The sky matched the color of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge on a cloudless Saturday afternoon (June 3), marveling attendees with an Instagram-worthy backdrop at the star-studded Roots Picnic. There’s a sort of symbolism within that structure in correlation to the annual event. The purpose of a bridge is to transport something from one point to another, ensuring safe passage to your destination. For concertgoers, each artist on the festival’s bill served as an overpass to a destination that’s worth the price tag.
The Roots Picnic conjured up a melting pot of sounds that derive from the black diaspora, which makes sense that its launch was at the beginning of Black Music Month. Artists from the realms of R&B, funk by way of Thundercat’s awe-inspiring musicality, and hip-hop stacked the lineup. For the latter genre, a timeline of its beginning and future was in full effect. Legendary producer/DJ Pete Rock transported you back to 90s rap with his CL Smooth-assisted “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” and other digging-in-the-crate cuts. In between that nostalgic flow, Philly’s own and co-commandeer of the festivity, Black Thought, performed his live mixtape alongside producer/DJ J. Period. The nearly 60-minute showcase ran down a list of beats that could tell a story of where hip-hop was at that time without the need for lyrics.
As a Philly homecoming for pivotal beatsmith Scott Storch, he blazed the stage with just a keyboard while his resume of instrumentals like Eve’s “Let Me Blow Your Mind,” Dr. Dre’s “Still D.R.E.” and Lil Kim’s ’05 anthem “Lighters Up” rippled through the dancing crowd. Mobb Deep also sent heads nodding with a return to their classic material including “Survival Of The Fittest,” “Shook Ones” and “Quiet Storm.” Continuing to show the East Coast love, Fat Joe took it way back to Jealous Ones Still Envy with “My Lifestyle” and his featured verse on the late Big L’s “The Enemy,” but didn’t forget about his smash single, “All The Way Up.”
Although the Roots Picnic carved out a prime spot for veteran rappers to remind people of their influence within the genre, the event also embraced new artists whose talents will continue to propel hip-hop forward. While the sun was at its peak, Philly native Tunji Ige’s performance was a shining moment for the rising artist, who said he’s been attending the festival since the age of 12. “You can do anything you put your mind to,” he told the beaming crowd. Noname was another newcomer who smiled from ear to ear as her day ones held an on-key karaoke session to her melodies like “Reality Check,” “Bye Bye Baby” and “Casket Pretty.”
To keep up with the slew of new acts, the South Stage and the Oasis Stage played a game of ping-pong in terms of welcoming rising artists. PnB Rock kept his energy level on 100 with a swift rundown of his original and featured songs. Given Kodak Black’s previous detainment, Rock performed their joint song, “Too Many Years,” and with each beat drop, the crowd was prepared to belt out the lyrics, particularly for “There She Go” and his most recognizable song, “Selfish.”
Playboi Carti was up next and he jumped right into his set with the Milly Rock-inducing “Magnolia.” The A$AP Mob member’s smile didn’t allow him to rap word-for-word so the audience filled in the blanks.
Carti’s “Peepin” collaborator, 21 Savage didn’t give the crowd anytime to catch their breaths either after they tried to unpack the energy of the former’s set. Dressed in all white, the Atlanta native cemented the ante of the festival with “No Heart,” “Gucci On My” and “Real N***a.”
Walking back to the Oasis Stage, another burgeoning rapper sought to leave his footprint at Penn’s Landing. From Highbridge to the city of brotherly love, A Boogie wit da Hoodie quickly took hold of his fans with “Timeless,” “Horses” alongside PnB Rock, and “Bag On Me” with a surprise appearance from Don Q. Then, the crowd began to swell once it was time for Jeezy to take us on a trip to Bankhead, ATL. Although Lil Wayne had to cancel his appearance due to doctor’s orders, the Snowman still put on for rappers “from the bottom of the map” with past collaborations with fellow southerners like Fabo on “Geeked Up,” his remix to the late Shawty Lo’s “Dey Know” and YG’s “My N***as.”
As the sun went down, the red moon took its place. Solange and her stellar band appeared center stage around 8:30 p.m. to give us part of what we’d been waiting for all day. The Houstonian’s set was dedicated to “all the beautiful black girls,” whose tresses were caressed by the wind thanks to the swaying movement of their bodies. The award-winning artist performed fan favorites from A Seat At The Table including “Weary,” “Mad,” “F.U.B.U.” and “Junie.” To express a feeling of an extended family reunion, Solange inspired a Proud Family sing-a-long which was one of the highlights of the night just based off of nostalgic purposes. Once she left the stage, the crowd wondered what happened to the performance of “Don’t Touch My Hair.” Seconds later, Sol-angel returned to sing the aforementioned track, sealing her captivating performance on a high note (literally and figuratively).
Solange sung the Proud Family theme song at her show and the whole crowd sung along 😍😩 pic.twitter.com/RIrb4NI1Eb
— I Luh God ? (@aVeryRichBitch_) June 5, 2017
The dance party didn’t end there. For the final soiree of the night, Pharrell and The Roots administered an unforgettable performance that included surprise appearances from Pusha T (“Grindin”), N.O.R.E. (“Nothin'”) and SWV (“Right Here”). For Skateboard P, the live performance was a mixture of pride and humility as he paid homage to those who made his beats a staple across all genres and even gave himself a pat on the back for hits like “Frontin,” “Blurred Lines” and the classic 702 cut, “I Still Love You.” To tie in the aura of the festival, the Virginia native closed the night with “Happy” and sent attendees home smiling ear to ear. His entire set either re-familiarized or educated onlookers of his track record behind the boards and mic. We all witnessed a living legend.
Spanning a decade of distributing good vibes, this year’s Roots Picnic looked toward the future without failing to place a spotlight on the past. Let’s see what next year holds.