A crisp November afternoon might seem out of season for a poolside hang, but Nashville’s hip-hop scene operates outside the box. Starting relatively early Saturday afternoon, artist collective and label ThirdEye & Co. showcased its sprawling roster of talent on The Dive Motel’s poolside stage for a small but incredibly supportive crowd of fans and friends.
I rolled up about a third of the way through the proceedings, missing sets from Chuck Indigo, RyAnne and Demo. At least our photog caught them, and I got to see many of them return as guests soon enough.
The first performer I got to see in full was proud East Nashvillian $hrames. Rocking heavy midtempo beats and a streetwise lyrical flow that championed his East Side roots, basketball and general “get money shit,” $hrames brought enough heat to get the chilly crowd bobbing and swaying. A diverse cast of friends and labelmates hopped onstage to help him rip through the highlights of his catalog in a short, sweet and memorable set. You'd be advised not to sleep on "Smackdown vs. Raw," a recently released posse cut featuring Demo and $hrames as well as JYou and K.O.N., who appeared at the show, too — check out the music video.
Next up, Jordan Xx dialed back the bravado, shifting down into a low-key, introspective and heartfelt style of storytelling. With a heavy emphasis on sincerity, Xx started several of his songs over in an effort to make sure his expression accurately conveyed the mood. Each song ached with a deep, personal touch and a sincere urgency to be understood.
As the sun started to lower, so did the temperature, and I found myself dipping in and out of Dive’s cozy lounge between acts to warm up. The rest of the modest crowd, however, seemed unfazed.
Ron Obasi took the stage next, and he brought some considerable heat. Obasi’s emphasis on aspiring to a better world went down smooth over jazzy samples and minimalist trap-ish beats. On several occasions, saxophonist Austin Willé brought up his horn and lent a little more smoothness to Obasi’s hooks, aided occasionally by vocals from the aforementioned RyAnne. Obasi’s between-song banter was uplifting and reassuring, showcasing a hopeful perspective about hip-hop in Nashville and beyond.
Themes of the personal and reflective persisted in the next set from JXDECE. If the moniker is a play on ’90s R&B hitmakers Jodeci, it’s a boot that fits. Mixing up lo-fi boom-bap beats and smooth tones of left-field R&B, JXDECE’s sound pairs confidence and vulnerability — elegantly expressed on his recent single “Twisted.” His style might remind you of big names like Frank Ocean and Kid Cudi, but filtered through a Southern-style rawness you might associate with Mobb Deep.
The cold was really beginning to sink in, but I stuck it out for a few more songs. RyAnne and Yours Truly Jai crooned together on some smooth alt-R&B, accompanied by a lone electric guitar. They might have made the great Erykah Badu, one of Jai’s heroes, very proud. Rapper Intro followed them by bringing out an entire band, kicking up the funk to a next-level headspace to back up hard-hitting, cerebral rhymes from his recent debut LP Welcome to Next Year.
The show wasn’t quite over yet, but I unfortunately hadn’t dressed to fend off the icy bite of early winter, so I called it a few tunes into Intro’s set. It was a shame, since the performances were giving me the gift of a bunch of new favorite acts to explore in more depth. The rap and R&B scenes in Music City have consistently offered a wealth of talented artists who haven’t yet broken through on a national scale. Seeing crews like ThirdEye and Black City, Funky Tenn coming together and combining their powers is exciting — one more step toward growing that infrastructure for hip-hop here that we so badly need.