Dante Ross has been in or around hip-hop since the mid '70s. He got his start in the music industry as a messenger for Def Jam and worked his way up to becoming a very successful A&R. Dante has spent time at Tommy Boy and Elektra Records where he signed Ol Dirty Bastard after hearing him freestyle on the Stretch & Bobbito show. He's also had a hand in Everlast's career and countless others. Dante is always great to kick it with because he has stories for days. One in particular involves a SXSW producer panel he was on with the RZA in 1999. They were the only two hip-hop people there, as he puts it. "I was on there talking about my work on Everlast's Whitey Ford Sings the Blues and how we used Protools," he says. "Around that time no one was using it so I was the odd man out. Fast forward some years later and SXSW is a hip-hop fuck fest; their urban programming has seemed to outweigh everything else the last five years."
For the 10th consecutive year, Dante will head to Austin to check out some acts he's A&Ring and to peep some performances from bands he's interested in. Since he's been attending the event for so long, he knows what to expect. "SXSW used to be indie-rock based, it was smaller, you didn’t see the big corporate bands there," he says. "I never go there for the established bands, I go to see acts I haven’t heard about. But you probably won’t find the next emerging talent in Austin anymore. Also, if you’re an artist and there isn’t demand for you to go down, don’t. If you think you’re going to break in SXSW, you’re mistaken. You have to have a battery in your back and some muscles nowadays. Artists that already have a buzz can have moments, though. Macklemore and Odd Future are some acts I remember going with a buzz and leaving with an even bigger one."
Today we're going to get some SXSW knowledge from one of rap's OGs to gear up for the music portion of the event. Check out his SXSW survival kit below.
You'll need your sunglasses:
"Sunglasses because I stay out until 4 o’clock in the morning every night and usually get about three hours of sleep. So I look like shit and I don’t wanna see anybody or say hello to anybody until I’m awake and had like six cups of coffee. If I have my shades on I can act like I don’t see anybody and duck the whole world. They’re vital to give you the duck factor. Thirsty cats know what I look like because of the Interwebs, so they always wanna give me music or a card. I can act like I don’t see them when I have sunglasses on."
Make sure to wear comfortable shoes:
"I suggest a very comfortable pair of running shoes that you don’t give a shit about because you’re gonna step in mud, you’re gonna be in dirt. I suggest some Nike Lunars or Adidas Boosts, but beaters that you don’t give a shit about because they’re gonna get trashed. I took a pair of white Jordan 3s and destroyed them one year. I learned quick that wasn’t the way to do it. Dark, comfortable running shoes."
Have some Purell handy:
"Your gonna be shaking a lot of sweaty dirty hands, maybe the most of all time. I highly recommend some Purell for those extra sweaty industry pounds."
Don't forget to buy breath mints:
"You don't want to get caught with the dragon while talking biz. On the inverse you probably should have mints or some gum handy when the person hijacking your ears breath smells like dead horse ass. Some Dentine Ice can help make this convo tolerable."
Drink some water:
"You can never drink enough water, its the single most important way to keep revitalized at SXSW. Remember to hydrate people."
Bring a hat to combat the heat and the rain:
"You'll need a baseball cap or bucket hat. Whether its sunny or rainy it comes in extra handy."
Renting a bike will save your life:
"This is the key, and I discovered this two years ago, rent a bicycle. Getting around is impossible: you can’t get a cab, traffic is fucked, those bicycle things with the guys is a fucking rip-off. So, I’ve been renting bikes the last couple years, and I get to see more shows than damn near anybody. I rent one, it comes with the lock, they bring it to me, they pick it up when I leave, it’s the best thing to do. One night, I rode my bike like two miles to the Illmore. I rode back at four in the morning. The bike is clutch."
Be sure to make a schedule:
"I have already gone through the 100 shows that I wanna see and put them in my Google calendar. I have alerts that go off 45 minutes before the shows start. And, of course, I won’t be able to make them all, but if I hit 20 percent of them, I’m doing great. This year I have Lil Dickey and MadeInTYO performing, so obviously I wanna catch those guys a couple times. Then there are bands that I wanna see like unsigned, emerging acts. Every year I catch a couple shows that I didn’t know about that are great. I go not only as an A&R guy, but as a fan as well. Last year I caught Jack Garratt—he was signed but I didn’t know that—he was amazing. I got to see him a couple times, the guy’s gonna be a superstar. Every year I see something that’s really fucking cool."
Don't forget those phone batteries:
"This is clutch. I usually bring two but this year I’m bringing three. I always keep a fully charged one in my back pocket. I use Ankers, I think they work a little better than Mophies; they’re like 30 bucks on Amazon. I keep one charging in my room, keep one in my back pocket, and one on my phone at all times. My phone will never die, it worked last year and it should work this year."
Use sunscreen because that Texas sun will kill you:
"I got caught out there a couple years ago at a Converse thing, and I had a red neck for three days. [Laughs.] I’m a pale individual so I’m bringing SPF 30. It was not a good look, I had raccoon eyes. Just another excuse to wear shades."
"Bring sweatpants, dress comfortable. As much as we all want to stunt, comfort is key at SXSW. I know you want to wear your favorite Jordans, Supreme, or whatever the fuck, just go comfortable. So I’m bringing a couple sweats, beaters, and a lot of clothes that I really don’t care about."
Have a raincoat on deck:
"It’s almost guaranteed to rain in Texas this time of year at least once during the week. Bring a light raincoat. Last year it rained the entire time."
Always go to shows by yourself:
"Don’t worry about meeting up with anybody, getting this one in, and that one in. It’s a lot easier to move dolo. I don’t like to meet up with anybody beforehand; I’ll meet up with you at the show. Just keep it moving. I’ll see you at the venue. I’ve realized that it’s easier for me to get in somewhere when I’m by myself."
And always work the angles:
"Before I go, I make sure I’m hooked up at Fader Fort, and most of the showcases I wanna check out because your badge only does so much for you. If all else fails, go to venue and talk shit to get in. I’ve become a master, and when I’m alone I can get in any show and backstage pretty much anywhere in the world. I’m a finesse master. Remember to always be nice, have your business card ready, and be patient. I’m also older, so I don’t look like the 12-year-old kid who’s always trying to scam his way into everything. One year Snoop and the Doggpound were playing and I couldn’t get in, so I went to the back of the venue, saw Kurupt, and he got me and my friend in. I went from not being able to get in, to being on stage with those guys."
Place your faith in the food trucks:
"The likelihood of sitting down somewhere is slim to none. It might happen for breakfast and that’s it. Hit the food trucks downtown. Late night I usually hit the Eastside Drive In which is on 6th and San Marcos, there’s one on 6th and Wall, and one on 2nd and Congress. They’re easy to get to when you have a bike. Find one good food truck and stick with it. During the day I always hit the Park Side on 6th St. It’s consistent, it’s safe, it’s good, they take credit cards, they let you charge your phone. It’s a great pit stop. I’ll eat there probably once a day. For BBQ, Lambert’s is banging, and the Salt Lick is always good. Torchy’s is always good for Tex Mex also."
Just say no to panels:
"Skip all of them, they’re worthless, don’t even bother. Go to the convention center as little as possible. Also, when you’re picking up registration, don’t listen to anybody. There’s like 18 guys who tell you what to do and they’re always wrong. That’s my rule in life."
Here are the venues you should frequent:
"Try to go to one place that’s going to have a multitude of showcases. That’s usually the Scoot In or the Fader Fort. The Converse/Thrasher thing, and the Mass Appeal show will be at the Scoot In almost every year. You can watch a bunch of shows in one place. Make sure you’re laced for those three things because you’ll see the most shows at them."
Here are the venues to avoid:
"Hype Hotel gets a little nuts, if you don’t have in at the Fader Fort, good luck because that line is humongous. The Austin Music Hall is retarded too because there’s like 800 security guards telling you, “no, no, no.” It’s a pain, even though I always end up backstage. For shows you wanna get into, never give up, show some tenacity."
Always avoid these people:
"Avoid all thirst buckets who wanna give you music and chew your ear off, anybody who recognizes me from the Berrics, because if you know me from a skateboard website, you need to get a life. I also want to avoid lawyers, managers, and agents. I wanna see music, not talk to them. If someone tries to give me a CD, I’m gracious, and then I find the nearest garbage can. If you’re passing out a CD in this era, you’re probably in struggle mode anyway. If you want to get your music to an A&R guy, get a flash drive. Give us something we can use because chances are I’m going to need one. So if your music is on a flash drive I’ll probably check it out. I have hundreds of those and I usually listen to the music initially before I clean them out. Also avoid the hipster, indie rock guy, not gonna be very fun."
The best advice for up and coming artists:
"If you’re an artist that wants to get heard, be polite, give important people a flash drive, and keep it moving. You have a much better chance of getting heard if you don’t chew people’s ears off."
Finding weed is easy:
"I don’t smoke weed but it’s everywhere in Austin. Everyone from a cabbie to a bell hop will be able to lace you."
If you booze, you lose:
"There’s lots of free booze so don’t get hammered because you won’t be able to function the next day."
Make friends with locals:
"Make sure to have a local homie who lives there. Since I have a couple people out there, they can always give me the inside scoop on some shit."