The deafening screams for a celebrity basketball game featuring Chris Brown washed over the tiny crowd that packed the Music Matters stage to see alt-R&B singer-songwriter Mateo early Saturday afternoon.
The surprisingly thin crowd was a shame considering the L.A.-based singer-songwriter – along with much of the bill of free performers that would hit the stage during the afternoon – is part of a wave of artists rejuvenating the genre by pulling away from the conventional boundaries of R&B and hip-hop.
Mateo, Elijah Blake, Ab-Soul, Austin Brown and Bridget Kelly were among the fresh faces worth catching during the day's lineup of free shows during the massive fan expo that attracted thousands to the surface lots surrounding L.A. Live.
Under the pounding rays of the sun (temperatures were in the high 90s and expected to rise) Mateo's set deftly weaved together R&B, soul and elements of alternative rock that struck just as aggressively as the unforgiving heat.
The performances, which also included rising R&B songstresses Ravaughn and K. Michelle, were part of BET's Music Matters campaign. Launched in 2010, Music Matters is the network's initiative to push emerging artists forward.
The campaign has helped BET wave a flag for the next big things in urban music by giving artists exposure on a number of platforms. Music Matters artists have appeared on the network's award show as well as its video countdown show, "106 & Park," and often go out on the road with specially curated tours and showcases.
Before artists like J. Cole, Miguel, Kendrick Lamar, Estelle and Marsha Ambrosius lit up the charts, they got a major boost from the network through Music Matters.
Over two days the Music Matters stage hosted some of the buzziest emerging talents. And while Friday offered hours of music from upstarts including Adrian Marcel, the Rap Pack and BJ the Chicago Kid, Saturday packed some of the brightest of the new class of R&B and hip-hop.
Blake, an already in-demand songwriter who has worked with Usher, Alicia Keys and Rihanna, got things going early in the day, and Austin Brown proved that raw talent far outweighed family lineage (his mom is Rebbie Jackson, the eldest child of music's famed sibling dynasty).
Brown will also have a performance slot on Sunday's award show as part of being inducted into the Music Matters family – it's a small but highly coveted spot, considering that the telecast offers priceless exposure for a rising star.
"What it does is it gives me a fair shot. It gives me an opportunity to just show the music and my skill level. Rather than it being set up that he's this or that," said Brown, referring to his famous bloodline. "With Music Matters, it's just an open space for me to show my musicality."
In what was intended as a nod toward closing a circle, Mateo ripped through an acoustic cover of Kendrick Lamar's "Sing About Me" during his set. Lamar, the L.A. rap star who had one of last year's most critically acclaimed discs, is scheduled to play at the second of three big-ticket nights at Staples Center on Saturday evening, alongside Miguel and J. Cole – acts who just a few years ago were getting early exposure through Music Matters.
While hundreds were watching Chris Brown and a host of actors and reality stars dribble, the Music Matters stage was brewing future stars.