Descending upon the City of Brotherly Love like a sonic boom, the 10th Annual Roots Picnic showed once again why The Roots Crew are Legendary. The Roots’ eclectic sound, and Moses like approach to musical community was on full display once again. The curated lineup featured everything from trapstars, DJs, and true-school alumni to folk singers, living legends and those soon to be. The crowd embodies this eclectic collision of seemingly disparate worlds. In a Roots Picnic crowd, you will find, dudebros, college kids, and ballers. Afros, baldies, braids (of the boxed, goddess, and cornrowed variety), locs, press-n-curls, wash-n-goes, and Misty Knight twist-outs. Beards, stacks, flats, boots, spikes, headwraps, fedoras and caps. I saw an older gentleman in a kaftan, sandals, and headwrap jamming to a Pete Rock DJ set next to a brotha’ in head to toe camouflage next to a guy in 6-inch stiletto platform boots with a shear top, skinny jeans and floppy summer hat. All jamming to their faves in a haze of mixed drinks, crab fries (a Philly thing) and loud. Its summertime and the music is banging. The show truly has something for everyone. For the “turn up”, LIT, aye, aye, aye crowd, Philly born rapper PnB Rock delivered to the South stage along with 21 Savage.
Newbies like Tunji Ige, who was backstage at the first Roots Picnic a decade ago, dreaming of rocking a crowd, took the stage and wowed the early crowd with his smooth delivery and loads of style. Fresh from a star making shows at SXSW, and NPR Tiny Desk Series, Chicago born poet turned rapper Noname rocked the main stage, garnering new fans and devotees along the way. Michael Kiwanuka and James Vincent McMorrow offered a change of pace with vibrant acoustic sets. Kimbra, clad is flowing electric blue flowery jumpsuit, mesmerized the late afternoon crowd with an energetic synthy set. Forever weird and über talented bassist extraordinary, Thundercat donned kickboxer shorts, Birkenstocks and his signature big ass bass to guide the crowd through jams from his 2017 release Drunk.
In the truest sense, an MC must be able to control the microphone and rock a crowd with their voice, breath control, cadence and words. Black Thought so completely embodies these standards, it is a wonder he isn’t enshrined on rap Rushmore already. This was on full display with Black Thought and J. Period performed a “Live Mixtape” featuring forever Root, Scott Scorch, the Don Cartagena himself, Fat Joe and the Infamous Mobb Deep. For the mixtape, Thought effortlessly inserted his own bars into hip-hop classics from his guests without missing a beat. Watching Prodigy and Fat Joe watch Thought lace their own songs and elevating them beyond their already lofty positions, was a treat. If Black Thought isn’t in your Top 5, get a new Top 5.
The true breadth of the line-up was most typified by sets from Atlanta’s Trapper-in-Chief, (formerly Young) Jeezy on the main stage followed by current avatar of Black Girl Magic, Solange. While Jeezy and his DJ hosted a tour through your clubbing soundtrack of the mid 00s, Solo enraptured the crowd with coordinated lights, dance moves and outfits. Seeing the same crowd rap along to every word of My Nigga, and make their way to the South Stage and sing their hearts out to Don’t Touch My Hair, a reminder that music is the one great equalizer and unifier. Solange’s impressive set featured stories, commentary and a run through the photo pit to the delight of the packed Festival Pier.
The Roots Picnic is unusual in that the illustrious band from the city of Illadelph don’t actually headline their own festival. Each year, they brain trust of Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, personally curate an eclectic combination of up and comers and current stars from all over the musical spectrum. For the headliner, they play house band to a legendary artist while they remix and reimagine their hits in a new an innovative way. This years, the top spot headline was the world-renowned, critically acclaimed, Grammy Award winning, Oscar nominated writer, producer, singer, rapper, and ageless wonder Pharrell Williams. Backed by the Roots and joined on stage by his N*E*R*D* cohort Shae Haley, P enthralled the assembled masses with NERD/Roots mashups and new interpretations of old jams. The percussion heavy The Way She Moves, while always a banger, sounds even more tribal and guttural under the musical direction and guidance of ?uestlove’s drumkit. Surprise guests included protégé Pusha T, the always entertaining NORE and SWV. His production list goes back over two decades, and stretch from RnB to hip-hop to rock to pop to genres of his own creation. Skateboard P’s (along with Chad Hugo as the Neptunes) unique style, has long defined popular music. Producing hits for Busta Rhymes, Jay-Z, Janet Jackson, Nelly, Daft Punk, Justin Timberlake and Snoop Dogg to name a few, he has been able to easily move between genres as effortlessly as turning the dial on the radio. From Grinding and Mr. Me Too to Milkshake to Lose Yourself to Dance back to Drop it Like its Hot and finally at Happy, Pharrell has one of the most diverse musical resume is recent memory. All while being the most humble and deferential superstar to walk the planet (it must be what’s keeping him young). Bottom line, Pharrell Williams is a national treasure and should be treated a such.
So, after 10 hours, over a dozen acts, too many chicken fingers and crab fries, how can one sum up the 10th Annual Picnic? Go! Next year, this year (well..you should’ve), any year. There is something for everybody, someone for everybody. If you are a lover of music and open minded in your taste, there is no better collection of live music than the Roots Picnic.
Highlights: Black Thought x J. Period Live Mixtape, Solange, Kimbra, Thundercat, Michael Kiwanunka, Noname, Pharrell
Mehights: 21 Savage, Jeezy
Lowlights: Festival Pier. After 10 years, the Picnic has outgrown its venue. From top to bottom, everything was better than last year, except for space. The ground felt at capacity by midday and got worse with every act.
You can catch The Count and his inebriated friends every week on the The Brown Liquor Report, talking shit with all the authority that Jack Daniels provides.