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The Girls of Hip Hop

From the buzzy Weird City Hip Hop Festival to the stylish ladies on the mic, Austin's urban music scene is on the rise.

It’s all any local talks about these days: the ghost of ACL past…the glory days of SXSW…and we admit we already feel ourselves getting nostalgic for when Fun Fun Fun Fest wasn’t so…crowded. It’s both a blessing and a curse to live in a city defined by its unmatched music scene. But still, we can’t help but reminisce about the early days of our favorite music festivals, before seeing emerging new talents meant turning downtown into this city’s worst nightmare. And secretly, we just take pleasure in knowing we were first to discover the next big artist. Well, don’t despair. By the grace of Austin Mic Exchange (AMX), a community that fosters a network of hip hop artists working together in Austin, there’s now a brand spanking new festival for music lovers to flock to: Weird City Hip Hop Festival.

Under the direction of Adam Protextor, Leah Manners, and Aaron Miller of AMX, the festival debuted this past September after three months of intense planning. The three-day event brought much needed attention to the city’s under appreciated hip hop and rap scene with 85 artists including national and local acts. Taking place at venues including Beerland, Holy Mountain, The North Door, Red 7, and festival partner Empire Control Room, the inaugural festival also hosted educational panels and workshops on songwriting, performance, production, break dancing, and street art. We caught up with a few emerging women who showcased their talent at this year’s fest. Keep them on your radar, and mark your calendars for this coming year’s Weird City Festival, September 18-21. You’ll want to be there before it’s attracting festival goers from all over the world.

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Qi Dada of Riders Against the Storm

Divine intervention brought Qi Dada and husband Chaka Mpeanaji to Austin, she says, where they refocused their creative energies to form the popular hip hop band, Riders Against The Storm. Known for their heartfelt spirit and infectious live performances, the group has earned some serious attention and accolades in the last three years. Austin Chronicle crowned them Band of the Year, as well as Best Hip Hop Band for 2013-2014, and last year they took Band of the Year at the 32nd annual Austin Music Awards. Even still, anyone who has been graced by Qi Dada knows that the duo is not in it for the awards, but for the spiritual connection forged between their music and their fans. In fact, teaming up with DJ Chorizo Funk to form Body Rock, an underground dance party that takes place each month at Sahara Lounge, is their most celebrated accomplishment. “Body Rock is an all souls church — the most diverse community of people you can find under one roof,” Qi Dada says. “People from all walks of life in Austin join us to dance, to release, and to heal.” For her, being on stage is akin to being responsible for the souls in the room, and it is a job she holds sacred. Add expanding the Body Rock experience to Empire Control Room later this year, as well as a new album set to release this summer, and Qi Dada’s agenda is looking packed. But she doesn’t mind. She embraces it with open arms. She says, “I’m always happy about what the divine brings through me for people.”

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Megz Kelli of Magna Carda

“You can count on Magna Carda to be true and genuine to our craft. We strive to be as authentic as possible,” promises Megz Kelli, the rapper and co-founder of the emerging hip hop group. Listen to one of their tracks and you’ll be happy to find that it’s a promise they have kept. In a city overflowing with musicians, Magna Carda affirms our faith that it’s still possible to find a distinct sound amidst all the noise. For those unfamiliar, their hip hop is infused with musical elements from different time periods and genres. “If you’re picking up on the jazz or the blues or the soul, you’re picking up pieces of the past that we like to incorporate into our music,” Kelli says. “There’s a lot of history in it.” As for their own history, the group came to be after Megz met her creative partner Dougie Do at St. Edward’s University in 2012. After creating together and earning loud praise from their first mixtape, the duo decided to expand and added members Eric Nikolaides, Derek Van Wagner, and Alvin Warren. Currently, the group is catching their breath after just putting out two major projects in a matter of months, (“Van Geaux” release this past fall and “Like It Is” in December) before the March music mayhem begins. Seasoned veterans to SXSW (last year they played eight shows!), they’ll return this year at BMI’s showcase, scheduled for Thursday, March 19.

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Anya

“Sometimes the stars just align, and the result is magical.” You needn’t any formal lesson in astrology to see that the cosmos have certainly been shifting for Anya, the Austin-based lyricist and hip hop artist who was just nominated as a contender for Emerging Artist of 2014 in indie music blog The Deli. Her self-titled album is soon to be released, and much like her debut album, The Unkind Summer, her lyrics return to a message of self-empowerment — a message she says “a lot of us need to hear.” At a young age, she found her confidence and power standing in front of a microphone when her father taught her how to deliver the legendary “I Have a Dream” speech. “Learning that speech taught me more about dynamics and expression than anything else,” Anya says. “In learning that speech and delivering it around Austin as a kid, I got to see how the audience responded to the rise and fall of my voice or how they reacted to certain verbal cadences. I think that’s where it all started for me.” She continues to deliver powerful messages in her music today and can be found playing at some of her favorite venues such as Empire Control Room, Flamingo Cantina, and Mohawk, where she shares her life with audiences. “Anything I write about is going to be a true-to-life experience,” she says about her music. “I do love watching well-written movies and TV shows, and every now and then I’ll mix in an interesting turn of phrase I pick up,” she adds. “We could comb through my first album and literally pick out all the Game of Thrones references!”

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KB the Boo Bonic

“I never want anyone to be like ‘Oh she’s good for a girl,’” the young rapper says. “I want them to be like ‘Damn. She’s a really good emcee!’” Over the last 10 years, KB the Boo Bonic has gained a nuanced insight into the Austin hip hop scene, watching it develop and flourish and finally begin to garner some of the attention it deserves. But she wasn’t just passively witnessing the changes; she was making them. Ever since tapping into her gift for putting words together in high school, the ‘femcee’ has been freestyling her way to the top. Her big break came when she met an inspiring producer and recorded her debut album at F.A.M. Studios in San Antonio. Just last month, she released her sophomore album Farrah Flossit — an album where she turned more to themes of female empowerment. But at the end of the day, her music is universal. “It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female.” Her message is for people who are chasing their dreams, she says. “I’m about people who are raising their kids, people who are working hard,” she says. “Just people who are doing positive things.”

Credits

Photography by Wynn Myers

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