An artist I was excited to see listed on the CMJ schedule is Elle Varner. The Los Angeles-born singer-songwriter's music was introduced to me during my most recent visit to NYC, only a few months ago. Traveling with the staff and youth of the Hip-Hop On L.O.C.K. Project, we were welcomed on a tour of J. Records where we were amongst the first to hear Ms. Varner's debut single, "Only Wanna Give It To You," featuring J. Cole. She has since released a colorful music video that also incorporates a Cinderella shoe-themed plot. With her powerful singing voice and unexpected rapping ability, Varner embodies talent that hasn't been seen in the public eye since the glory days of Lauryn Hill. Varner performs Tuesday at Arlene's Grocery (7:00 p.m.).
Also performing Tuesday are Pittsburgh-bred indie-duo 1, 2, 3. The group, comprised of Nic Snyder and Josh Sickels, plays their first of a few CMJ sets at the Brooklyn Bowl for the LIVE4EVER Media Party (7:10 PM). In June, 1, 2, 3 released their debut album, New Heaven, preceded a national tour that included shows in several East Coast and Midwest cities. And for those arriving for the weekend of the CMJ Music Marathon, 1, 2, 3 will be performing on Saturday night at the Knitting Factory (9:10 PM).
On Wednesday afternoon, as is with many of the afternoons, there are an overwhelming amount of intriguing panels. For the sake of your time and acknowledging this publication, I will only mention one. The "Producing Killer Videos on a YouTube Budget" will be moderated by Pittsburgh film and music video make Ian Wolfson, of Rex Arrow Films. Founded in 2007, Rex Arrow Films has most notably been credited with a long list of video production work for Mac Miller. The particular panel takes place at NYU Kimmel Center – Room 905/907 (3:30 PM).
Also on this day, Perry High School graduate Nikki Jean takes the stage. Since last performing in Pittsburgh in September 2010, Jean released her album, Pennies In A Jar, which includes the hit song "Million Star Motel," featuring Black Thought and Lupe Fiasco. The singer-songwriter's album has songs co-written by Bob Dylan, Burt Bacharach, Carole King, Carly Simon, and several others. Jean will be performing at S.O.B.'s (8:30 PM).
Rhyme Calisthenics: The Official MC Competition, founded in Pittsburgh, continues making strides with a showcase at CMJ. SYNERGY x FREE LVE host the event at the Hiro Ballroom, Thursday night (7:00 PM), which also features art displays and music performances by King Fantastic and ASAP Rocky, among others. Different from past Rhyme Cal competitions, the night's showcase will be a one-on-one challenge that includes three rounds of wheel-spinning action. Pittsburgh native and Rhyme Cal champion Real Deal faces off against New York native and D.C. Rhyme Cal champion Jess Jamez. The event is sure to entertain the audience with a performance unlike anything they've seen before.
Entering the weekend, one of the most renowned music groups to call Pittsburgh home, Rusted Root, performs Friday night at Le Poisson Rouge (8:30 PM). The folk-rock jam-band is an elder of the 1,000-plus performing artists of the CMJ Music Marathon. Rusted Root became famous with the hit song, "Send Me On My Way," from their debut album, When I Woke Up, released in 1994. Although they haven't released a collective album since the '90's, they have continued touring; this stop for CMJ in NYC is one of several along the East Coast, closing with a performance on the Gateway Clipper Majestic in Pittsburgh on Oct. 28.
And so we've reached the closing night of the CMJ Music Marathon and Film Festival, Saturday, Oct. 22. As I previously stated, Pittsburgh indie rock duo 1, 2, 3 will be performing on this night, which means that every night of the marathon Pittsburgh will be represented by a featured performer. However, those that have followed my writing know that, although I'm open and interested to all genres of music, hip hop is what raised me. Looking over the final schedule for the week of events, I approached the bottom of the listings before my eyes finally popped out of my head. On Saturday (11:00 PM) at the Music Hall of Williamsburg is a Jam Session with Talib Kweli, Pharoahe Monch, Jean Grae, and Buckshot. These four highly acclaimed hip-hop MC's will be performing with a band, and to be honest, I wouldn't be surprised to see several other prominent artists find their way to the stage during this showcase. This looks to be an incredible way to end an exciting week overflowing with artists on the brink of success, whether mainstream, underground, major label, or independent.