J. Cole schools mumble rappers and trap stars alike at Jmblya

This weekend marks the sixth year of Jmblya, the hip-hop festival launched by local promoter Scoremore that visits Dallas, Austin and Houston over three days. Last year, the festival graduated from the Statesman’s parking lot to the Circuit of the Americas parking lot, expanding to two stages and welcoming top-dollar headliners like Chance the Rapper, Migos and Gucci Mane. This year’s outing corrected some of last year’s growing pains, such as a perilous lack of water, but it still had its hiccups.

J. Cole performs Saturday, May 5, at Jmblya at Circuit of the Americas. Robert Hein/For American-Statesman

Young Thug was a last-minute sub for a pregnant Cardi B, which stings a little extra because her fall itinerary opening for Bruno Mars doesn’t include Austin. (Mars will perform alongside Britney Spears at Formula 1 weekend in October.) But Thugger proved a worthy alternative, whipping the crowd into a fine frenzy despite his nearly inaudible microphone and a disconcerting craaaaack that emanated from the stage’s speakers during every bass drop. The crowd erupted nonetheless, hurling food and drinks into the air and literally blotting out the stage with smoke from various apparatuses.

Thug also proved a much better fit than Jmblya’s other last-minute replacement: T.I., who took Kevin Gates’ late afternoon slot with a day’s notice. (Gates’ name still appeared on the lineup cards handed out to attendees.) To his credit, the 37-year-old trap progenitor barreled through his slew of hits, including “Bring Em Out” and “Whatever You Like,” with verve and precision. Still, there was no ignoring the fact that he hasn’t had a proper hit in almost a decade (or since half the audience was in elementary school), and attendees seemed to be saving their energy for the new-school trap kings, Migos.

RELATED: Scoremore’s Jmblya taps into youth movement 

Migos perform Saturday, May 5, at Jmblya at Circuit of the Americas. Robert Hein/For American-Statesman

Lucky for fans, the superstar Atlanta trio delivered big-time during their second consecutive Jmblya visit. Quavo, Offset and Takeoff seemed to barely break a sweat as they sauntered across a stage adorned with strobe lights and bursts of fog, unloading the staggering treasure trove of hits they’ve amassed in just a few years. “Hannah Montana” and “Fight Night” gave way to “T-Shirt” and the chart-topping “Bad and Boujee,” mapping the group’s ascension from internet sensations to rap elites and reinforcing their steadfast refusal to tweak their sound in the slightest. Their iconic triplet flow showed signs of strain on their eighth-best single, “MotorSport,” which exists solely to showcase Nicki Minaj and Cardi B and becomes literally pointless in their absence. Thankfully the group ended their hit-filled set just as they risked outwearing their welcome, proving their mettle as bonafide headliners.

After the mass exodus that followed Migos’ set (the only biblical thing about the day’s proceedings), one could have reasonably suspected the crowd to look considerably thinner during J. Cole’s headlining performance. But one would have been dead wrong. The impenetrable throng stretched nearly to the food vendors in the back of the parking lot—roughly twice the size of Migos’ crowd—all awaiting what would easily be the best set of the day.

Cole wasted no time warning up, throttling his microphone stand and leaping into the air as he rapped his first song with vicious determination. It only takes a cursory glance at Twitter to see the split opinions on Cole’s music: Fans consider him an intellectual and top-tier MC, while detractors find him lyrically corny and musically boring, the most damning insult of all for a rapper. And while his new album, “KOD,” drags and sputters in places, Cole spat fire and fury throughout his entire hour-plus performance.

FASHION FESTIES: See what people wore to Jmblya 2018

The Fayetteville, North Carolina, native’s lyrical dexterity offered a reprieve from the sound issues and marble-mouthed rapping that characterized the rest of the day. He barked the chorus to “Motiv8” and spat the dizzying flows of “ATM” until his voice grew hoarse. A masterful backing band lent an urgency to some of his drearier compositions, and the audience answered Cole’s call-and-response chants with gusto. Couples cozied up to each other during “Kevin’s Heart,” either oblivious or indifferent to the fact that the song is a candid reflection on the consequences of infidelity, inspired by Cole’s friend, Kevin Hart.

J. Cole performs Saturday, May 5, at Jmblya at Circuit of the Americas. Robert Hein/For American-Statesman

Even with five chart-topping albums under his belt, Cole remains an anomaly in the rap game. Sporting baggy t-shirts and shoulder-length dreads, he eschews the flashiness of his peers, and he only makes headlines when he drops new music. The singular success of his last two albums, “2014 Forest Hills Drive” and 2016’s “4 Your Eyez Only,” turned the phrase “platinum with no features” into a proper boast and evergreen meme. Appropriately, Cole dazzled on his own at Jmblya, the most poignant moment of his set coming during “1985 – Intro to ‘The Fall Off’,” which listeners have interpreted as an admonishment of young SoundCloud mumble rappers Smokepurpp and Lil Pump.

“I love these little dudes, I really do,” Cole insisted before spitting the second half of the song a cappella. He resisted the urge to punch downward at rappers barely half his age, instead dropping the knowledge he’s earned from over a decade in the business—while also talking himself up.

“I must say, by your songs I’m unimpressed, hey / But I love to see a Black man get paid / And plus, you havin’ fun and I respect that / But have you ever thought about your impact?” Cole asked a spellbound audience. And then: “I’ll be around forever ‘cause my skills is tip-top.”

In that moment, nobody doubted him for a second.

SXSW Slugfest: Next time, try a smaller venue or bigger acts

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Call it hubris, call it wishful thinking, call it desperation, but make sure you call Saturday night’s SXSW Slugfest what it really was: empty.

Spectators cheer as Reshard Hicks of Kileen claims WBB Intercontinental Title during SXSW Slugfest at the Moody Theater March 17. 03/17/18 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Bringing the first-ever professional boxing event to the weeklong festival seemed like a novel concept on paper, but Underwood Promotions bit off way more than they could chew by renting out ACL Live, one of the biggest venues available during SXSW, on a Saturday night. This is the kind of room best reserved for rap superstars like Rae Sremmurd, Wu-Tang Clan or J. Cole. The biggest artist on Saturday’s lineup was OG Maco — yeah, the “U Guessed It” guy — who wound up missing the event because of travel delays and being replaced by Houston MC Doughbeezy. And even though “I’m from Texas” might be one of the most brazenly catchy local pride anthems to come out of the Lone Star State in the past decade, it wasn’t enough to get 2,500 people through the doors when T.I. was playing just a few blocks away.

PHOTOS, VIDEO, REVIEWS, NEWS: SEE ALL OUR SXSW 2018 COVERAGE 

That’s a shame, too, because the people who did show up got to enjoy a fairly exciting night of boxing, including a visceral bout between Kazakhstan’s Iskander Kharsan and La Feria, Texas, slugger Richard Munoz. (Kharsan won by TKO in the third round.) The audience cheered dutifully during each fight, especially when Austinites like Prisco Marquez and Carlos Trevino entered the ring, but there was something jarring about watching the action from the eerily quiet, mostly barren balcony. It probably doesn’t bode well that Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.” earned one of the most spirited reactions of the night when it played over the PA system between fights.

Slugfest made a valiant attempt to subvert expectations on the final night of SXSW, and it’s hard to fault them for taking a swing and missing (sorry). That being said, if boxing is going to have a future at this festival, it needs to happen in a way smaller venue or bring some A-list artists along for the ride next time. Slugfest felt like a wasted opportunity.

SXSW 2018: Hinds triumphed over hoarseness in their 13th set of the week

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Contrary to whatever cliché you may have heard, 13 was not a particularly lucky number for Hinds during their Barracuda set on Friday afternoon. First, there was the incessant feedback that’s plagued the Spanish garage pop quartet for years at SXSW. Then, of course, there was the inevitable physical deterioration that comes with playing 13 shows in a week. So, just to be safe, singer/guitarist Carlotta Cosials issued a warning at the beginning of their set.

“Before It gets awkward, just to let you know, we have some issues with the voices,” she said. Fellow singer/guitarist Ana García Perrote chimed in, “Use your imagination with sweet angels’ voices, because that is what we have.”

To which the audience collectively responded with: Girl, please. Hinds could’ve made whale noises and told knock-knock jokes onstage and the audience would’ve eaten it up. These ladies are one of the brightest buzz bands at this year’s festival, and their delightfully rough-around-the-edges set felt like a hard-earned victory lap. What’s a little hoarseness when the band members were shouting triumphantly between songs and hopping around the stage like prizefighters?

It’s easy to see why Hinds dominated SXSW this year. Cosials and Perrote flex their pop smarts with dual lead vocals that recall veteran girl groups of the late ‘90s, while their crunchy guitar leads satisfy the DIY kids who cuff their jeans two inches above their Vans SK8-Hi’s and smoke American Spirits by the pack. Cosials, Perrote and bassist Ade Martín cut rock goddess power stances and aimed their guitars into the crowd, emboldened by the throng of women jumping against the stage and singing their infectious choruses back at them.

In the end, rapturous applause overruled the sound tech’s call to end the set, and Hinds eked our one more song. All they could do was smile in exhausted, ecstatic disbelief as they garnered the loudest reaction I’ve personally witnessed all week. The members of Hinds have earned themselves a solid week of rest — and a bigger venue next time they come to town.

A “do not talk to sound guy” sign hangs next to the sound board at Barracuda during the 2018 SXSW Music festival March 17. Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

SXSW 2018: Matt Bellamy’s Beatles tribute supergroup was mostly fine, sometimes fab

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I’ve seen Paul McCartney in concert five times, and never have I sweat, ached and cursed as much as I did trying to see a Beatles cover band this afternoon.

I shouldn’t be surprised. As arguably the biggest public show every year at SXSW, Rachael Ray’s Feedback party hits capacity early in the day, and the line quickly snakes around Stubb’s and down toward I-35. This lowly freelancer spent a long time in the throng, hoping to catch a glimpse of this year’s headliner, Dr. Pepper’s Jaded Hearts Club Band, the Beatles tribute supergroup featuring Muse’s Matt Bellamy, Chris Cester of Jet, Miles Kane of the Last Shadow Puppets and Nine Inch Nails guitarist Ilan Rubin, among others.

Suzanne Cordeiro / for American-Statesman

Thankfully, a wave of attendees left Stubb’s minutes before the Jaded Hearts Club Band took the stage. (Apparently, the Venn diagram of people who like Kurt Vile and Beatles tribute bands is nearly two separate circles.) A new wave of fans shuffled through the gates and darted for the few precious shady nooks inside Stubb’s as the leather-clad rockers took the stage.

And after all that, Dr. Pepper’s Jaded Hearts Club band sounded… fine.

Don’t get me wrong, the septet (three guitars, two lead singers, a drummer and a bassist) certainly had the chops to approximate the indelible vocal harmonies on early Fab Four nuggets like “I Feel Fine” and “Help,” as well as the scorching guitar solos on raucous latter-day cuts like “Taxman” and “Hey Bulldog.” But the band rarely seemed to have any, you know, fun, as they tore through the timeless catalog. Their best attempt at stage banter came between “Money” and “Taxman,” when Cester told the audience, “If you want a lot of money, you gotta get ready for the (expletive) taxman.”

Suzanne Cordeiro / for American-Statesman

I’d like to believe Cester was sipping a lot more than Dr. Pepper backstage, because he missed several vocal cues and flubbed lyrics, frequently glancing down and to his right at what could have been a prompter or lyrics sheet. Between the leather jacket, black shades and affected cockney accent, Cester’s performance occasionally sounded like “Glee Goes British Invasion” (which, to my knowledge, does not yet exist, and I pray it stays that way).

Yet there were other times, like on the rip-roaring closer “Helter Skelter,” when Cester’s raspy howl perfectly complemented the thunderous cymbal crashes and triple-guitar assault (even if he still came in late on the second verse). Bellamy, who sticks to bass in this group, unleashed his ungodly high scream during the verse harmonies, and the audience roared and pumped their fists in approval. Suddenly, Dr. Pepper’s Jaded Hearts Club Band sounded like the best party band in the world, good enough for me to scold myself for being so picky. Sorry guys, I know I can be a tough critic sometimes. But y’all were still fab every now and then.

Andrew W.K. is the perfect SXSW 2018 ambassador

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Andrew W.K. needed to go back.

How far back? Alllll the way back, to the dawn of time — actually, just back to the dawn of partying, to prove to the party gods that he and everybody else in Container Bar on Friday afternoon were fit to throw a South by Southwest rager that could be heard from Valhalla. Or at least from Trinity Street.

Andrew W.K. performs at Hotel Vegas during the 2018 SXSW Music festival March 14. 03/14/18 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

In many ways, Andrew W.K. is the perfect ambassador for SXSW. The long-haired, muscle-bound singer has refused to change his sound one iota since releasing his debut album “I Get Wet” — the glam-punk tour de force featuring punch-drunk power pop anthems such as “Ready to Die” and “Party Hard” — 17 years ago. He preaches, in elementary terms, the necessities of living life to the fullest and partying, hard, at any cost, all to the tune of gonzo drums and steel-slab guitar riffs. Basically, he’s the aural equivalent of the man who pushed through the mosh pit carrying a two-pound tub of whey protein and holding a protein bar between his clenched teeth.

Why this man deemed a Friday afternoon at a packed Rainey Street bar to be his ideal anabolic window is beyond me. Then again, Andrew W.K.’s set posed far more questions than it answered, including but not limited to:

  • Why does Andrew W.K. look like Glenn Danzig but sing like Don Dokken?
  • Why does Andrew W.K. have three guitarists who all play identical power chords?
  • Why did Andrew W.K. decide to count down from 93 before playing his final song, “Party Hard”?
  • Does Andrew W.K. buy intentionally dusty-looking white jeans and t-shirts, or did he just sweat through his clothes and not change them all week?
  • Is the second verse of “She Is Beautiful” — “You’re giving me moves that hit from all sides / And when you’re hitting like that you melt my eyes” — the most romantic couplet of all time?

The answers to these great mysteries still eluded me as I exited Container Bar after Andrew W.K.’s set, and I don’t suspect I’ll crack the code on them anytime soon. But I believed the singer wholeheartedly when he told the audience, “This is our fifth party at this year’s festival, and you’ve already outdone all of the other parties combined.”

YOU KNOW YOU WANT MORE SXSW: SEE ALL OUR COVERAGE 

As he left the stage, Andrew W.K. told his fans, “Thank you, stay strong, and never stop partying.” On behalf of everybody at Container Bar on Friday afternoon, I’d like to respond: “You’re very welcome, we most certainly will, and we most certainly won’t.”

Fans sing along as Andrew W.K. performs at Hotel Vegas during the 2018 SXSW Music festival March 14. 03/14/18 Tom McCarthy Jr. for AMERICAN-STATESMAN

SXSW 2018: Billy Gibbons and Matt Sorum give a rock n’ roll history lesson at Antone’s

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“You know we’re making this up as we go along, right?” Billy Gibbons told the Friday afternoon crowd at Antone’s after an off-the-cuff romp through ZZ Top’s immortal ‘80s anthem, “Sharp Dressed Man.” Joining the Houston-born axman were Alabama-based guitarist Austin Hanks, who opened for ZZ Top on tour last year, and Kings of Chaos drummer Matt Sorum, formerly of Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver and the Cult fame.

Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top performs at the Artbit party at Antone’s at SXSW on Friday March 16, 2018. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Sorum’s in town to promote Artbit, his new cryptocurrency-based app and online platform designed to help up-and-coming musicians build a community, engage their fans and promote and monetize their music while eliminating industry middlemen. Artbit team members earned hearty applause by speaking passionately about revolutionizing the way artists release music and earn a living. But let’s be real, the audience really just wanted to hear that jam session.

The makeshift trio was happy to oblige. Gibbons led the band through a handful of ZZ Top classics and blues/rock staples, including snarling renditions of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxey Lady” and Freddie King’s “Goin’ Down.” (His rationale: “If Keith Richards can do it, so can we, right?”) With his signature cowboy hat, sunglasses and beard that reached his chest, Gibbons embodied cool, and he effortlessly fired off the buttery, red-hot blues leads that turned him into Texas royalty nearly half a century ago.

More: Check out our unofficial SXSW party guide here

“Something tells me y’all know what that song’s about,” Gibbons teased before ripping into the barroom blues boogie of “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers.” The convergence of rock buffs and techies inside Antone’s was a pretty tame bunch, so no hell was raised — but plenty of beer bottles were lifted and Pura Vida Tequila shots downed.

The trio capped their brisk jam session with “La Grange,” Gibbons’ stuttering riffs and molten solos dueling with Sorum’s faithful approximations of Frank Beard’s drum fills. “Is everybody having a good time tonight?” the guitarist asked once more, either oblivious or indifferent to the fact that he was playing at 4 p.m. on a Friday. The answer was loud and clear all the same: Hell yeah.

SXSW 2018: SOB x RBE engage a lethargic Fader Fort with a little help from ‘Black Panther’

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Shame on you, Fader Fort! Some of the latest and greatest names in hip-hop are performing right before your very eyes, and you’re too busy chatting with your neighbors, blowing strawberry daiquiri vape rings and trying in vain to refresh Twitter to even notice! (Wait, that last one was me. Sorry.)

Luckily, SOB x RBE proved undaunted by the lethargy and even wrung some signs of life from the Fort’s Thursday night crowd — all it took was a little help from the biggest superhero of all time.

Photo courtesy Ryan Muir / The FADER

“How many of y’all seen ‘Black Panther’?” they asked to mild applause. “How many of y’all bought that ‘Black Panther’ album?” Slightly more applause. The Vallejo, California foursome promptly tore into “Paramedic!”, the blustery banger off the Kendrick Lamar-curated soundtrack to the highest-grossing solo superhero film of all time. Finally, the most applause.

RELATED: Check out the 2018 SXSW unofficial party guide

Photo courtesy Ryan Muir / The FADER

The members of SOB x RBE — short for Strictly Only Brothers, Real Boi Entertainment — are all between the ages of 19 and 21, and they just released their debut studio album, “Gangin,” last month, but they already boast a boisterous, fully realized sound and infectious stage presence that suggest years of studying their craft. (Yhung T.O. and DaBoii used to rap into their phones and put them over beats through a PlayStation.) Their production quirks are brash and unpredictable, occasionally hearkening back to ‘90s West Coast rap stalwarts Mac Dre and E-40. They spit schoolyard taunts and outsize boasts with gleeful tenacity, bars tumbling over each other and threatening to derail the songs at any moment — but never quite doing so.

RELATED: So many bands! Our music team makes some SXSW recommendations

Photo courtesy Ryan Muir / The FADER

At this stage in their early careers, SOB x RBE’s calculated recklessness would probably serve them better in a more confined space, where they could rage with their audience unimpeded by a barricade or elevated stage. But it’s a testament to their rapidly rising profile that they managed to headline Fader Fort and engage an audience that drowned out Raekwon’s brief surprise set just minutes earlier with its chatter. The kids are alright — and they’ll keep getting better.

SXSW 2018: Speedy Ortiz shows who’s boss at Clive Bar

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Sadie Dupuis is tired.

Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. The self-proclaimed “frontdemon” of Massachusetts indie rock band Speedy Ortiz is tired of “people who say they’re allies, but you end up having to do a lot of emotional labor for them”; tired of people “not respecting other people’s space or agency”; and extremely tired of people who have not seen Frankie Shaw’s Golden Globe-nominated comedy “SMILF,” but still have the audacity to attend its SXSW showcase.

Andy Molholt and Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz also performed at The Fader Fort during SXSW on Wednesday March 14, 2018. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Dupuis aired her grievances between songs at Speezy Ortiz’s Clive Bar set on Thursday night. It made for some heady stage banter, but the singer, guitarist and former University of Massachusetts writing teacher isn’t one for small talk. She mixes her ruminations on sexism, addiction and music industry sleaze in a cocktail of buzzsaw guitar riffs and cymbal crashes, which she chases with snide, singsong vocal hooks. Oh, and the band brought a saxophonist on the road this time, because why not?

The audience at Clive Bar eagerly lapped up Speedy Ortiz’s grunge-pop concoction, watching and listening intently so as to not miss any of Dupuis’ knotty lamentations or threats, both figurative and literal. That proved a challenge on the bar’s humble outdoor stage, which was ill equipped for such a visceral performance and suffered from painfully loud feedback in spots. Noticeably frustrated, the band soldiered through the set, refusing to let sound problems halt their momentum.

RELATED: Check out the 2018 SXSW unofficial party guide

Did Speedy Ortiz deliver a joyful set? Maybe not in the conventional sense. But they delivered an empowering set, establishing their mission statement with their opening song, “Raising the Skate.” “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss / Shooter, not the shot / On the tip an fit to execute / I’m chief, not the overthrown / Captain, not a crony,” Dupuis sang in the anthemic chorus, a concise tell-off to people who try to dismiss or oppress powerful women because they’re intimidated by their talent.

Nobody challenged Dupuis’ proclamation on Thursday night. Nobody dared to even try.

SXSW 2018: In Khalid’s utopia, all are welcome

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You can see the world in Khalid’s smile.

At least, you can see the world he wants to create. When Khalid flashes those huge, glistening, spotless teeth, it’s obvious he’s envisioning a world where everybody lives in harmony and accomplishes their wildest dreams, uninhibited by age, race, gender or wealth. And why shouldn’t he? The 20-year-old R&B crooner became one of the biggest, most wholesome success stories of 2017 with his masterful debut, “American Teen,” which articulates the emotional complexities of adolescence and the anxious excitement of entering adulthood. It is neither contrite nor self-serious, jaded nor maudlin. It sounds, quite simply, like utopia.

Khalid performs at Trinity Warehouse at SXSW on Thursday March 15, 2018. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

And in Khalid’s utopia, all are welcome.

The honorary El Paso native emerged from the side of the Trinity Warehouse stage shortly after midnight, a Texas flag proudly projecting on the stage behind him. Dancers holding American flag pom-poms worked through ebullient cheer routines as Khalid flexed his velvety pipes, flashing a knowing grin at a fan the same way one would greet a friend at a high school football game.

“Thank you because you come to every (expletive) thing, whether it’s in Texas, whether it’s in Florida, whether it’s in L.A.,” he said. “I love you.”

MORE PHOTOS: Khalid at SXSW 2018

Khalid doesn’t need to push his range to make a point. Instead, his strength lies in making his fluid vocal runs seem effortless, and then turning those effortless vocal runs into magnificent acts of catharsis. When he sings, “But I’ll keep your number saved, ‘cause I hope one day you’ll get the sense to call me” in “Saved,” he’s surely addressing one person, but he’s also speaking on behalf of any person who has ever known heartbreak. That is to say, the whole world.

Although he just exited his teens last month, Khalid has already conquered the music industry, going quadruple platinum with his debut single “Location” and racking up five Grammy nominations for “American Teen.” It would have been unsurprising, if disheartening, to see him treat his SXSW like a chore, especially when he’s due to embark on a North American arena and amphitheater tour in less than two months. But Khalid’s also smart — and grateful — enough to recognize his incredible fortune, and he shared his fans’ rapture on Thursday night. His radiance wasn’t limited to the venue, either: The woman on the receiving end of a FaceTime call beamed as she watched the singer from many miles away.

RELATED: So many bands! Our music team makes some SXSW recommendations

“I’m not gonna act like I haven’t sung this song 10,000 (expletive) times, but this is a special occasion for you,” Khalid joked before playing a stripped-down version of “The Ways,” his Swae Lee collaboration off the “Black Panther” soundtrack. His virtuosic backing band lent the song a newfound sensuality in its slowed-down, more organic incarnation, while they punched up other tracks with red-hot drum fills and keyboard leads. His EDM-flavored Marshmello collaboration “Silence” turned into a muscular R&B freakout, as the singer sauntered across the stage during the transcendent beat drop.

Khalid ended his set, predictably, with the anthemic “Young, Dumb & Broke,” effectively closing the book on the first chapter of his career and preparing to embrace his imminent superstardom. Fans at the Trinity Warehouse witnessed a rare snapshot of an artist at the top of his game, with nowhere to go but up, yet still in a refreshingly human capacity.

When Khalid graces the H-E-B Center in Cedar Park in two months, he’ll still be singing the same utopian daydreams. And all people — young and old, dumb and smart, broke and rich — will still be welcome.

SXSW 2018: Tinashe flourishes and Smokepurpp flops at Pandora showcase

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There are two ways to look at Lil Xan’s last-minute cancellation of his Wednesday night Pandora House headlining set (and the rest of his SXSW shows) due to an illness. On one hand, Xan’s a flashy, young up-and-comer with a few genuinely hot singles, and it would’ve been nice to see how he handled such a high-production environment (and if he could earn back the good graces of hip-hop purists after he blasphemed the name of Tupac last week). On the other hand, his absence cut the showcase by an hour, which, after the wave of talentless MCs that closed out the night, proved the greatest gift of all.

Kelela preforms at The Gatsby during SXSW, Wednesday, March 14, 2018. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Even without the Xan Man rounding out the bill, the Pandora showcase was still a scheduling disaster, as sound checks ran long and artists took the stage late. Under better circumstances, Atlanta’s YFN Lucci might have impressed with slick, pop-friendly tracks like “Everyday We Lit” and “Key to the Streets.” Instead, he performed for approximately 13 minutes and left the stage seemingly mid-song, much to the audience’s confusion.

Still, even Lucci’s set sounded like high art compared to Louisiana teen JayDaYoungan. It’s difficult to comment on his actual artistry or lyricism, because he can’t rap. No, literally. He proved physically incapable of stringing actual words together into any sort of tangible rhyme scheme or melody to accompany his bargain-bin trap songs. Half the time he didn’t bother trying, lazily signaling to the audience to sing and letting his backing tracks do the work. It was better that way.

RELATED: So many bands! Our music team makes some SXSW recommendations

After the scheduling shake-up, Wednesday’s headlining slot went to Smokepurpp, a 20-year-old SoundCloud rapper from Miami who sounds like every other 20-year-old SoundCloud rapper from Miami. His beats are distorted and bone-rattling, and his lyrics are mostly unprintable, though they usually involve promiscuous women, illicit substances and expensive vehicles — sometimes two or three at a time! That was best heard on his breakout hit “Audi,” which commanded a respectable mosh pit among the sparse 1 a.m. crowd.

To his credit, Smokepurpp seemed at least mildly engaged throughout his performance and at times even rapped on beat. But forgive me if I’m hesitant to celebrate an artist with millions of Spotify streams, headlining one of the biggest brand showcases at one of the biggest festivals in the world, for doing the bare minimum.

RELATED: Check out the 2018 SXSW unofficial party guide

That’s not to say the whole showcase was a bust. Kelela captivated the audience with her gloomy, alternative R&B, switching between a low, sensuous croon and breathy falsetto atop cavernous, frigid beats. Tinashe dominated the stage immediately afterward, winning several audible gasps for the sheer athleticism — and sensuality — of her performance. Her sultry pop-R&B bangers might not win any awards for originality, and even she sounded a little embarrassed by her canned stage banter, but it was hard to deny her massive hooks and masterful choreography, which she and four backup dancers delivered without breaking a sweat.

These back-to-back R&B powerhouses were the obvious highlights of Wednesday’s Pandora showcase, and the audience knew it, as the at-capacity venue immediately cleared out once Tinashe left the stage. Unless those people read this review, they may never know what they missed in the showcase’s final two hours. Lucky them.