Top 5 Acts to See at JMBLYA (and Why Lil Nas X Is No. 1)

We love you, Lil Wayne, but we're here for Lil Nas X.
We love you, Lil Wayne, but we're here for Lil Nas X. Mikel Galicia
As we reported back in late February, the seventh annual JMBLYA Festival will be headlined by one of the biggest acts in hip-hop, Travis Scott, as well as one of the genre’s most influential torchbearers, Lil Wayne.

It's an exciting offering every year, and one that gets plagued with curveballs (Cardi B cancelled last year, and this year's cancellation honors went to Blueface). Despite this, the festival has still positioned itself as one of the most successful hip-hop festivals in Texas, never mind Dallas.

The Dallas edition of JMBLYA is this Friday at Fair Park. Not a convenient time for most of us in Corporate America, but screw your yearly physical exam, this is what PTO was made for. Either way, if you plan on arriving to the festival earlier in the day, here are five acts you should check out.

Kevin Gates
Next to Lil Wayne, Kevin Gates is easily one of the most tenured rappers on the festival’s entire lineup. During his formative years, the Baton Rouge rapper formed a tight camaraderie with local contemporary Boosie Badazz. Both artists would collaborate until their incarcerations in 2008, which, for Gates, lasted until 2011.

During this prison stint, he earned a master’s degree in psychology through the penitentiary’s education program while being otherwise creatively stagnant. Upon his release, Gates resumed his music career and caught the attention of none other than Weezy himself, who signed Gates onto the management division of Young Money Entertainment. Since then, he has released eight mixtapes and one LP via Atlantic Records.

YoungBoy Never Broke Again
YoungBoy Never Broke Again is yet another Baton Rouge rapper on this year’s JMBLYA installment. Gates himself even gave YoungBoy a feature on the 2016 mixtape 38 Baby.

As his career was taking off, the rapper (born Kentrell Gaulden) was incarcerated in 2016 for suspicion of involvement in an alleged drive-by shooting in Austin. Unlike his mentor Gates, however, Gaulden continued writing music while serving time. He was released in 2017 and has since penned hits such as “Outside Today” and “No Smoke.”

Checkered legal past be damned, the rapper recently dropped a collaborative track with Birdman titled “Cap Talk.” The Cash Money Records co-founder even described YoungBoy as the “next biggest superstar in the world,” and who are we to question the brains behind the label that helped give rise to Drake, Nicki Minaj and Young Thug?

Some people are disillusioned with the overwhelming presence of “mumble rap.” Those same people would find JPEGMAFIA to be a refreshing change of pace and a bit of an outlier on the JMBLYA lineup.

The Baltimore-based rapper (real name Barrington Hendricks) and Air Force veteran cut his teeth in music while serving a tour of duty in Japan, where he formed the group Ghostpop and simultaneously worked toward a solo career under his current moniker.

Ghostpop achieved buzz in Tokyo before Hendricks was honorably discharged in 2015. When he returned to Baltimore, he continued to hone his craft under the JPEGMAFIA name. The result is a more abrasive, experimental brand of hip-hop that brings to mind Dälek, B L A C K I E and yes, even Death Grips. So come for the industrial hip-hop, and stay for the song “I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies.”

Last summer, a video of 10K.Caash dancing with Lil Uzi Vert began to make the rounds online. This dance became known as “The Woah,” and as such, 10K.Caash is now known as “The Creator of the Woah.”

Song-distinctive dance moves are a dime a dozen in hip-hop, but this particular dance has been done by Drake, Travis Scott and Khalid, putting it on the same viral trajectory as the “Crank Dat (Soulja Boy)” dance (this author used to absolutely nail the Crank Dat dance, so he’s an expert on this).

10K.Caash has since penned a deal with Def Jam and has collaborated with artists such as Lil Yachty, Trippie Redd and G.U.N. And the best part? 10K.Caash is from Dallas, and his JMBLYA set will be a perfect hometown bon voyage as he continues his launch to the stratosphere.

Lil Nas X

To delve into the intricacies of Lil Nas X’s breakout hit “Old Town Road” and to discuss whether it is “really” country would be the equivalent of going to Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm, digging up Seattle Slew’s corpse and beating it profusely with a Wandsworth-grade cat o’ nine tails.

As such, we will spare you and not be the umpteenth publication to beat a dead horse, but just know this: the song is fantastic, and no one will probably ever compose an earworm as infectious.

The 19-year-old Atlanta rapper achieved sudden notoriety when “Old Town Road” charted at No. 19 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, only for the Nashville bigwigs to pull the song because “it does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in its current version.”

Thanks to the good ol’ Streisand Effect, Billboard inadvertently fueled Lilmatic’s meteoric rise to the top, and the song is so ubiquitous that even Ellen DeGeneres herself danced to it.

But there’s a lot more to the rapper than just the one song. He is working on his debut album, scheduled to be released sometime this year on Columbia Records, that will include a rock song with Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic fame. He hyped up the Twitterverse last week in dropping samples of each song on the album’s track list, and if that thread predicts anything, “Panini” will also be a smash hit when it drops.

“Old Town Road” also samples a Nine Inch Nails song, and thanks to a remixed version with Billy Ray Cyrus, the “Achy Breaky Heart” artist now shares a songwriting credit with Trent Reznor. We’re glad Lil Nas X is the reason for that.
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Garrett Gravley was born and grew up in Dallas. He mostly writes about music, but veers into arts and culture, local news and politics. He is a graduate of the University of North Texas and has written for the Dallas Observer since October 2018.