The National Museum of African American Music opened its doors in downtown’s Fifth + Broadway development just more than one year ago. Though there was a ribbon-cutting ceremony prior to the museum welcoming the general public, the pandemic derailed plans for a grand opening gala that hasn’t been rescheduled. Friday's early-evening festivities in the museum's rotunda may not have been a direct replacement, but with movers and shakers from the Nashville hip-hop scene on the bill, North Nashville pizzaiolos Slim & Husky's covering provisions and a well-dressed crowd filling the room, it felt pretty close.

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Yours Truly Jai

The five-act lineup inaugurated a three-part concert series, called Slim & Husky’s Unplugged, in which NMAAM and S&H are partnering up to highlight contemporary local Black musicians on the first Fridays of February, March and April. As early arrivals filed in, a pair of crooners warmed the stage with familiar tunes. Acoustic guitar-slinger William Davenport ended his short set with a cover of Blackstreet's summer ’96 standard “No Diggity,” while Yours Truly Jai lent her graceful soprano to renditions of tunes by Jill Scott among others.

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Reaux Marquez

My introduction to Reaux Marquez, at a backyard set at Exit/In in June, spoke to the Bordeaux rapper's perseverance. That night, a leg injury relegated Marquez to a stool but didn't keep him from giving it his all. Now fully recovered, decked out in a custom pinstriped black-and-gold jersey with baseball pants to match, the 26-year-old looked ready to take the field as a ringer for the Vanderbilt Commodores. At the top of the set, Marquez directed the crowd's attention to a stack of a dozen books he'd brought onstage in recognition of Black History Month, extending an open invitation to peruse and discuss post-show. Titles included Black Power: The Politics of Liberation by Charles V. Hamilton and Kwame Ture, Huey P. Newton’s autobiography Revolutionary Suicide and the more recent Black Fatigue by Mary-Frances Winters.

Marquez's LP No Roads (which the Scene recognized as Best Album in our 2021 Best of Nashville issue) goes from a spark to an inferno in just a couple tracks, and his set Friday echoed that. It started modestly enough before The BlackSon — a charter member of the Black City crew, which Marquez has worked with — hopped onstage for a vocal sparring session. Brian Brown, the evening’s headliner, quickly followed suit, trading verses with Marquez. The two circled one another in a playfully menacing stare-down — only to smile and bear-hug as soon as the music stopped.

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Bryant Taylorr

Penultimate act Bryant Taylorr didn't just take the stage — he stormed it, bouncing around as if his shoes had built-in springs and not even breaking a sweat despite rocking a heavy, golden-brown Carhartt jacket and pants in a room with the heat cranked. Each of the night's performers earned high marks for charisma and technical proficiency, but the 27-year-old, Antioch-raised boy-band alum dominated the melody and confidence categories. The ecstatic audience reaction to the melancholic “Fan,” set-closing “Pretty Women” — which concluded with a passionate, a cappella call-and-response — and other sultry, soulful material from Taylorr's 2020 EP Rare made a convincing case that he won't be a well-kept local secret much longer.

Taylorr was a tough act to follow, but Brown delivered when he returned to the mic, slight frame draped in a Creamsicle-orange U.T. hoodie as if to erase any doubt about his Volunteer State bona fides. Brown’s effortless-sounding flow and penchant for loose, jazzy backing tracks lure in the casual listener, who then gets treated to the intricacy of his quick-witted, tightly written bars. The pandemic deprived Brown's 2020 full-length Journey of a proper album cycle, but half the room had the chorus to its weary yet hopeful highlight “Runnin’ ” committed to memory regardless. The presence of saxophonist Austin Willé, meanwhile — clad in all black and sporting shades, he drifted on and off the stage throughout the night, but played on nearly every one of Brown’s songs — gave the affair one more touch of class.

Before Brown went on, fellow Scene freelancer Lance Conzett and I remarked how we’d only seen these acts either too many hours before the sun went down — Taylorr at The Groove on Record Store Day, or the aforementioned Marquez Exit/In gig — or so late at night that the crowd was unlikely to remember specifics (as with Brown at Spewfest 2019). Though most have performed at least a few local gigs at more normal showtimes, it was a treat to catch everyone absolutely in their element at NMAAM. The gig was an outstanding showcase for some of Music City’s top-tier Black talent. And it put an exclamation point on the item in the Scene’s Feb. 3 cover story outlining things Nashville needs that points out how the city needs Black-owned ticketed venues to get diverse communities participating in that part of the music business, too.

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