Southern hip-hop at large, and Atlanta's homegrown scene in particular, is going through a metamorphosis. The Dungeon Family seems to be locked away. Young Jeezy survived the trap, but his buzz is starting to die. Ludacris is busy building a restaurant. And T.I. the King is on house arrest.
Add declining record sales and increasing Internet influence to the country's waning infatuation with all things Southern, and hip-hop is on the verge of becoming as homogenous as it's ever been. So seeing the artist roster on the promotional fliers for the fourth annual A3C (All 3 Coasts) Music Festival is more like looking at a tarot card than an advertisement.
In addition to names such as Clan Destined, Collective Efforts and Binkis Recs, the 2008 edition features national acts like the Re-Up Gang/Clipse, Little Brother, Wale, Guilty Simpson, Aceyalone, Akrobatik, Tanya Morgan, Del Tha Funky Homosapien and Jeru the Damaja.
"With this festival, it just comes down to if it's good or not," says Brian Knott, partner and founder of A3C. "Just because it's underground doesn't mean it's good and just because it's on the radio doesn't make it hot. We're really trying to say who's dope, and in addition to that, who can put on a show, too."
A3C got its start three years ago as "an independent, backpacker-driven" festival, says Knott, who was running Atlanta's now defunct indie label ATF Records at the time. He created the festival to serve as an outlet for his artists and their associates. It wasn't meant to be a reoccurring thing, but the feedback from the show was so positive that he decided to keep it going. Each year the bill has grown larger, with this year's three-day event being the biggest ever.
"What we are trying to do is be inclusive of everything," insists Knott, who is especially excited about A3C playing host to the first reunion of the legendary Juice Crew (including attendees Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Marley Marl, MC Shan, Roxanne Shante and Craig G) in 17 years.
"I think historically, [A3C] was backpacker-driven because that's who we knew then, but as we've grown I think it represents how diverse we are."
The new crop of Atlantans featured in the festival represent a microcosm of that diversity. Friday night's Counter Couture event, hosted by Caleb Gauge with DJ Klever manning the tables, will showcase names like Proton, Gripplyaz, Hollyweerd and Rebel Rock/Atlantic recording artist B.O.B.
While Proton and Gripp have been mainstays in Atlanta's "otherground" scene for years, and Hollyweerd and B.O.B. have had mild radio support recently, A3C will be the first time that many outside of each act's niche fan base will get to see what some are calling the future of Atlanta hip-hop.
"As much as we are the home to Lil Jon, we are the home to OutKast," Knott says. "When you look at OutKast and Goodie Mob, to me that's where a lot of these artists are cut from. We have an influx of people coming here trying to sound like Southern rappers and fit into that sound. These artists in the fashion show are trying to find their own sound out of the South and we want to support that."
In the grand scheme of hip-hop fests, A3C also seems to be one of the few that actually appeals to all. Similar factions like Rock the Bells, Paid Dues and Scribble Jam put in bids as the premier hip-hop festival. But with A3C being a stationary event rather than a tour, it has more appeal.
"When you look at the landscape, Rock the Bells is a New York-centered festival, Paid Dues is a West Coast-centered festival and Scribble Jam is in Ohio," says Knott, adding that while it's nice to camp out all day, the best rap shows are in nightclubs with drink in hand. "We're the only people that do what we do in the Southeast. A lot of these artists – solid touring artists – if they came through Atlanta [they] might play for 250 people. But at A3C they will do 900 to 1,200 people. I think that's what's attractive."
Staying true to its hip-hop tag, A3C offers more than just rap shows. Friday and Saturday will both host B-boy exhibitions while Saturday will hold both a producer's battle and women in hip-hop panel.
"The bottom line here is to have fun," Knott say. "There was a while where hip-hop wasn't about being fun, it was about being hard. I love a lot of that music, but I think the festival atmosphere brings the fun back. We're trying to bring the block party back."
For more about A3C and the Juice Crew reunion, visit www.clcribnotes.com.