AUSTIN, Texas — Spiritually Touching Individuals Through Christ’s Hands Early.
That’s what Frederick hip-hop artist Lorenzo Nichols will tell you if you ask him what his stage name means. On this Tuesday afternoon, however, it could also stand for, “man who forgot shoes.”
After spending the early parts of the day working on the cover art for his upcoming EP, “The Great Compromise,” Nichols is ready to venture from his hotel room at the Courtyard Austin Northwest back downtown to get ready for his single 15-minute showcase at the Bat Bar on Sixth Street.
The problem? He was hoping to wear a maroon pair of Greats sneakers and not the black ones currently protecting his massive feet from the heat. Upon his return, the 32-year-old is asked why he prefers Greats over Nikes or Adidas, or, well, anything else, really.
“Because anything I love is going to be great,” he only half-jokes.
“Great” is the word of the day for Nichols and his traveling companion, Brian Closs. Not only does it describe his preference in shoe brand, but it also sits at the center of perhaps the trip’s most poignant moment.
Before making their way into the center of South By Southwest, the duo stops at the city’s Baylor Street Art Wall, where bricks upon bricks of graffiti pile on top of each other, ascending in height like a fortress protecting a castle in which Banksy might live.
They scale their way to the top and the view is tremendous. A sea of color surrounds them like an old school hip-hop fever dream while the city of Austin sprawls before them, ready to be conquered. Scattered on the ground are cans of spray paint. Nichols grabs a shade of blue before stopping for about three seconds to take in a phrase someone already sprayed on a wall in front of him.
“Live a great story.”
His deep voice chuckles as he subliminally shakes his head. He moves up one more tier and begins spraying letters over concrete.
Later on, over a pre-showcase food-truck meal, Nichols shrugs off the weight of his impending performance.
“As long as I go on stage and give my 1,000 percent best,” he explains while chewing on a pork slider, “whatever happens after that, I can be cool with because I gave it my all.”
Almost on cue, two things happen: First, he receives a text message from his parents, wishing him luck for later that night. Secondly, a man approaches the picnic table, immediately disclosing that he’s quite drunk. He rambles on about the human race, allowing whatever alcohol intake consuming his body to force a sense of misplaced wisdom upon his words.
Instead of acting abruptly, Nichols listens intently. He responds with thoughtful answers, responsible and kind.
He’s a guy who talks with his hands and never leaves a single stone unturned once you dare ask him to address whatever pebble might be in play. Mention a single topic and he’s off, preaching what he practices before, inevitably, practicing what he preaches. You can understand why people would warm to him, yet somehow it endears each time you see it happen.
Within 10 minutes, the stranger’s mind is enough at ease that he’s on his way, ready to cross the busy street that separates him from another drink. After a handful of minutes, it’s time to move on and the Frederick rapper laughs.
“This happens to me all the time,” he says, looking at Closs. “I don’t know what it is. Everywhere I go, people just come talk to me. It’s never been weirder than in Austin, though.”
Nichols eventually makes it back to his white Kia rental. He needs to change his outfit before heading to the Bat Bar for the night. During a quick call to his wife, a misunderstanding about the time difference between Texas and Maryland results in Nichols saying, “Thank you. I love you.” He straps on his Icon Natn backpack. He’s ready to go. He’s about to step into his moment.
Soundcheck is scheduled for 6 p.m., but it’s at least a half-hour after that before Nichols even recognizes anyone he’s supposed to talk to in order to obtain information about the night in front of him. Before long, it becomes clear that any possibility of a pre-show run-through is dwindling by the minute. The showcase is set to begin at 7, but 15 minutes before that, the backing DJ isn’t even done unpacking his gear.
A Bob Marley mix is blasting through the house system. Nichols and Closs sit at a table top, saying nary a word to one another. The former keeps looking around him with equal parts curiosity and confidence, while the latter won’t detach his eyes from the Instagram account on his iPhone. An acoustic version of “Three Little Birds” begins to soundtrack the bar.
“Don’t worry,” the fallen reggae legend sings, almost hauntingly. “About a thing. Because every little thing. Gonna be all right.”
It’s a tender moment, one that calls back to something Nichols said earlier in the day.
“It says in the Bible: ‘Do not be afraid of the faces,’” he explained. “So, I’m not. People are going to say, ‘How was the show?’ And I’m going to be like … .”
He stops for a fraction of a second and grins.
“It was great.”