Thousands of R&B and hip hop lovers came to the legendary Essence music festival in New Orleans, Louisiana, on Fourth of July weekend. From Mary to Chance, this year was unforgettable.
While temperatures were hot and smoggy outside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, attendees were cool and all smiles inside the venue. Some of the biggest acts in music rocked the stage, but the fun didn’t just stop at the festival, as dozens of other special events lit up The Big Easy. Now that the fun has died down, here are five highlights from one of the largest summer music events in the country.
PJ Morton’s Soundbytes Brought Out New Orleans’ Best R&B Talent
For the cool kids who love intimate music venues, the Ace Hotel’s Three Keys was the place to be Thursday, June 29. After devouring a flavorful dinner of North Carolina trout at the Josephine Estelle restaurant — adjacent to the Ace Hotel — a friend and I went to see PJ Morton’s Soundbytes’ open mic session. The New Orleans native and Maroon Five musician gave a space for local acts to belt over covers of Sade, Anita Baker, and Mary J. Blige. The voices were astounding and there were definitely some potential stars in the room.
Mary J. Blige Showcased the ‘Strength of a Woman’ for Her Fans
Mary J. Blige wasn’t ashamed to say her marriage to estranged husband Kendu Isaacs has been “hell” on Saturday night of the festival. An emotional Blige told the crowd, “How is it that somebody gets to cheat and destroy everybody’s life but I’ve got to pay for it?” In June, the veteran singer was ordered to pay him $30,000 in monthly spousal support.
Besides schooling women on knowing their worth in relationships, Mary also took the loyal audience through her long catalogue of hits. Whether it was her heartbreak anthem like “Not Gon’ Cry” or her upbeat jams like “Real Love,” Mary’s fans showed their undying love and support. Stay strong, MJB.
Solange Delivered Striking Stage Design and Moving Vocals
Solange’s live performance of A Seat at the Table, further proved how the singer has come into her own as an artist. On Sunday evening, the crowd arrived early to see Solo deliver angelic vocals in front of a red moon backdrop. The singer moved seamlessly through each of her album’s gems like “Cranes in the Sky” and “Mad.” For “Don’t Touch My Hair,” she featured a marching band, which played an extended version of the soulful horns. During her rendition of “F.U.B.U.,” Solange walked into the crowd to sing the uplifting pro-Black anthem directly to audience members. It was evident that Solange didn’t just come to entertain, but also to heal.
Master P Reunited No Limit Acts to a Tough Crowd
Master P made a grand entrance on Sunday with a procession of Mardi Gras Indians to celebrate the success of No Limit Records. The hip hop O.G. owner reunited some of the label’s acts for the epic show. Choppa, who brought the crowd to their feet for “Choppa Style,” blessed the stage. Mystikal, with his Neptunes-produced “Danger,” got the crowd hype. Mia X and Silkk the Shocker also performed throwbacks.
As Master P’s set went on for more than an hour and a half, a woman sitting next me shouted, “Bring out Chance!” There were also crickets after P’s daughter Cymphonique and his son Romeo performed their own songs. Overall, P deserved the moment to celebrate his legacy in his city, but the crowd was ready for Chance.
Chance the Rapper Made the Stage His Hip Hop Pulpit
The crowd stuck around to see Chance the Rapper close out the festival Sunday night. The 23-year-old Chicago native has been glowing up all year, as he collected major accolades like the Best New Artist Grammy. Now, Chance can add Essence Music Festival headliner to his accomplishments. He delivered a soul-stirring set with cuts from Coloring Book, such as his inspiring “Blessings” and anti-record label, “No Problems.” He also showed off his soundboard skills, as he made a live bounce remix to “I Love You So Much,” a track dedicated to his daughter. Chance the Rapper proved why he is arguably the current king of hip hop.
Overall, an excellent weekend with everyone from unknowns to superstar having a space to showcase their talents. One again, the Essence Musical Festival continued its legacy of celebrating the best in Black music and creativity.