This weekend's S.L.U.M. Fest, now in its second year, was an overload of talent, controlled chaos and more references to swag than a swag-only dictionary. There were also several jokes about Tupac, countless baseball hats and more proof of the Midwest's status as a hip-hop stronghold. After several sweaty hours at the sprawling celebration, A to Z brought back a few of the highlights from the twelve-hour festival and the hundreds of artists who played across the four stages set up at Atomic Cowboy. We might also have brought back some swag.
Aztec Dinero This is a pretty good title for the two-piece's aesthetic: fun but vulgar lyrics predicated on Hispanic sentiment and a string of seemingly endless cliches. The audience had fun, but creativity was in pretty short supply. It was at this point that we understood the day's setlist was out of order, which made the festival unpredictable but tougher to tackle. Artists played in the general area of time they were supposed to but might skip some and return to others an hour later. Key moment: We're pretty sure they rhymed "desire" with "higher" -- and then "choir."
Midwest Avengers Even in the ungodly heat that accompanies an outdoor hip-hop festival in June, the Avengers played a tight, disciplined set that showed solid command of each emcee's style. The different verses refracted each other in a way that gave listeners more than enough chances to get into an act that already started out strong. Key moment: Everybody can get into this act, and we have proof: Standing next to a woman in a Nine Inch Nails shirt and Docs, we spotted a goth enthusiast with a black parasol and several people who would look comfortable at a Vampire Weekend show. It's the great equalizer.
Trey and Zuck We're not entirely sure what this rapper is called, which is weird considering how many times he was asked to repeat his short set. After a surprise announcement that this was being shot as a part of MTV's Made, the show's cameramen (who were actually wearing Made shirts, to heighten the lack of surprise) remained within a foot of the rapper at all times. What we saw: two white college-aged dudes with their hats on backwards singing about school, beer and luck with the ladies. The main artist was backed up by highly produced beats and his taller friend, though both of them acted out their lyrics literally while rapping. "Don't sleep on me like a bed at Macy's / All the haters be growing on me like daisies."The act reminded us of The Chalk Boyz without the local charm and know-how to make us watch it a second time. But we did: Unhappy with the angles of the first shoot, Made's cameraman asked to repeat the entire thing. Key moment: when we realized this is how reality TV works.
Mwellz Female artists were few but represented strongly at this year's S.L.U.M. Fest. Although their sets attracted smaller audiences in general, Mwellz packed the venue's Xraylibra stage with people who had clearly seen her before. And we're jealous: The slight rapper held her own onstage in a white baseball cap and a half-sleeve tattoo as she rapped lines of empowerment over a heavy backbeat that folded scratching into an occasionally blissed-out electronica. At one point, Mwellz (a.k.a. Marcy) stopped her set to repeat a verse she wrote recently. Moments like this, which found frequent home at the festival, underlined the earnestness of the message rather than overriding it. Key moment: Her lyrics hit hard with fans. Case in point: "Once I got a pen, you can't disarm me."
William H It's hard to deny William H's strength on stage, so we won't even try. What we will do is mention his stage persona, rooted in a combination of aggression and weed jokes that made his set simultaneously hilarious and hard-hitting. After a sing-a-long of violently anti-police sentiment, William H transitioned to a call-out for Mary Jane. "Y'all like smoking weed? If y'all have some of the green, light that shit up right fucking now." The highlight of his act was one of the strongest moments of this year's festival: Joined onstage by two other rappers, the group took on a song called "The City" that was prefaced with the idea of being "tired of all this bullshit violence going on in St. Louis." Throughout lyrics about the city's socioeconomic issues and an unrelenting backbeat, a chorus repeatedly condemning "the same shit" found paradox with someone cooing the line "round and round." Key moment: That was it.