. That’s kind of what it was for. It was a place to get in front of a whole new audience, and the industry and it was a sort of proving ground. Moving on a bit, I am looking at this article from August of 1990 in the Austin American Statesman by Michael MacCambridge about what you did in Austin but more about you moving to New York to take the job at Elektra, and in the third paragraph it says something that really kind of moves me because this is 28 years ago and it says “He moved in time to attend the New Music Seminar where three rap acts were among the dozen Austin bands playing showcase gigs. Texas’s strong presence didn’t shake the world but it did have an impact and showed that Austin’s burgeoning hip hop scene might pose a viable force in the not-so-distant future.” Straight up there has probably been an article in the Statesman or the Chronicle that said almost the exact same words in the past six months.

Keir: Really?

Matt: Yes, they still say that the Austin hip hop scene could do this, could do that, and this was written in 1990.

Keir: Michael MacCambridge was one of the first people to cover us. And you know things are cyclical. You thought they would have broken through though basically.

Matt: No not that they would have broken through, it’s more like the more things change the more they stay the same. Everybody thinks they are so groundbreaking and part of the reason we are doing this interview, we have talked about this for years and I actually want to do something bigger with you, because this history is important. There is a lot of Black history in Austin but so much of it gets pushed under the rug so bad. I’m sorry but this is not the liberal oasis people like to say it is. It’s pretty cool but there’s a lot of things that have been swept under the rug for so long and I think your story is really important because you were a pioneer in all of this. One of the reasons we are talking about all this is not just because of what the Fader book said, but because so many people try to rewrite history and want to scream “I did this, I did that,” and man I did some damn things but I fully recognize that I just booked some damn shows. It was great, and fun, and I might have helped some people, but this was nothing new. Not just with SXSW. Promoters are often really crazy man. They talk about their shows like they changed the world, they changed so many things. Man. I’ve been going to shows since I was like 6 years old. I’m a music head, I like music a lot, this is not new. Some of the people who came after you and before me, in other cities, countries, it’s cool, it’s all great, but calm down. I personally want you to toot your horn a little bit because I don’t hear shit about Keir Worthy and the real story is you have done all of this for so many years and you are still doing it, and when I read that paragraph that’s what I want artists to think about. I want them to see how long this has been going on here. I want them to say “Oh, maybe I should focus on myself. This hasn’t worked out yet. And won’t.”

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Keir: You know here’s the thing, and Ward and I have this discussion all the time. And Ward has become a very accomplished entertainment attorney, and one of the things we discuss is we hit an era in the mid-90’s where it became “Hey, toot your horn, I’m the dude. I’m the guy behind the guy.” And you had people on the business side being out front as much as the artist. We happened to come from an era where it was about doing the work and your merit came from doing the work. You did your thing and hopefully you got recognized and you got your props from there. And things shifted but that was our mindset that we maintained. We were fortunate to come up under guys who really helped to pioneer Black music on the business side. Guys who had been in the game 25 years tooted us, gave us a road map to doing this. So it was always about doing the work and really being behind the scenes and that was that. We didn’t think about it. So when the paradigm shifted, that wasn’t us. And it still isn’t to a certain degree but it’s something that you have to do. I do believe in the historical ramifications of things. One of the reasons I am motivated to do certain things is because I read about folks who did it. And you don’t always realize that you are transitioning into one of those people who did it. So you’re just kind of head down, running toward the finish line all the time. But yeah, we did, we pioneered quite a few things. We slept on floors just to do this. We were doing it for hip hop but we just didn’t beat our chests about it. We believed in the music. I’ve always been a music lover. I was born and raised in a music city. Detroit has an incredible legacy of music from every aspect, r&b, funk and rock and punk and various genres came out of the city and I was immersed in music. Like techno! The guys who started the genre, I grew up with those guys. Derrick May, Jeff Mills, Juan Atkins, I knew all those cats. I did promotion for Juan’s label which was the first techno label ever called Metroplex, we did promotions for that. So it was all music for me. Hip Hop just happened to be the music, dead center, bullseye of my era. I grew up listening to jazz. We did promotion for jazz artists. We did promotion for Latin artists. We promoted the Blues. There was a label called Edge Records started by Al Bell. If anyone knows about Al Bell, he was a guy who was very, very famous because he worked with Stax. He also ended up being the person behind “Whoop There It Is.” Al was a mentor and a friend to us, and when he started Edge Records he gave us an opportunity to promote that. So we did a full range of music because we were music lovers. Hip hop just happened to be the thing that was most prominent and stuck.

Matt: Man those were the days and that’s a different story from mine but it’s similar. People would ask me why did I think SXSW should have more hip hop and my thing was because it’s music. It’s a culture. I mean, why not? And honestly right after you left, I got to work with Andre Walker, who was booking the hip hop at SXSW in 1994–1996. He booked some legendary shows including Erykah Badu’s 1996 show where she ended up getting a deal. Andre brought you up all the time, he was definitely following your lead there.

Keir: Right, I came back in like 1995 and did a panel. I would have kept doing it after I moved to New York, but I got super busy here.

Matt: Well I remember 1991 or 1992, and one of those years was the first year I went to SXSW and my friend Tamara Kowalski and her boyfriend named Trash told me they were going to Austin for some music thing. I don’t even know if they said “music festival” and I am pretty sure they didn’t say SXSW, I was just coming to Austin to check out some music thing with a lot of bands so we went and I got a Chronicle on arrival and I was like “Whoa! All these shows are happening?” And we just went to random things. But the next year I came down with some friends and the first show I went to was a hip hop show. I am pretty sure that was the first time I saw Austin’s MC Overlord. And if I remember correctly he had two male dancers, a black guy and a white guy and they had matching overall shorts outfits with one of the straps hanging to the side and they were going off and Overlord was rapping and he was super dope.

Keir: Man! I remember MC Overlord. I was thinking about him recently, what is he doing these days?

Matt: He is still MC Overlord but he also does childrens rap under the name Big Don and the childrens rap is actually really good!

Keir: Woooow!

Matt: I remember that show was at the Sanitarium which is now Elysium. And there were some really bad groups on that show too. I remember being at that show right at 8pm and there were like 10 people there and I was seeing independent hip hop. And I remember another show I saw at an outside venue with The Cooly Girls and Bad Mutha Goose, and NoDoz from Houston. Definitely at SXSW.

Keir: I was just going to bring up Bad Mutha Goose! They ended up doing one of the showcases and they were kind of like the Sly and the Family Stone of rap at the time.

Matt: Man they bridged the gap and man Tim Kerr is a musical genius. He is one of the greats of Austin music history for sure. From the Big Boys to Poison 13 to Bad Mutha Goose and so many bands. I know he was helping out a lot of artists back in those early days. And I remember going to that show because I always went to see Bad Mutha Goose. It was outside in a parking lot or something.

Keir: Bad Mutha Goose was really doing it for a minute.

Matt: It was live too! I was like 18 years old and thought it was amazing.

Keir: They were like Sly and the Family Stone. They were multicultural and they were doing like Austin alternative with some funk and hip hop and it was a real party band. We got into that. I think the biggest hindrance at the time, I coined the phrase and it was called small timers. A lot of people thought that they were larger than they were but they never got out of the market. Bad Mutha Goose did but…

Matt: Again, nothing’s changed man. Nothing.

Keir: They never had anything to judge it again so they did things from the stance and the perspective that they made it already. And I was always like “Dude, you really got to do some more work to get out of here.” You don’t have to move away but you have to get out of there and make a name for people to recognize who you are and what you do.

Matt: Well my #1 advice to rappers in Austin is to go to Houston every couple of weeks at least. There’s six million people in that metro area and it is a hip hop city. San Antonio is bigger than Dallas now. San Antonio is #2 in Texas now and it’s only an hour away. Dallas is a Music business city and a creative city as well. We have major cities so close to us to drive to so easily. It’s there just go. Do it. Try. Austin is not that big, it’s getting bigger but the people moving here now are not thinking about local hip hop. Most are probably not even music fans. They come for jobs.

Keir: Travelling and touring gives you a perspective. It shows you what you are really doing and where you are and lets you check yourself up against other artists out there. It’s like if you are a basketball player and you go to other cities and you playing ball when you get to those cities. You want to see how you fair against the players in that city. You checking the flavors, you checking the styles, you checking the different moves, and you know, you got to get your journeyman on. And same thing with this, and especially now that we are in a really strange time or transition where live performances have become important again. You now support your music with your live performance. That is how you make your money because sales are not what they used to be. You have to show and prove on the live tip.

(There is a lot more that could be said about this man. Every conversation we have goes upwards of two hours. The history is incredible but this interview is long enough and has a specific purpose. Maybe one day I will publish the entire talk as a podcast, and ideally one day I will bring him back to Texas to do a live talk where we can expand on the entire history. Lots of people worked to bring this music and culture to where it is today, and almost all of the best ones went unheralded. This convo is only a start. The history of hip hop in Texas has been distorted and ignored in so many ways, and I think it’s time to start telling the whole story. Have fun at SXSW, I’m going to Mexico.)

hiphop7Word to Kurts Blow

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