UPDATE: The Fader has responded to this story with the following comment:
“For over fifteen years, Austin has been our home base for FADER FORT, and we’ve been very grateful to be embraced by Austin locals from those who work in the music industry, to the fans, and beyond. We recognize Austin’s incredible music scene and SXSW as one of today’s premiere destinations for music discovery and feel honored to play a part in helping to amplify not only the rap and hip-hop acts during SXSW, but all kinds of emerging artists across diverse backgrounds. The true spirit of discovery at SXSW is one of the greatest inspirations for FADER FORT, and we never intended to take credit away from the festival or any of the great people involved that have helped support hip-hop. We apologize if we overreached and want to acknowledge and express our appreciation for all the passionate people that have built such an incredible history with Austin’s music scene.”
2.23.18: We wrote earlier this month about a new book, “Fader Fort: Setting the Stage,” chronicling 15 years of the event’s history at South by Southwest, set to be released March 1 by the Fader, a music magazine/lifestyle brand that has grown into a global multimedia company. We had a chance to look at a copy of the book on Friday. It’s a 252-page, over-sized art book, loaded with beautiful photography. It’s heavy, probably clocking in at 5 pounds or more.
We haven’t had a chance to dig deeply into the text, but just six pages in, during the introduction, comes this jarring and patently false assertion about the Fort’s fourth year in Austin:
“Year after that, bigger still: The Fader brought hip-hop to SXSW. It was an indie rock festival back 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.”
FROM THE ARCHIVES: 10 years of Hip-hop at SXSW
The show the book references is in 2005.
Local promoter/blogger Matt Sonzala started doing hip-hop shows under Andre Walker at SXSW in 1994, but he wasn’t the first person to book the genre at the fest. Scattered early ’90s bookings included Kool Keith and Del Tha Funkee Homosapien. In 1995, Sonzala put together a bill at Catfish Station on Sixth Street that featured Houston rapper E.S.G. who was gaining heat at the time, alongside a Dallas group called Heads-N-Dreads. The Heads brought with them a young singer with braces on her teeth named Erykah Free. When she sang the song “On and On,” “the whole place, their jaws just dropped,” Sonzala says. A year later she returned to the fest, caught the attention of a Universal Records scout, and transformed into Erykah Badu.
Sonzala stepped away from the fest in 1997, and Austin rapper Tee Double and local production crew Hip Hop Mecca each took turns booking SXSW hip-hop for several years. Offerings were limited, but “backpack” rappers such as Rhymesayers, Living Legends, Visionaries, Def Jux, Hieroglyphics and Project Blowed were all coming through Austin for SXSW regularly in the years around the turn of the millennium.
This writer has a very distinct memory of trying (and failing) to talk her way into a Hip Hop Mecca-produced Alkaholiks/Beatnuts show with a capacity crowd at the Backroom during SXSW 2001.
In 2004, the year before the Fader claims to have brought us hip-hop, Sonzala began to handle hip-hop bookings for SXSW formally. That year, as Houston rap was blowing up, he booked an official SXSW showcase with Bun B., Chamillionaire, Paul Wall, Dizzy Rascal and more at Aussie’s Grill and Beach Bar. In 2005, the Fader tapped Sonzala to help book their first hip-hop bash.
“I don’t care about SXSW or the Fader at this point,” Sonzala, who left SXSW in 2012, said on Friday. “My only problem with it is the line that says that nobody was doing it. That word ‘nobody’ makes me mad. Those were personal friends of mine making it happen.”
It is absolutely true that the Fader Fort amplified and legitimized the presence of hip-hop at the festival. When Kanye West played the Fort with Common, Erykah Badu and fledgling R&B singer Janelle Monae in 2009, it was a game changer. After that rap celebrities were eager to get in the mix at SXSW, and the Fort was almost always one of their stops.
The Fader can take a lot of credit for how big the genre’s presence is at the festival today, but to say nobody was doing it before they showed up is not true.
The roots of hip-hop at SXSW were planted by the local community over a decade before the Fader showed up.
According to a list of parties released by the City of Austin earlier this month, the Fader Fort, which scaled down to a smaller location after Pine Street Station closed last year, will be 1501 E. Seventh St., in the space once occupied by LaV restaurant. We’ve had no word yet on when we can expect an announcement about lineup.