Essence Fest returns for its 21st year this weekend at the Superdome, once again offering a lineup that features some of the best names in hip hop and R&B. Headliner Kendrick Lamar, arguable THE biggest rap star at the moment, and a rare appearance by hitmaker supreme Missy Elliott are enough to justify a full-price ticket alone. But in addition to the big names, each night features an assortment of lesser-known artists that have established themselves and worked hard to get to the big leagues of Essence. Here’s a video playlist of some of the under-the-radar artists that we’re looking forward to catching this weekend.
SZA – Sunday at 8:00 p.m.
24-year-old alternative R&B singer SZA was raised on an unlikely musical diet of John Coltrane, Björk, and Wu-Tang Clan that informed her eclectic psychedelic sound. Taking cues from label mate Kendrick Lamar, SZA refuses to confine herself to a single genre that makes her forward-thinking R&B feels refreshingly new and exciting. An acclaimed performance at Bonnaroo two weeks ago proved SZA is just as hypnotizing on stage as on record.
Dee-1 – Sunday at 7:00 p.m.
This year’s Essence follows the festival’s tradition of booking rappers that use their talent to spread socially conscious messages while still bringing the party. In the same vein as Kendrick Lamar and Common, local rapper Dee-1 strives to use his platform to educate and question the broken systems that gave rise to hip hop in an effort to progress and overcome. Dee-1’s songs manage to walk the fine line between preaching and entertaining, using a mix of biting lyrics and club-ready beats to get you thinking while you’re dancing.
Tank & the Bangas – Saturday at 7:00 p.m.
It takes a lot for a band to truly be unique, especially in the crowded musical landscape of New Orleans. Tank & the Bangas manages to create a wholly original sound that blends the best of rock, spoken word poetry, jazz, and pop and present it in an engaging and soul-stirring package. The main attraction is the magnetic Tarriona “Tank” Ball, who leads the band of seasoned pros with the confidence of a superstar soul singer. A national platform like Essence is just the opportunity the Bangas need to take their game to the next level.
Robert Glasper – Sunday at 9:30
Grammy-award winning pianist and producer Robert Glasper effortlessly blurs the lines between jazz, hip hop, and rock both as a solo artist and with his band, The Robert Glasper Jazz Experiment. Collaborations with Jill Scott and covers of Radiohead songs are the norm for Glasper, who has said he’s “bored with jazz” and strives to take the form to new and different places.
Sevyn Streeter – Saturday at 7:00 p.m.
Florida native Sevyn Streeter has been performing since she was 15, lending her impressive pipes to various R&B groups and penning hits for the likes of Chris Brown and Alicia Keys. Streeter’s solo work showcases a wide range of styles, from classic soul to party jams, anchored by her vocal chops and expert songwriting skills.