When you think of the music associated with Austin, Texas you might think of indie rock or country, but never rap. Unlike its easterly neighbor Houston, Austin’s local hip-hop scene has never been in the national spotlight.
Janis Joplin, Daniel Johnston, Bob Schneider— these iconic names are ones that are usually conjured up when pondering on the fruit of the Austin music scene. Known as the ‘Live Music Capital of the World’, it’s perplexing to find that while a great emphasis is placed on the alternative and rock music offerings of Austin, the hip-hop scene is often glossed over.
Is there anywhere showcasing local rap artists? It’s insane to me that a city like Austin doesn’t seem to have it’s own hip hop scene, or a battle rap league when Houston and Dallas both have their own.
Is anyone in Austin trying to get a local scene going?
With rap being the most-popular music genre in the U.S. for more than a decade, you’d expect a city with the country’s 11th largest population and the reputation for being the “live music capital of the world” to not lack in a hip hop scene. Yet Austin has underperformed in that arena.
In 2015, the city conducted a “Music Census,” interviewing about 2,000 of Austin’s musicians. The numbers within explain a lot.
The top 50% of artists were Rock, Americana, Alternative, Folk, and Pop Rock (in that order). Hip Hop represented only 3.7% (80 total) of the responders.
From there, we jump to age, where 49.9% of musicians were 25-39 years old. 27.5% are 40-54. And 12.8% are 55-64. Only 6.5% (121 people) were 18-24 .
Racially: 66.3% were White, 10.4% Hispanic, 8.7% Preferred not to say, 5.7% Other, 4.4% Black, 2.9% Native American, 1.2% Asian, and .4% Hawaiian.
In a section on “Needs and Gaps” for industry resources, the biggest complaints were: “a lack of pro level managers,” “lack of pro level publishing companies,” and “lack of access to capital.”
What’s all that mean? The simplest answer for why hip hop lags in representation is momentum. The venues in Austin have been steeped in the aura of singer-songerwriters and rock bands for decades. When that’s what it’s always been, it’s hard to make room for something new. Especially when those genres are still so popular. The establishment maintains its foothold, while emerging genres, no matter how nationally or globally relevant, struggle for real estate, both literal and symbolic.
The census has a section that details two focus group discussions the city conducted. “Each had a unique set of attendees with no overlap between the groups.” Under the header “priority needs and issues” is the line: “Few clubs will book hip hop.”
Given this environment, it’s no wonder hip hop has struggled to shine in Austin. ATX rapper Quin NFN told Pitchfork in 2018: “It’s hard out here. I feel like no one’s ever really made it out of Austin. Hip-hop ain’t got no pull in this city.”
Change has to occur above the level of the artist. It relies on someone, anyone, taking or creating space for the music to flourish. Otherwise, we’re in a catch-22: Austin hip hop needs access to prosper, but it won’t have access until it prospers.
Which brings us to a question posted on the city’s subreddit: “Is there anywhere showcasing local rap artists? Is anyone in Austin trying to get a local scene going?”
Anthony Lindsey and Eric Radford—aka Wane and Rad, aka the Hakone Agency—have emerged as two of the key figures galvanizing a city that’s been stuck in its ways.
Meet Rad, Meet Wane
You’ve probably had the experience where a friend shares some dilemma they’re having. They don’t know what to do, so ask you for advice. Because you’re removed from the situation, the solution is clear as day. Your friend thanks you and praises how insightful you are, not knowing you have your own slew of problems you’ve been unable to solve. That’s one of the major ironies of people—we’re often better at helping others than we are at helping ourselves. That’s because third-party distance allows crucial perspective that can clarify and simplify the situation.
This irony is as true for individuals as it is for families, groups, businesses, companies, cities, countries, etc. When things get complicated, an outside POV can be the easiest way to unravel the issue and find a new direction.
It makes sense, then, that neither Wane nor Rad are from Austin. The latter arriving from Washington (the state), the former from Wisconsin. Both in 2014. Together, they operate as the Hakone Agency. Issues stood out to them right away.
Rad: We came down here and it was kinda like…we were so unknowing of the history of music in Austin. The older generations could have been around during, or involved in, the rise of Willie Nelson, the blues movement, or Stevie Ray Vaughan’s emergence. They could have been integral to the rise of W.C. Clark or present at BB King’s performance at The Victory Grill. Iconic places and artists. My generation is looking to create important moments of our own. But within hip hop, R&B, and house.
Today, you have this whole pop culture thing, and hip hop is pop culture. Here it’s been such a—I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s not like people are going out and thinking “We’re going to make sure hip hop doesn’t make it!” But the framework, the machine of industry here seems that it was built or structured only to successfully service certain genres. It’s like you have a MacBook and you can only plug in and run Windows. Are you kidding me? If you want to do anything in iOS, you have to get an adapter. So that’s what we’ve been doing, building an adapter.
Wane: I grew up in a state capitol, and we had a major university. I was throwing parties in college. I knew exactly what people were listening to. When I first came here, it was for South By [Southwest], because I saw on the internet that’s where everybody was. A$AP [Rocky] was here. Kid Cudi was here. Lil Wayne was here. Kanye was here.
But then I move here and I’m looking online and I’m realizing there’s no rappers from Austin. Why are all these big artists coming here if there’s no one here? It’s kind of an illusion: the industry is here twice a year, that’s it.
Rad: It’s the industry’s spring break in another city. You come from like New York or L.A. and you’re like, “Yo, beer is $6! Oh yeah! And everyone’s full of energy. It’s sunny and warm. Look at all these cool venues. It’s packed and blah, blah.” You don’t realize that there’s 300,000 to 500,000 additional people here.
Wane: I recognized that there was opportunity in the fact that there’s an audience, but why is it undeveloped? Where’s the disconnect?
Rad: Using Atlanta for example: before Outkast, there was some stuff going on, but then Outkast learns from those early artist and does their thing, they do it well—very, very well—and their immediate circle is creative and connected to one another. You have people looking in, saying, “I want to be part of that.”. And then it kind of builds, builds, builds. Then it was known that “The South got somethin’ to say.” That’s how big cultural moments get created.
Our generation, even some older, some younger, wants to go listen to hip hop, but you don’t have that infrastructure in Austin where you can. Because of that, artists have to perform in nontraditional spaces. That’s hard. You have to worry about sound, you have to worry about size, accessibility, legitimacy, a business owner/venue willing to give us a hand or support. Because of that, it’s hard to get enough people banded together to make the scene initially cool. One aspect doesn’t go well and the audience thinks, “Oh, this is lame. I don’t want to be a part of this.” It makes it awkward. Rather than, “Oh, you know, this is your album release or mixtape or your show, and we’re going to come here and support. Artists X, Y, and Z are here. Managers A, B, and C. Engineers 1, 2, and 3. We’re going to go support you because we know going into that room makes it a thing, it creates good energy that’s going to then sprawl out to other people.”
When you have that energy, you generate a bell curve. You have the early adopters and they’re going to go, “Oh, I want to be in that.” And then you have the next group, and the next, growing each time. That’s what I think happened in New York, L.A., Chicago, Houston, and Atlanta. But here you’ve never had it reach that second tier where people think “This is cool.” Even though you have some people that were from Austin and the surrounding areas (like Smithville and Bastrop) that were integral pieces in the prospering Houston scene, but that prosperity never made it back to Austin.
Wane: Let’s remember we’re in Texas, a cultural hub of America, especially pop culture. Since the 90s, it feels like almost every major artist that has ever popped is from Texas, that every athlete’s from Texas. There were parties happening in Austin in 2014, 2015, 2016 where literal 18 year old kids were coming together to listen to what they wanted to listen to. Kids know what they want. There were the Tumblr kids who found A$AP or who ran with Travis Scott when he was first young and starting. They all knew what was cool, right? They want to celebrate what they know is cool. But you didn’t have someone who was from here that they could celebrate. So it was just people coming together to party and listen to rap music. They’ve existed in all these spaces that were non-traditional: warehouses, people’s house parties, Airbnb parties, art galleries, just to experience the culture they want to experience that the city’s not providing.
And then it’s like, okay, what now?
What’s finally happening is these kids are 21 now, they’re 22, 23—they’re 27 and have some money now. Now they’re going to shows. Now they’re going to bars. And so the institutions are starting to understand, “Oh, this genre does have fans.” They weren’t the people spending money at the bar 10 years ago, so why would the institutions play rap music? But, today, we’re seeing those physical spaces starting to exist, allowing creatives to come together.
The changing of the tide
The pair cites their 2018 Summer Jam festival as a turning point of sorts. The event featured local hip hop artists Harry Edohoukwa, Deezie Brown, J Soulja, The Teeta, and Kyle Lucas, as well as R&B artists Jake Lloyd and Mélat, and DJ Joaqu.n. It was held in the heart of downtown, within the renowned Red River Cultural District. Not on the periphery, not in a warehouse. It was featured in the local papers and talked about on local radio.
Rad: That first Summer Jam was like a proof of concept. That was the first time you had a whole bunch of local creatives on a big level. “We’re not supposed to be here. This platform isn’t for us. This real estate isn’t for us, isn’t for this. The locals don’t support this genre. But we’re, we’re going to go out and kill it.” And you have over 350 people come to show. Everyone gets paid. Big people get involved. Celebrities come through. And you go, “Huh? Okay. There’s something here.”
You never have a local rap show or a local hip hop and R&B show where you look at the crowd and go, “That’s the program director of the local NPR station. Oh, that’s one of the head DJs at the NPR station. Oh, she’s the person who works with the city to handle venues and all the issues that go into legislation and stuff like that. Oh, that producer over there’s working on a record with Gucci Mane. That person engineered this. Oh, and that’s Chris BOSH.
Speaking of radio—Wane and Rad had important partners for Summer Jam: the duo of Confucius Jones and Aaron “Fresh” Knight, the hosts of The Breaks on KUTX 98.9. Their affiliation with Summer Jam elevated it by making it an official KUTX event. It was a perfect blend of visions. You had the outsiders, Wane and Rad, refusing to accept the established order. Then you had the native Austinites, Fresh and Jones, who had been working to change the establishment from within.
A 2017 article in the Austin Chronicle summarizes the origin of The Breaks : “Emphasizing hip-hop being the music of today is how Confucius and Fresh got their show…. Station Manager Matt Reilly remembers their pitch: ‘You’re in the middle of campus with 50,000 kids walking around with earbuds on and most of them are listening to hip-hop.’” The pitch provided a clear, succinct picture of obvious demand. Obvious opportunity.
Confucius told Austin Monthly, in 2018, “Being from Austin, we felt like Austin’s hip-hop scene didn’t have an identity to latch on to. We wanted to create a radio show that would help give that scene identity and also to give urban radio an Austin identity.”
Just this month (February 2020), Austin Monthly wrote a new article about The Breaks, saying: “In the three years since Knight and Jones hit the airwaves, their Saturday night spot, The Breaks, has become the No. 1 rap show in the city. An ode to all aspects of the pair’s favorite genre, the three-hour production touches on everything from rapper feuds and music theory to hip hop history and pop culture. But above all else, Jones says, it champions their hometown’s long-overlooked rap and R&B scene.”
Wane: The belief, especially in rap music now, is “Oh, radio doesn’t matter. It’s the internet.” Well you can still map it. Radio still has an enormous reach, especially with people who may not know how to find these artists easily. So what we’ve had to do with the help of Fresh and Confucius is take that platform but apply it in a different way. So take what radio represents to institutions or like old white people or bars or the Chronicle, but apply it to the street and throw shows where there’s a physical space people can celebrate what they hear.
We’re fighting to get rap music on the radio in the daytime ‘cause that exposure is what normalizes it to Greg or Karen or whoever.
Rad: I for sure noticed a change when Confucius and Fresh got their show. For the first time that I know of, you could have artists work on something, make it sound pretty good, and then hear it on radio. Regardless if one person’s listening or 10,000, that’s a big change. It already feels more professional.
Building an industry
Rad and Wane have been busy. Breaking down some numbers:
7: number of events they’ve produced, featuring only local artists.
$425: the average amount they’ve paid performing artists, nearly 4x the standard rate in Austin.
650: the total attendees at their sold out NYE DJ event.
4: the number of artists they manage.
4 (again): the number of albums they’ve helped their artists release, including two debuts.
2018: sold out a SXSW showcase.
2020: producing two more official SXSW showcases.
$2500: amount from ticket sales they’ve donated to non-profits, like the Boys and Girls Club, Eden Reforestation Project, and Kids in a New Groove.
Rad: We had this meeting with these three city representatives the other day. They work in the economic and cultural division of the city of Austin with music as their emphasis. It was a major event.
Wane: You think they’re sitting down with rap managers very often?
If the first step in building a hip hop industry in Austin was creating space, the second has been normalization. Making it feel like it’s a consistent, discoverable, and active scene in the city. That’s been achieved through a myriad of entities, from Rad and Wane, to KUTX investing in Confucius and Fresh, to Confucius and Fresh, to local news outlets (Austin Chronicle, Austin Monthly, the Austin American-Statesman) covering the artists, events, and other galvanizers.
The next step is on the artists themselves. As Quin NFN told Pitchfork: “I want Austin to be the next Atlanta but it’s hard. Down there, everyone fucks with each other. Down here there are a lot of people that’s hating. I hope we can all come together.”
Rapper Deezie Brown told the Chronicle, “…a lot of us didn’t know how to work together. We’ve all been crabs in a bucket – everybody wanting to be the first hip-hop act to blow up in Austin.”
Wane: The Chronicle released an article the week of Summer Jam 2018, celebrating local rap music. On the cover was The Teeta, Kenny Gee, and Quin NFN. It was awesome. There are battles these guys have faced, primarily having a platform and feeling celebrated, right? So that was a celebration for people. Teeta even said it to me, like “Finally, finally, we can all exist here and like have something.”
Rad: Now Teeta being on the cover and [successful indie rock band] Spoon having been on the cover of the Chronicle. Austin rappers are now in the same room, so to speak, part of the same spotlight. And they’ve always been kept out. So it was a celebration and I think that at that point it legitimized the rising energy in the scene.
Wane: An up-and-coming rapper or R&B singer can say, “Oh shit. You know, I can be on any stage! Yeah. I can make the cover!”
Rad: It’s not a zero sum game. If you win, that helps me. It isn’t me on this cover, but I could be on the next one. And that’s where I think that mindset has changed. Instead of, “I lost,” it’s “This means I can win, too.” It’s possible for Jake Lloyd. It’s possible for Deezie Brown. For Mélat. For Harry [Edohoukwa].”
Push with the group rather than against the group, then you break down the wall of old guard and something beautiful is going to come up from it.
One of the many ways the pair has tried to transform this “all rappers are an island” mentality has been putting on monthly collaborative studio sessions that also feature time for mental health and connection through group meditation and yoga. Sessions they’ve legitimized through a partnership with Austin’s LINE hotel.
It’s through these partnerships and collisions, by entwining the destinies of rappers with each other and with the city itself, that Wane and Rad have played their part in forging a new fate for hip hop in the capitol of Texas.
Tonight, February 13th, the Hakone Agency and The Breaks present their second annual “Love Lockdown” event, an R&B version of Summer Jam. Featured artists include: Eimaral Sol, Jake Lloyd, Jay Wile, and Arya. Hosted at Stubb’s BBQ.
Contact Rad & Wane on Instagram: @HakoneAgency