- Leor Galil
- Chrissy Murderbot is not an international rapper.
South by Southwest is a festival that has international pull, but the coverage tends to skew toward English-language acts, and that doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon. There are the marquee names dropping by the fest in order to stay in the picture (Justin Timberlake, anyone?) during a time that’s meant to spotlight up-and-coming musicians, and even the groups filling the role of “buzz band to watch” tend to be acts that have been getting attention prior to SXSW. I’ve got nothing against a group like, say, Metz, but the last thing I want to do when I’m in Austin is see a band whose critically acclaimed debut album was first made available to the public via an exclusive New Yorker stream, not to mention a group that’s no stranger to touring.
With that in mind I spent a good chunk of Wednesday night at Meduse Lounge, a tiny upstairs bar close to the epicenter of SXSW but far enough away to make it difficult to draw curious pedestrians without a plan. My plan was to catch Israeli-Canadian rapper Shai Haddad, aka Shi 360, an MC who raps in English and Hebrew. Shi’s bilingual flexibility is a great asset—it’s appealing to those who are intrigued by Hebrew to give it a listen but whose grasp on that language might keep them from picking up a rap album without a word of English, and it provides the rapper with an additional vocabulary to use and abuse in an endless quest to create wordplay that sounds great. Plus, given that Hebrew is synonymous with Judaism, the dude has a built-in fan base that he just needs to find.
Most of that potential fan base was elsewhere Wednesday night at 9:15 PM, when Shi was supposed to take the stage. He didn’t appear then; making a festival of this size run is an imperfect science, and things were behind schedule. Waiting for Shi to perform, I took in a couple sets from other international rappers, including an MC from Mexico named Milkman, whose sleek rap tracks felt at home with most Top 40 radio. Shi, too, has pop sensibilities, but those tendencies tend to get diminished by his earnest interest in blending music and cultures from across the world—it proved to be his strength and his weakness.