Three years since it launched and two since it dropped its vowels (ostensibly to avoid confusion with Gonzales, Louisiana's more crustacean-centered bash), JMBLYA has distinguished itself from the crowded field of Texas fests by staking a claim on hip-hop up-and-comers.
That they've pulled the likes of Tyler, The Creator, A$AP Ferg, Earl Sweatshirt and Chance the Rapper to the stage of the Whitewater Amphitheater these past two years rightly suggests they've got an eye for spotting on-the-rise talent.
True to form, this year's bash — spread over two gigs, in Dallas and New Braunfels — features another impressive freshman rap class, the majority of whom have only been alive for one Bush era. For those of you making the trek up I-35, here's who to mark as must-sees.
The Houston-born rapper/producer holds the laudable distinction of attending and dropping out of UT Austin and UTSA. Based on the winning streak he's been on since, that may have been the best drop-out call since Bill Gates. Or at least Scott's mentor, Kanye West. Months after moving to LA, Scott was behind the boards with Ye, working on Cruel Summer and Yeezus. Soon after, he signed with GOOD Music, putting out a debut mixtape featuring 2 Chainz, A$AP Ferg and T.I. Two years later, he's mixed records for Drake, cut a hit song with the Rich Gang and co-produced Rihanna's latest, "Bitch, Better Have My Money."
The one mountain Scott has yet to scale in his quick climb has been stardom as a solo act. His official début, Rodeo, releases this week, and from its numerous delays, it's pretty clear Scott intends to make a big statement. For his headlining set at JMBLYA, Scott will no doubt dig into his strong back-catalog of mixtape singles and best known collabs, including: The Young Thug/Rich Homie Quan collab "Mamacita" and the trap-harpsichord banger "Don't Play." But it'll be interesting to hear him approach the new material and to see if he's really got it and can take it to the next level.
In a Chicago scene stacked with upstarts ranging from the heartless drill of Chief Keef to the acid hip-hop of Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa seems intent to pull from all sides. Like his tutor Kanye West, the rapper/singer traffics in all manner of styles: club ready EDM, street tested trapbeats, a bit of future-sound R&B. Best of all, he's a complete cut-up, dropping odes to orange soda (including a Kenan and Kel sample), using his phone as a prop in a much hyped XXL cypher like a dweeb and letting himself get arrested, roofied and hit by a truck in the excellent video to "Down on My Luck."
All of this combined to make 2013's INNANETAPE one of that year's must-have mixtapes.
He's also been gifted with the coveted Kanye bump, appearing alongside Yeezy and Sia on SNL. And, if Kanye ever drops that new record, Mensa sings on the lead-off track, "Wolves." His latest, the Kanye-featuring "U Mad," points towards a bigger, brasher sound, one which will hopefully come alive on the Whitewater stage.
At 25, he's the old man of the bunch, having worked the Bay Area scene for almost a decade. Unlike his Tumblr-centric tourmates, G-Eazy built up his following the old-fashioned way on MySpace, cementing ties with a number of Bay Area legends, such as E-40 and Lil B. Last year's These Things Happen is by no small measure his best effort to date, nicely pulling together his penchant for self-aware lyrics, off-kilter beats and an oddly charismatic sense of flow.
The Brooklyn hip-hop trio has positioned itself as a sort of rap game Misfits, trafficking in the sort of lo-fi recordings, horror-show imagery, violence and sinister energy that I'm sure a fellow dark soul like Glenn Danzig would appreciate. Along with its trap and EDM-obsessed tourmates, the Zombies offer a bit more of a throwback, hard-edged sound to the lineup — "Beast Coast," as they dub it. It's hard to tell how tracks like "Death," "Drug Parade" and "Thugnificense" will sound in the festival's mid-afternoon sun, but no doubt the Zombies will bring plenty of heat of their own.
It may be a stretch to say that PARTYNEXTDOOR is poised to become the next The Weeknd. Then gain, the right elements are all there. He's from Toronto; he's established himself as a Drake protégé; he's even got the dreads. His murky, drug-addled churn of minor-key samples and trap beats played a major role on Drake's If Your Reading This, It's Too Late, especially on the excellent "Preach." His own releases — so far comprising a set of self-titled mixtapes — skew a bit more towards the party sound inherent in his name, a trait which should endear him to the festival atmosphere.
$55-$159, 2pm-midnight Sat, June 20, Whitewater Amphitheater, 11860 FM 306, New Braunfels, (830) 964-3800, whitewaterrocks.com