2017 marked the 10th anniversary of the Roots Picnic in Philadelphia, and let me be the first to tell you: The Roots supremely outdid themselves with this iteration. This is my third Roots Picnic under my belt and without a doubt, I continue to be surprised, and impressed by the conglomeration of talented artists they managed to bring together.
Starting just around noon on an overcast and slightly sprinkly Saturday, I settled at the South stage to check out Tunji Ige, a Philly based hip hop artist. Relating to us how he used to sneak into Roots Picnic as teen to him playing the Picnic this year, he put on an engaging and electrifying set from start to completion. Churning out a selection of songs, including “Bring Yo’ Friends.” So nice to see an artist who knows exactly how to move a crowd so early in the day.
Next up was Noname, aka Fatimah Warner, on the North stage. The 25 year old hip-hop artist absolutely slayed her set, bringing old school hip hop vibes to the diverse crowd in front of her. She appeared completely at ease, and eager to deliver he unique brand of soulful, spoken-word-esque rhymes.
Over at the small, but might Oasis stage, legendary dj/producer DJ Spinna was keeping the crowd rocking under the small tent. I’ve seen Spinna numerous times in NY at his Stevie Wonder “Wonderfull” events, but to watch him read the crowd and drop J Dilla’s “Fuck The Police” in the middle of the afternoon will never get old.
Back at the South stage, James Vincent McMorrow readied his instruments before his set. I smiled at the fact he wore a Chance The Rapper “3” cap onstage. If you follow James on Twitter you’d know he’s an avid fan of music of all genres, but this crowd at this moment, were surely fans of his. Having just released a new album, True Care, McMorrow and his band had a bunch of new material to choose from. James’ voice is a gift, and really shone on “Red Dust.” Quite honestly, he has one of those voices where he could just sing the phone book and we’d all swoon.
Speaking of voices, Michael Kiwanuka. If you’re not familiar with that name by now, you’d better get familiar fast. His set started off with the dramatic instrumental number, “Cold Little Heart” from his 2016 release, Love & Hate, and the soulful blues-folk journey continued from there. He has the type of music and voice that doesn’t just reach your ears, it reaches the depths of your soul and moves you to the core. His music definitely has a 70’s vibe to it – a Cooley High, “why did they have to kill Cochise” kind of vibe, that I welcome wholeheartedly.
While it was difficult to pry myself away from Kiwanuka’s set, I needed to catch the tail end of Pete Rock’s DJ set at the Oasis stage. The legendary producer/DJ, and other half of CL Smooth, the crowd gathered to hear him spin was relatively large compared to the size of the small stage.
Upping the energy level at the South stage, Philly native PnB Rock blasted through his set in spectacular fashion, with the entire crowd singing along word for word. Either hopping onto speakers, darting back and forth across the stage, or showing off the latest dance moves, PnB Rock, aka Rakim Allen, didn’t stay still for 1 moment. That energy level combined with bass heavy, auto tuned beats, the hands in the air were prevalent for the entirety of his set.
One set I was looking forward to the most during this Roots Picnic was none other than Black Thought & J. Period’s Mixtape. Black Thought’s mixtapes are usually the cream of the crop in the hip-hop world, and this year’s edition was my equivalent of NY hip-hop royalty. None other than QB’s finest, Mobb Deep, and Bronx royalty, Fat Joe. Joining Black Thought, J. Period, Scott Storch and producer Stro Elliot onstage, Mobb Depp tore through all of their hits. “Shook Ones, Pt. II,” “Survival of The Fittest,” and yes, “Quiet Storm.” As a Queens born and bred girl, I was going absolutely nuts on the sidelines when all this went down. I’m sure I learned the lyrics to “Shook Ones, Pt. II” before I learned the alphabet song. Fat Joe trading line for line with Black Thought for classics like “Lean Back,” and “All The Way Up,” cracked so many heads, including mine. I saw Pete Rock watching from side stage enjoying it just as much as I was. I swear if Remy Ma came out I would have died right there on the spot.
Coming off a musical high like that and then getting to watch a supersized talent like Kimbra is the stuff dreams are made of. She was transcendent, effervescent, and an unstoppable force of nature. This was my first time getting to see Kimbra and I was absolutely astounded by how amazing and incredible she was. While I was unfamiliar with all of her songs, except for that one she sang with Gotye, it really didn’t matter. She could sing like nobodies business, the arrangements of her songs were very intriguing and she owned every inch of that stage. Count me as a fan from now on.
Taking things down a notch in intensity but not in talent, Thundercat graced the North stage next. After graciously signing a fan’s vinyl, and a short introduction from Amanda Seales, Stephen Bruner set to work singing about a number of topics that could be run of the mill for most folks, but his work on the bass-guitar is what took it to the next level. He would randomly, at least to my ears, embark on these beautiful runs and just transport me elsewhere with their gorgeousness.
Jeezy’s set, upped the intensity again, with the rapper, oftentimes referred to as the Snowman, stepped onstage. Just the sight of him standing onstage set the crowd into hysterics. Definitely taking full advantage and from what I could see, his rightful place filling in the time slot that Lil Wayne left empty due to a medical emergency, the crowd was all in for anything Jeezy had in store for them.
Finally, the culmination of the entire picnic was the collaborative set between The Roots and Pharrell. Black Thought opened the set as usual, delivering blistering rhyme after rhyme before introducing Pharrell to rock a multitude of his own productions, ranging from “Lose Yourself To Dance,” “Get Lucky,” and “Blurred Lines.” Of course, they couldn’t stop there… oh no. Pusha T emerged just in time to add his verses to “Grindin’” and “Drop It Like Its Hot,” sadly without a Snoop Dogg cameo. Yet, we climbed higher still, with another surprise appearance from N.O.R.E. to drop his own verses on “Superthug” and “Nothin’” The night continued in similar fashion, with more and more hits from Pharrell’s back catalogue landing spectacularly. “Pass The Courvoisier,” “Hot In Herre,” all made appearances, as well as cuts from Gwen Stefani, Justin Timberlake, and Ol Dirty Bastard.
I literally thought this was the pinnacle of the evening, but I was proven oh so wrong when none other than S.W.V. graced the stage with their presence and our ears with their golden voices. I grew up listening to these women sing, and when they sang “Right Here,” I damn near started crying. The last act of the night was of course, to send us all off with “Happy,” a fitting end to the entire fest.
To say the 10th annual Roots Picnic was a success would be a supreme understatement. Each year the organizers manage to curate a diverse and refreshing lineup that appeals to everyone in attendance. Each year they seem to up the ante, which makes me excited and hopeful for future years of the Philly fest, as well as the newcomer NYC version that debuted last year.
Article: Lesley Keller