SXSW artist to watch: Nnamdi Ogbonnaya

When we talk about Nnamdi Ogbonnaya one day, I hope that we get to say “I saw him in a tiny room at South by Southwest one time.”

The Chicago rapper pulled faces and confounded genre inside Sidewinder for a late-night showcase that, considering the less-than-massive crowd in the less-than-massive space, felt like a special secret. Ogbonnaya and his band gave the crowd hip-hop, jazz, absolutely shredded garage rock and even an emo moment. Also: air horns.

“Chaka Khan followed me on Instagram today!” Ogbonnaya proudly exclaimed about what he called the greatest day of his life. The announcement was followed by the “pew-pew-pew-peeeeewww” that you’re used to hearing at a Fader Fort rap collective gig. Sidewinder could use more airhorns all the time, honestly.

Ogbonnaya’s barely contained madcap electricity charmed endlessly. “Don’t Turn Me Off” best summed up the artist’s talents: soft-spoken but agile flow; high-octane rock chops that made you either back away from the speakers or crowd closer to them; and an ever-percolating face that changed expressions on beat.  Later on, “Honey on the Low” pulsed with cool charisma and shoulder shakes. “MMMM MMMM MMM(i’m finninin((dookielipz))),” a song by Nnamdi’ Super Secret Side Project that I will not attempt to format in this publication’s house style, unleashed Ogbonnaya from his post, its gross-out lyrics propelling him into the audience and inspiring some a mic-dangling rockstar stunt.

LOOKING FOR SOME FUN? CHECK THE SXSW SIDE PARTY GUIDE

Worth appreciating at 1 a.m.: the sensitive side of Ogbonnaya. No drippy Drake R&B here. Early in the set, Ogbonnaya took a moment to transform into a quiet-voiced marvel, repeating “I am deceptively strong” in a small voice while his searching eyes tip-toed across the room. On “Me 4 Me,” the artist confessed “I want someone who will love me for me, not the person that you think I ought to be,” a low-key heartbreaker that cut straight to the quick. And a yearning and math-rock-y “Should Have Known,” toward the end of the set honestly wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a mixtape with Minus the Bear and TTNG.

But “Let Go of My Ego,” which Fader called the “catchiest song of 2017 you still haven’t heard yet,” sealed the deal on the Nnamdi Ogbonnaya that you could see taking over the world. With a playful sound D.R.A.M. wishes he thought of, a wit that Danny Brown would admire and a willingness to turn the party that Andrew W.K. would proudly nod at, Ogbonnaya showed star power that’s way bigger than the inside of that tiny club.