Jmblya 2017: 13 key things you need to know about the breakout rap festival

Steve Aoki performs to a large crowd at the 2017 Jmblya Festival on Saturday, May 6th 2017 at Circuit of The Americas. Erika Rich for American-Statesman

Saturday’s Jmblya festival proved a 25,000-strong sellout triumph, according to event organizers. The blowout meant having to endure skillet-hot concrete and drunk high school bros in high-top socks over at Circuit of the Americas. But even the most crowd-averse introvert found booming and vital rap music for their Spotify playlist.

Whether you were there to snap an Instagram by the Jmblya logo, bumrush the VIP area, watch Steve Aoki throw cakes at patrons, or pass out in the Tito’s camper trailer, we can all agree that the traffic after Chance the Rapper was a fate we wouldn’t wish on anyone. Here are 13 things you need to know about the festival.

1) The first banger to elicit jumping and singing dropped at 1:35pm.

That would be Kendrick Lamar’s omnipresent “Humble,” which stirred panic as the gates opened and inspired young patrons to flock to the stage. Lamar’s music would play during several between-set DJ blocks, so I hope you were a fan.

2) Yes, several white kids rapped along to the N-word.

Three white young men showed up in ironic fur coats, too. The cultural appropriation game is unavoidable when black hip-hop music is the dominant mainstream pop genre, and it’s consumed by teens. Save for a few unhinged kids yelling a “bitch” into their smartphones as a term of endearment for loved ones, everyone seemed there to celebrate and be cool. Unfortunately dropping some apparently inebriated N-bombs while singing along to rap choruses has become nearly as common at festivals as ironic basketball jerseys.

RELATED: Chance the Rapper, the most talented hip-hop star of his generation

3) Pell was the first rapper to land onstage, and he was pretty good.

The New Orleans artist hit Jmblya at 2 p.m. and somehow performed his sunny-hot set in a denim jacket. While a drummer clanged along to tinny beats, and with zestful vocal flourishes, Pell was all charisma on would-be anthems like “Queso.”

I’d maybe rethink that “Pell yeah!” audience chant, however.

4) Snow tha Product raged against President Trump.

The Mexican-American rapper (real name Claudia Alexandra Feliciano) did not mince words or leave her imagery open to interpretation. We got “(Expletive) Trump” chants, and flaming, devil horn-adorned presidential backdrops via the onstage screens.

Elsewhere the Californian called out fellow Latinos who never throw their hands in the air, and generally represented as the afternoon’s lone female solo artist. Even the playful calls to action had political bite.

“Let’s take a couple shots,” she told the mid-afternoon crowd. “If you’re over 21! Please don’t get your girl arrested in Texas.”

5) Someone played Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

“Who knows this?” the house DJ asked before unsheathing some Freddie Mercury. DJ Mr. Rogers led the between-acts music, and a colleague of his also 1) dropped Drowning Pool’s 2001 metal-tinged epic “Bodies,” and 2) turned the most prevalent iPhone ringtone into a beat. Given that we heard Kendrick Lamar songs on a radio loop, the curveball was most appreciated by this reporter.

6) The drinks situation was chaotic and exhausting.

The water station temporarily ran out of water, festival staff said, and the bar began handing out free bottled water around 4:40 p.m.

“The line for food wasn’t moving, the line for water has nothing… we were drinking Pepsi for hydration,” a patron told his friends nearby.

By 5 p.m. the water station was filled and flowing. A festival worker told Austin360 that he was handing out “cups of ice” briefly. But he added that the bar staff was “frantically” calling other staffers to come in and serve patrons. The festival didn’t appear to disseminate wristbands for over-21 attendees, and that required an ID check for each sale on at least two of the bars, which slowed things down considerably.

7) Young Dolph had the first true banger that folks knew of the afternoon.

The Memphis, Tennessee, rapper, who’s SUV was shot with more than 100 bullets in February, bit into the afternoon with “100 Shots.”


8) This is how you actually pronounce “6lack.” 

“It’s not ‘slack,’ not ‘6 black,’ just ‘black,'” the singer born Ricardo Valdez Valentine told fans. The East Atlanta rapper and singer was in touch with his feelings Saturday, fresh off a breakthrough appearance on Syd’s heralded “Fin” album, and contributing music to Netflix’s “The Get Down.”

“Three in the morning, I’m on do not disturb,” the moody, dread-locked R&B dude sang in his tie-dye shirt on the powerful “Ex Calling.”

Damn fam, who was she?

9) Lil Uzi Vert was clearly the best crowd-surfer.

The Philadelphia rapper jumped in, and spent a few songs out there with the people.

Vert isn’t known for bludgeoning lyrics or word soup, but for singing with sincere passion about human pains. Like on “XO Tour Llif3,” wherein he details meeting a suicidal woman: “She said, ‘I’m not afraid to die. All my friends are dead.'”

Even Vert seemed surprised at his Jmblya popularity. “Can you believe they told me y’all wouldn’t know this one?” he noted onstage.

10) Migos were the men of the moment.

The Atlanta rap trio enjoyed a No. 1 album this year, and the Lil Uzi Vert-featuring “Bad and Boujee” remains inescapable along Sixth Street on the weekends. When their 6 p.m. set began, more than 15 patrons climbed the short fence separating the VIP viewing decks. A canned DJ Khaled video intro accompanied the conquering trio of Quavo, Takeoff, and Offset.

“Cooking up dope in Austin,” they ad-libbed, to roaring approval. Perhaps as tribute to COTA (or probably because their warped and advanced sensibilities are beyond our common understandings of art), weird footage of motocross racing played on-screen during “Bad and Boujee.”

11) Steve Aoki had the best EDM set.

Nevermind that he was the only true EDM act in the house. Jmblya was conceived as a marriage between rap and electronic dance music, according to festival promoters Scoremore, but these days the major draws are from the former camp.

“I want to make a crazy-ass Snapchat story with you guys today,” the DJ, who’s father founded the Benihana restaurant chain, told onlookers.

Aoki said he was working on new album “Colony,” and was also busy shooting a music video on Saturday, one Aoki said has been incorporating footage from 200 shows and 50 countries. He also threw birthday cake at people, and brought out Migos for a collaboration.

“If you’re a fan of Blink 182, I need you to scream right now,” Aoki said.

OK, dude.

12) Gucci Mane is rap’s true spiritual adviser.

Are you not entertained? The mythical mascot of the American South wore an absurd Kangol-style hat with sunglasses at night and terribly light denim, in an outfit lifted straight from Buckle circa 2002. But he also proved why only God can judge him.

With cuts from December’s “The Return of East Atlanta Santa,” or the calm-as-a-bomb delivery of “First Day Out Tha Feds,” the 37-year-old rapper showed these kids a thing or two about the game. Gucci is a pioneering virtuoso, after all.

“If you got more than five Guwop mixtapes, put your hands up now,” his DJ asked as a sort of litmus test for the audience.

With positive responses to epic poems like “Lemonade,” “Pillz,” and “Traphouse 3,” it’s clear we all did.

Perennial Texas rap concert ambassador Bun B joined Gucci for a spirited rendition of 2005’s enduring crew anthem “Get Throwed.” Young Dolph and Migos likewise made cameos.

Gucci turned the night into a consensual freaknic, undoubtedly a positive message for the graduating class of 2017.

13) Speaking of unbridled positivity, Chance the Rapper owned the night.

It’s his time, and for the 24-year-old Chicago rapper, will be for the long haul. Or at least through October’s Austin City Limits Fest encore.

Gucci Mane performs at the 2017 Jmblya Festival on Saturday, May 6, 2017, at Circuit of The Americas.
Erika Rich for American-Statesman

Author: Ramon Ramirez

Ramon Ramirez is the news director of the Daily Dot, and formerly its entertainment editor and evening editor. He is an Austin 360 regular come ACL time. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Grantland, Washington City Paper, Austin American-Statesman, and Austin Monitor. Follow him on Twitter: @AThousandGrams.

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