BEING THERE: Roots Picnic 2016



The ninth annual Roots Picnic took place this past Saturday at Philly’s Festival Pier, sporting potentially one of the most buzzed-about lineups in its entire history. With headliners such as R&B legend Usher (backed by The Roots of course), Future, one of the don dadas in rap right now, and soul sensation Leon Bridges, one could wonder how this lineup could get any sweeter for hip hop and R&B fans far and wide. Lo and behold, The Roots succeeded immensely once again in gathering some of the most hot and groundbreaking artists in the game right now, such as Lil Uzi Vert, Kaytranada, Anderson Paak, Metro Boomin and more.

First up was Migos, a rap trio that came into play having steadily topped the charts for years with single after single after friggin’ single. I walked through the North Stage crowd and attempted to enter the photo pit with my photo credentials, and was immediately stopped. Assuming the security guy couldn’t see my photo pass, I pointed to it, only to receive another shake of the head no. Turns out my photo pass did not in fact allow me to take photos in the designated spot where photographers photograph. Nice. I apparently needed further credentials in the form of a wristband. Sweet. Assuming this security guard was just being an ass-hat, I remained confident that I could actually take photos in the photo pit at the other stages. Migos set was surprisingly short, so upon them ending I swung on over to the Oasis Stage to catch the insanely popular rapper and Philly native, Lil Uzi Vert.

Thankfully I was allowed into the photo pit at Lil Uzi, which was easily one of the most insane sets of the entire event. Uzi Vert has been on the rise of all rises since his 2015 debut album Luv Is Rage caught fire alongside his recent new mixtape Lil Uzi Vert vs. The World. I have to admit, the guy doesn’t bring anything particularly revolutionary to the table, but admittedly his energy is both fresh and positive. Uzi Vert came out in a sweet vintage tie-dye Metallica shirt and his signature short light-purple dreads, both representative of his colorful personality. Uzi blew through singles such as “Money Longer” and “All My Chains” as the absolutely packed crowd bounced around and recited every single lyric. As if the crowd for Uzi wasn’t hype enough already, he seriously took it to the next level. Out of absolutely nowhere, he brings Meek Mill onstage along with two of the three members of Migos. What the fuck just happened?!? Meek is the epitome of a local Philly rapper making it big time, and considering Lil Uzi is a Philly rapper well on his way to doing the exact same thing, it only seemed fitting that Meek would be his special guest. The loyal crowd lost every last ounce of their shit in what I can conclude to be the most hyphy set of the day.

Back over at the South Stage, things were cooling off with R&B singer Kehlani, who is undoubtedly mainstage material. Having originally appeared on America’s Got Talent back in 2011 with the band she formed in middle school, she has grown immensely throughout the years into a well-rounded R&B singer-songwriter signed to Atlantic Records. Her music was smooth and relaxing, which paved the way for a hilarious contrast as the next act up was none other than DMX. Going from the elegant voice of Kehlani to the deep growl of “Where my dawgs at?” was hilarious. The dude tore it up. It took me seeing him live in concert to be reminded of just how many hits he has. We were spoiled with a set chock full of classics like “Where My Dogs At”, “Where The Hood At” (where the hood, where the hood, where the hood at), “Get It On The Floor”, and of course “X Gon’ Give It To Ya.” He most certainly did.

Back at the Oasis Stage it was time for one of the most prolific producers of 2016: Metro Boomin. The ATL-based producer is currently the right hand man for the best of the best in the rap game. Having produced for the likes of Kanye West, Future, Drake, Migos and Young Thug among others, he is killing shit like no other at the ripe age of 22. Metro’s set was ridiculously saturated with nothing but hits, in the best way possible. He didn’t let up for a second as he blared out tracks by Future, Waka Flocka Flame, A$AP Rocky and more. He saluted Gucci Mane who was just freed from prison with the classic “Lemonade”, and in honor of A$AP Yams who passed far too soon back in January of 2015, he blasted some good old A$AP Mob shit.

Leon Bridges had what I thought was a great set back on the mainstage after Metro Boomin was over, however the crowd seemed to have been way too riled up by all the rap bangers and in no mood for his rich and gorgeous soul tunes. Leon and his band put on a fantastic show, but the crowd’s reception was unfortunately weak and seemingly disinterested. Leon seemed to ask “Y’all still with me Roots Picnic?” almost every time a song ended. When I saw him at the Fillmore a few months back, the crowd was far more receptive than the picnic crowd. I was definitely disappointed by his dismal reception, especially because Roots Picnic is known to be a place for celebrating black culture, and Leon is an incredible example of the black gospel and soul music.

The dismay didn’t stop there. Arguably the most hyped act of the entire festival, Future, was slated to perform at the North Stage at 8pm. After a fashionably late start time past 8pm and only a few songs into his set, the mic suddenly cut out, and music stopped. The crowd look on in confusion and impatience as stage managers and sound guys sprinted around, scrambling to get the show going again. Future soon resumed performing, only to have his sound go out yet again. Future disappeared from the stage and did not perform, leaving a slew of fans completely pissed off. However, I took this as an opportunity to go check out Kaytranada who was on at the same time as Future. This ended up being the biggest blessing in disguise imaginable. Kaytranada threw the fuck down. His whacky and funky dance tunes had everyone over at the Oasis stage grooving the night away without a care in the world. This set was the definition of the Roots Picnic vibe, with the small crowd forming into a full-on dance party. Fans jumped the gate into the photo pit without a single issue coming from security, an extremely stark contrast from the ultra-heavy and strict security at the North Stage, who if I may add, once again did not let me into the photo pit for Future’s set.

As The Roots took the stage and warmed the crowd up for Usher, I encountered a big problem. It’s packed as shit. Like, even the photo pit is packed — mostly with people who are not photographers. What the dick. I circulated the main stage trying to find a point of entry, and eventually snuck in backstage with another photographer I met. After finally finding a solid point of entrance to the photo pit, security kicked me and two other photographers out as we tried to start taking pictures. I was pissed. “Listen, we are working. All those people in there on their iPhones don’t need to be in the photo pit. We need to be in the photo pit. We have a job to do and we need our shots.” Nothin. We were escorted out, with no way in hell of getting in proximity of the stage. Meanwhile, I’d been so preoccupied with getting a shot of Usher that The Roots were a good ways finished with the headlining set. What I did catch of their performance was some sensational stuff. Usher was dropping to the floor and twirling back up over and over, causing thousands of high pitched screams to emanate from the sea of people watching every time he did it. The group powered through “U Remind Me,” “You Got Me,” and “Caught Up,” with Usher’s suave demeanor and incredible voice wooing every soul in the crowd. Although this time of the night had been full of stress and frustration for me, as I looked beside the stage onto the thousands of smiling faces in the crowd, the sense of unity that The Roots and Usher managed to instill in the night helped me keep my cool.— DYLAN LONG