Raekwon, GZA, Yelawolf and More Anchor Atlanta's A3C Festival 2012
Raekwon, GZA, Yelawolf and More Anchor Atlanta's A3C Festival 2012

Before Eminem came calling, Yelawolf was ripping through sets at the annual A3C Hip Hop Fest in Atlanta. "I did A3C twice, I think," the rapper tells The Juice. "First year, there was a small room, just a few people and I was doing records that weren't even out. They weren't even on the internet and the second time was before 'Good to Go,' before 'Trunk Muzik' even dropped. I was doing records that were completely underground." Now the rapper can say that he was able to return home, so to speak, and pass the mic to the artists coming up.

The three-day festival kicked off on Thursday, Oct. 11 with energetic performances from newcomers from Alabama's G-Side and DC's Phil Ade to festival veterans Skyzoo and CyHi the Pyrnce. The six-plus stages were dedicated to bringing the best of hip-hop to the masses, whether they've had commercial success or not. For instance, the Straight Outta Texas stage was one of the strongest that first night, as Houston pioneer Lil' Keke blazed through crowd favorites, old and new.

On Friday night, Oct. 12, attendees witnessed the return of the 1990s with Dungeon Family, Raekwon and GZA all anchoring the biggest stages. Hip-hop heads couldn't stop talking about the show Wu-Tang's Chef put on. After captivating performances from Chino XL, Torae and Freeway, Rae emerged to perform the majority of his debut LP, "The Purple Tape." Fans and celebrities alike pulled out their cell phones to record the rare performance. The Bay Area showcase: Darkest Before Dawn, inspired some impromptu recording as well. Artists such as Iamsu and Willie Joe drew in fans from everywhere, and the Atlanta based collective The Tomorrows rocked the stage until the wee hours of the morning.

The Perfect Attendance stage was host to countless new faces including New Orleans' 3D Na'Tee who blazed through tracks from her newest project, The Coronation. That event was meant to be headlined by MMG's Gunplay but of course, he had turned himself in to Miami authorities the day before. Nonetheless, there were plenty of other emcees to watch in his absence. Saturday afternoon continued the run of new artists taking the reins. South Carolina emcee Righchus controlled the mic during the A3C Presents showcase, performing bangers like "Calculators" from his Black Cradle mixtape. Then, the Made in Detroit stage was the next to watch as the crowd went crazy for Flint's Jon Connor and Detroit's Slum Village, who tore the stage down with their extensive list of hits. Later in the evening, attendees made their way to the X Isle show which featured a special appearance by Shady's Yelawolf.

Last week, the rapper told The Juice that he wasn't sure whether or not he would actually perform but he couldn't resist once hitting the stage. He ripped through a couple tracks with Gangsta Boo, introduced a new song, then brought out his Slumerican affiliate and Strange Music's newest signee, Rittz. The Georgia native kept to his signature style, bringing his rapid-fire flow to the stage. Not to be outdone, SM's head, Tech N9ne, closed the set out, blazing through his own immense catalogue.

On the other side of town at the Perfect Attendance stage, Devin the Dude had a packed house waiting for him to perform. Artists such as Alley Boy, Trouble and Corporate Thug Entertainment's Slick Pulla kept the crowd occupied with booming tracks and distinctive tales from the hood. The Taste of Chicago stage brought the heat from Mikkey Halstead, King Louie and GLC. Twista closed the stage, bringing out the controversial teen rapper Lil' Mouse for a verse after running through his 20-year career within a matter of minutes.

One of the biggest draws on that last night of A3C was the Right Brain show which featured performances from Top Dawg Entertainment's Ab-Soul, Universal's Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire and Jet Life's Smoke DZA. The venue was over-capacity for much of the evening and many ended up watching the emcees perform from outside, but they didn't disappoint.

A3C does more than introduce the up-and-coming to the masses. Currently in its eighth year, the festival has provided a platform for veterans of the rap industry, and beyond the performances, it gives a voice to those behind the scenes that make it all happen. From panel discussions with Tiffany Hardin of the Gilt Creative Group to live podcasts with the members of the Combat Jack Show, A3C was sure to cover all bases.

There's even a mixtape that will be dedicated to the spirit of the hip-hop festival. The production team Royal Flush (Big Boi's "Mama Told Me") has joined forces with fellow Atlanta team SMKA to compile their second project that will feature tracks from some of 2012's A3C performers. The Juice was at Stankonia Studios on Friday to talk with both groups and witness a bit of the work process.

"People are lining up to be a part of this tape," says Rick Wallkk of Royal Flush. "It surprised us."

While there, Slum Village had chosen an airy track reminiscent of springtime turning to summer. "It started off as an idea," adds Jeron Ward of the Flush. "Mike [Walbert ]of SMKA hit us up a year and a half ago and came up with this concept of using A3C as a meeting ground and our access to Stankonia since this is where we work, in order to create a session as soon as people get off stage."

"We're pretty much putting A3C into music format," Ward explains, "So people can get a chance to somewhat experience an audio version of how A3C really goes down." On the second day of the festivities the compilation, which will be sponsored by LiveMixtapes.com, was already 40% complete, with the full project and trailer slated for release within two to three weeks. SMKA's Blake "808 Blake" German sums the weekend up perfectly, while speaking on the joint project: "At the end of the day it's all about the vibe, man."