Tennessee Rap Is Vibrant and Strong as Ever at Marathon Music Works

Tay KeithPhoto: Kaedi Maney

Tennessee hip-hop was well-represented at Marathon Music Works on Saturday night. The Red Bull-presented show, called The Underflow, brought together some of the brightest talents from Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga, with producer of platinum-selling tracks Tay Keith at the top of the bill.

The concert showcased not just the diversity of contemporary acts across Tennessee’s rap and R&B scenes, but also allowed the artists to show off their range. There were party tracks and introspective jams; some were rendered in classic Southern sounds, while others blurred genre lines.

Brian Brown DSCF7949Brian BrownPhoto: Kaedi Maney

Knoxville-born, Nashville-residing MC Daisha McBride was backed by a live band, and opened with hard bars and roaring instrumentals. She also highlighted “If You Really Knew Me,” a somber and personal track. “There’s a lot of stuff we don’t talk about in rap,” she said, before launching into the song and its honest look at depression. (Our photog missed out, unfortunately.) In a similar way, Brian Brown also showed off the depth of his catalog. He hit the stage with seemingly boundless energy and lots of youthful charm, backed by booming bass on a trap-influenced track. (He also changed from sneakers to loafers in the middle of his set!) But later he slowed it down for “Newports,” a close look at stress, sadness and self-medication.

Jamiah DSCF7832JamiahPhoto: Kaedi Maney

R&B singer Jamiah earned some of the loudest cheers, with her impressive vocals enhanced by her own choreographed moves and a pair of backup dancers. She closed her set, a strong mix of forward-thinking pop and soul, with one of the night’s more stylish exits. Crooning the last lyric, she pointed her index finger to the sky and walked backstage as the band continued to jam away.

Black Son DSCF7610The BlackSonPhoto: Kaedi Maney

Tim Gent brought fierce lines and a sharp focus, with his precise delivery punctuated by live drums. He was also joined by collaborator Bryant Taylorr, who opened the showcase earlier in the night, for a few crowd-pleasing songs. The BlackSon, rocking a white jumpsuit with various phrases written across it, also showed off some dexterous lyricism, and even included an impressive set piece in his performance: He invited members of his Black City collective on stage, and they stood sentinel through most of the song, erupting into dancing on the final verse.

Trapperman DSCF8946Trapperman DalePhoto: Kaedi Maney

Chattanooga’s YGTUT showed off a smooth Southern style with jazzy flourishes and a talent for storytelling — his closing song “Big Poppa” is a prime example of how he brings it all together. Petty also brought hard rhymes and a classic Southern flow, and mixed in punchlines and humor to complete the package. Trapperman Dale, the penultimate act, wasted no time with his set, swooping in with impressive bars over thudding, trap-style production. He was also joined by frequent collaborator and Grind Hard label founder Starlito.

Tay Keith DSCF9382Tay KeithPhoto: Kaedi Maney

Tay Keith closed the show with a half-hour DJ set. The Memphis-raised producer just graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in December, but he was easily the best-known performer on the lineup. At age 22, he already boasts hits with Drake (“Nonstop”) and Travis Scott (“Sicko Mode”), and even has a track with Beyoncé: “Before I Let Go,” which was added as a bonus joint to her Homecoming: The Live Album. Keith’s set reflected the booming drums and bass of his work with Drake and Scott, and he brought the party to a crescendo. There already plenty of dancing, but the already energetic crowd cut loose to hits from Drake and DaBaby, with a mosh pit forming in front of the stage.

101.1-FM The Beat’s Joe Major hosted the proceedings, keeping the crowd engaged between sets and even showing off some dance moves at a couple of points. Ron Gilmore Jr. and A.B. Eastwood handled DJ duties for most of the night. Gilmore, a Nashville native and producer and keyboardist at J. Cole’s Dreamville label, helped organize the event alongside Eric Holt of long-running concert promotions enterprise Lovenoise.

As previously noted, Marathon is a big venue for a show featuring local and regional hip-hop, but the acts stepped up to the challenge. Though you could argue that Keith was the biggest draw, the audience response was generally strong throughout the night, and the room was full. With a collection of talent this diverse, rappers and fans in our area have plenty to be proud of — and if you’re sleeping on anyone on this bill, you’re missing out.

See our slideshow for more photos.

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