by Nick Hanover
Back in August, the Austin Chronicle put Quin NFN, The Teeta and Kenny Gee (now rebranded as WhooKilledKenny) on the cover, declaring the trio “the next generation of Austin hip hop,” celebrating them for their style and commercial prospects, as well as their ability to foster a scene of their own outside of the traditional Austin music community. This week, the top tastemakers at Pitchfork picked up that story, singling out Quin while offering a surface level exploration of Austin’s “emerging rap scene.” While the Pitchfork coverage is a major break for Austin hip hop, it barely scratched the surface of the exciting new wave of Austin hip hop acts, primarily sticking to other artists within that core trio’s community, and notably neglected to mention a single woman. This is why we’ve decided to offer up a primer of our own, adding to the artists the Chronicle and Pitchfork already mentioned in order to provide what we hope is a fuller overview of what has become one of the most exciting and diverse realms of Austin music, complete with a Spotify playlist for further exploration.
Comprised of Kydd Jones, Tank Washington, Cory Kendrix and producer Haris Qureshi, LNS Crew is one of the most promising collectives in Austin music period, taking a Wu-Tang approach to their careers as they join forces on group releases as well as solo material and side projects. Kydd is the most visible of the crew, a combination of RZA and Ghostface Killah, popping up on high profile tours with Chuck D and others, while churning out a remarkable amount of production work of his own. Tank occupies the Raekwon slot with incredibly strong, narrative driven solo albums while Kendrix, now based out of Denver, has evolved into a surprisingly adept electro R&B singer, consistently releasing solo material that positions him somewhere between Frank Ocean and the Weeknd. And Qureshi has become one of the most in demand producers in the city, providing beats for Sertified, Anastasia and outsiders like the LA-based Ike. With their ability to straddle classic and modern styles, LNS are perfectly situated for a major breakout.
If you ask Austin audiences who comes to mind first when defining Austin hip hop, a large portion of them would likely respond “Magna Carda.” Austin’s answer to the Roots have built up a major fanbase both in the city and abroad with their thrilling live shows, an unrivaled combination of finely honed instrumental chops and verbal daredevilry courtesy of Megz Kelli. But as recent tracks like “Joccin'” prove, Dougie Do’s production is the group’s secret weapon, as likely to surprise you with sinister synth detours as it is to comfort you with jazzy expressionism. Perhaps more than any other local act, Magna Carda is the finest example of this city’s cornucopia of sounds.
Like Quin NFN, Max Wells is an incredibly ambitious and stylish young artist willing to do whatever it takes to make it big. Unlike Quin, though, Max Wells took the additional step of relocating to LA, where he has been merging the melodic club rap sound he perfected in Austin with increasingly more electro leaning production. Last year’s ThinkTooMuch EP was his big Austin sendoff, with standout single “Guidance” showcasing the dark, almost post-punk textures that made Max Wells stand out from Austin’s too frequently derivative trap hopefuls. But since the LA move, Wells has expanded his sonic palette to include more California sun, as is the case on his current, aptly named Soundcloud hit “Fantasy.” Austin has been dealing with California expats trying to take over our city for years, it’s about time one of our own went and did the opposite.
Abhi the Nomad
Riders Against the Storm
Mindz of a Different Kind
Like LNS Crew, Mindz of a Different Kind have found strength in numbers, coming together as a collective to release albums as MDK while also helping each other with various side projects, including the new transcontinental supergroup ByPass. Unlike LNS, MDK’s music skews towards the cerebral and political, with last year’s laudable Borderlinez specifically examining the impact Austin’s changing landscape has on its own diversity. But tracks like “Go On and Cry” from 2016’s Foursight show the group is more than capable of crafting addictive, hard hitting singles you can listen to over and over. MDK are a quintessentially Austin act, holding court in the realm between the city’s turbulent past, awkward present and hopeful future.
If I was forced to pick a single artist that represented all facets of Austin hip hop, it would without a doubt be Sertified. A personable and charismatic presence who can morph into an absolute beast without breaking a sweat, Sertified is the secret MVP of Austin hip hop, embraced equally by the club rap usurpers and the hardcore traditionalists. Last year’s See Ya Soon mostly worked at building up Sertified’s pop potential, with moments like “On the Go” making a case for Sertified being the 21st century Austinite take on Biggie Smalls, the groundwork for which was established back on 2013’s more rugged, Kydd co-starring “Where I Live.” But Sertified is at his best when he’s in beast mode with a dusty, barbwire sharp beat backing him up, as on all-time classic “Back 2 the Block.” Austin hip hop has a multitude of faces but its big beating heart is Sertified.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Ovrld as well as Loser City, where he mostly writes about comics. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with his friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover