Straight Outta Philly: SXSW

Local poet & rapper heads West for music industry enrichment, adventure.

A winning program, a new book, film & music collaborations – all kicked off by an incredible trip to SXSW last March. With six months down, 2024 has been action-packed for Andre Saunders, Mt Airy hip-hop artist and Resident Poet for LaSalle University’s “Writers Matter” program. May his joyful recap inspire us all to make the most of the rest of the year (as told to The Local in a recent conversation).  

In his own words… 

Like “knowledge and power,” “words and music” are two things that go together to change the world. I’ve been penning raps since I was a kid, and after three successful albums I now channel verses with thousands of students across 18 schools in an exciting, interactive writing program designed to cultivate a sense of self, and provide some expressive tools to help navigate the complexities of life in our city.

I’m a big believer in honoring your truth and sharing it authentically. With “Writers Matter,” I hope that teaching students to find and cultivate their own voices will empower them to heal, dream, and grow. Before you can achieve any goal, you have to be able to imagine it, right? Poetry, hip-hop, and rap are great platforms for young minds to expand and explore their lives, and maybe find little light in the darkness and confusion of growing up.

Of all the highlights of 2024 so far, SXSW stands out as a huge personal and professional win that I’m excited to build upon this summer. This festival held in Austin, Texas every March is a game-changing opportunity for artists all over the country – the connections you make over these seven days can shape the course of your music career. It’s not often that you get top-tier music talent with the best industry insiders all in the same place at the same time.

At SXSW, you are surrounded by label executives, talent scouts, managers, decision-makers, musicians, producers, journalists, and bloggers. So many connections and networking opportunities, plus a ton of exposure, marketing, and promotion that can greatly expand your fan base. It’s an honor to perform at such a historic festival and have your name attached to an event that’s featured Kendrick Lamar, Prince, Janelle Monae, Kid Cudi, Amy Winehouse, and many more big names.

This year, I was joined by Philly producer/youth mentor DJ Will Nasty, and we attended a wide variety of events, from a high-energy rave/showcase, to a thoughtful meetup of artists and music industry peers about distribution, training, and advocacy through TuneCore and the Recording Academy memberships. The Marshall Funhouse hosted a three-day carnival with live music, DJs, games, food, vendors, and solid hangs – something for everyone!

One of my favorite shows was “Mass Appeal and Hulu presents Freaknik: The Wildest Party Never Told”, an immersive SXSW concert with performances by Big Boi, Flo Milli, Ying Yang Twins, and DJ Drama. Hosted by Jermaine Dupri and Uncle Luke, the event promoted their new documentary on Atlanta’s famous spring break party from the 80s and 90s (which premiered this year on Hulu).

It wasn’t all hobnobbing, though. I was excited to introduce and present “Confidential Music Live,” a special showcase featuring Philly talent and the sounds of DJ Will Nasty. In addition to curating, I also performed as a headliner along with Robyn Lashae and Verbosity. A few of our opening acts included JustJonavin, CJ Da Prodigy, Prince Naz, and other local and regional names.

Another highlight was a private event, Timbo Ido Live, where selected artists joined Timbaland on-air to showcase some of their music for his live stream audience. He gave me plenty of advice and feedback, loved the messages in my music, and encouraged me to continue being true to myself, being authentic, and trusting God’s timing. Of all the songs I played for him, he liked “Notice Me” best. Such a great learning opportunity, and now I’m extra excited to get back to recording and trying new sounds.

This summer, DJ Will Nasty and I will continue our collaboration, producing special events where we perform along with other local musical talents. I’m also working on publishing my first collection of poems, and filming a documentary with Black Music City about the media and its relationship with Philadelphia’s Black and Brown performers and industry professionals (I’m also working on a documentary about mental health).

My journey through music and mentorship has been nothing short of transformative. From guiding young writers to sharing stages with renowned artists at SXSW, I am continuously inspired by the power of words and the connections they create. Together, we can continue to find rhythm in words and make meaningful impacts on our communities.

Always open to being contacted for performances and speaking engagements. I’d love to hear from you, please reach out via email aandres1220@gmail.com or social media: Instagram @AndreS_1220, via Linktree, or on YouTube. Please check out my music on iTunes and all streaming platforms. Thanks!

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