The Roots Picnic was a learning experience.
Its greatest lesson?
I am 24 years old. And give or take a year that seems to be the line of demarcation between the past and the present.
But let’s rewind.
By now, you’ve probably read a million and one recaps of the weekend, so I won’t bore you with the tedious details. Instead, allow me to situate my own perspective.
Being relatively open-minded, I was prepared to completely immerse myself in the auditory experience that is an outdoor music festival. But in all honesty, having already seen Wale (x2), The Roots (x4), and Kid Cudi, my priorities had been slightly predetermined:
….and most importantly, De La Soul
Again, this is why you have to keep an open mind, because had I stuck to my initial trajectory, I would not have learned that…
…Kids These Days are scary good. It was slightly uncomfortable watching kids 4-5 years my junior, with such an enormous amount of talent, particularly functioning within the live music/band paradigm.
…beyond the hilarity of his explicit lyricism, Danny Brown is incredibly gifted. I haven’t sipped the Kool-Aid just yet, but he’s certainly made, at least, one new fan.
…Star Slinger puts on a quality set. I could easily sing the praises of Diplo/Major Lazer for the entirety of this post, but I wasn’t ready for the captivating control engineered by the promising UK producer/DJ.
These were all unexpected lessons, And for each, I am quite thankful. But this, as they say, was just the tip of the iceberg. The most important lessons were learned over the course of two days, situated at the height of the Picnic’s loaded schedule.
It was on Saturday night that I experienced a moment unparalleled. Watching De La Soul perform with the Legendary Foundation is beyond words. There are many moments that I can point to—the collective’s rendition of “Breakadawn,” playing with that slick “I Can’t Help It” sample, the proverbial hammers being dropped on the power-driven “Much More, the effortless transition from “Ego Trippin’ (Part Two)” to “Stay Cool,” etc. But, for me, it was “Stakes Is High.” The band. The Ahmad Jamal/”Swahililand” sample. Dilla. It was just too much. That singular selection meant a lot to me. And I’ll just leave it at that.
I should probably take this moment to apologize for my overt-sentimentality, but it’s important to the story. The music had me caught up, perhaps, even choked up. I was in my element.
Fast-forward to the following night.
Rakim takes the stage with the Roots. And I’m sure you’ve heard about the technical difficulties.
The God was in full effect. Walking out in a shirt that I’m 87.5% sure I saw in an episode of Martin, Rakim bodied the competition. But something was different. To my immediate left, stood, or rather, flayed a large group of late-30somethings. Across the crowd, I saw pockets of folks, no younger than that losing absolute control as Rakim ran from “I Know You Got Soul” to “Move the Crowd.” And that’s when I started to realize something:
I am 24 years old.
Paid in Full is 25 years old.
I wasn’t cognizant of 3 Feet High and Rising, mainly because I was one. But The Grind Date? I ABSOLUTELY remember when that dropped. “Church” was the gospel that never quite touched me in the tabernacle.
And that’s the difference. The people next to me had actually lived Eric B. and Rakim. I appreciated the moment as a hip-hop fan, but these folks had a genuine connection. Lesson learned.
However, Rakim wasn’t headlining. It’s 2012 and our master of ceremonies for the evening was Scott Mescudi. But something was awry.
Up to this point, I had learned of some great new acts. I had learned that I was 24 years old in a late-80s time warp. And as Black Thought walk to the center of the stage I learned one more thing:
“Kid Cudi will not be performing tonight.”
The details aren’t important. I’ll let you figure that out on your own. Cudder was a no-show and we, as a crowd, were “left” with an encore performance from one of the greatest living bands in history.
And people started to leave…
…in absolute disgust.
As the Roots broke into a melee of covers (ranging from “Move On Up” to “Paul Revere”), I noticed a trend amongst those individuals scrambling for the exit:
They all seemed to be under the age of 21.
When Freeway jumped on stage, I was nothing short of elated. The Roc was literally in the building. But what does that mean to someone born in ’91-’92? I mean seriously situate the sounds of Just, Free, Beans, and the like to the modern-day styling of a Kid Cudi. I say this as a fan of both…it’s just not the same.
Am I singling out the youth? Maybe. Does that take away from the reality of the situation? Not at all.
So what was the response of the older generation, those same folks who had just taken off their cool for the boom and the bap? Absolute indifference. These were people who had Organix…on cassette. What’s a Kid Cudi?
When Black Thought asked the crowd did they want them (The Roots) to continue “rocking out” post-Cudi announcement, there were two responses from the crowd—an emphatic “yes” and an emphatic “no.” The line in the sand was obvious.
Am I claiming my abbreviated observations hold any tangible conclusions? No. But we’re all amateur anthropologists and this actually happened, whether we care to accept it or not. Born in ’88, I was raised in an era that while different from the past, held much of that same conviction inherit in the earliest moments of the genre. While much of the music has certainly gained traction in the mainstream, it, too, has adapted through the accessible vehicle of pop music, further detaching itself from its ancestry. And I’m ok with that. But I’ve never seen the line drawn so sharply than in this particular musical ecosystem.
The Roots Picnic offers a healthy palette of sound for the sonically starved. There is a diversity that serves both practical and commercial needs. But engaging this duality of function and fashion, amid an array of unexpected events, put time and music in a especially bright light. The great disconnect in Hip-Hop is a reality, even if not in the casual relationship I’ve examined. To me, Rakim and Cudi are both a part of the culture. For many, however, they are worlds apart, separated by 808s and soul samples.
Right now, I would love to give some sort of endearing Hip-Hop public service announcement about the importance of acceptance and embracing the past and present and blah, blah blah…but, I’m not. At the end of the day, it doesn’t come down to an age. It’s about really feeling the music. Just because you’re 19, doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate lessons from The Master. And, to the old heads, it doesn’t make you any less “Hip-Hop” to enjoy the electric vibes of Kid Cudi. So, if anything, I’ll say this:
Keep an open mind. Good music is good music. No Cudi (pun intended).
Photos Courtesy of OkayPlayer