By: Keith Nelson Jr (@JusAire) Editor-In-Chief
We are all human and as humans we operate under one overarching, immutable fact: We change and we stay the same at the same time. The ex-hippie accountant who still praises anti-establishment music, the unmarried Christians with a healthy sex life, the person who loves Biggie AND Tupac. Life is more dynamic when dichotomies exist and those binary relationships are better when they are manifested in astounding artists.
From the moment you walked into the orange glow of the dimly lit restaurant Baby's All Right in Brooklyn last night for Red Bull Sound Select and Afropunk's curated concert you begin to understand you're only entering one layer. The modestly sized concert venue awaited pass the stocked bar and Kid Rock look-a-like bartender (I yelled "Bawitdaba" to see if it was the real Kid Rock. It wasn't.) and soon was filled wall to wall in droves. A sea of African headwraps, intricately arranged dreadlocks and the scent of Shea Moisture Black Soap and Shea Butter permeated the venue in a way that would make George Clinton shed a funkadelic tear. The show was hosted by Kimberly Nicole, who also doubles as a contestant on NBC's The Voice contestant (and two-step enthusiast) with DJ Moma providing the soundtrack for the night. Both were exceptional, with Kimberly Nicole's aggressive delivery to jokes like "I know it's hot and your balls are sweaty" and DJ Moma earning all my praise for transitioning from Kendrick Lamar's "Blacker The Berry" into Jay Electronica's "Exhibit C".
But the night belonged to the stars. Well, the ones who took it.
By the time the precocious 19 year old Neo-Soul/Hip-Hop duo Oshun began spreading their views of woman empowerment and cultural pride, the show was 45 minutes late and the heat was reaching testicle-adhesive levels. Niambi Sala and Thandiwe, whose group is named after the Yoruba diety of water (Osun), proved from the start they are talented beyond their years performing a riveting rendition of Erykah Badu's "The Healer". The pair waxed poetics about headwraps and Netflix with buttery vocals melting over jazzy instrumentation ("Stuck") with the same conviction as their raps about a millennial revolution ("#"). The crowd's energy was spotty at times with Niambi Sala's acapella verse(urged by Thandiwe insisting Niami "got bars") elicited the largest reaction. Oshun's performance was further evidence that the pair are in the embryonic stages of an eventual powerhouse.
Kandace Springs is Prince-approved and performed at the surprise 30th anniversary concert Prince's Paisely Park estate for the 30th anniversary of Purple Rain after he discovered her cover of Sam Smith's "Stay With Me". She also performed last night, but if you were standing anywhere from 8-40 feet from the stage and were not over 6 feet, you wouldn't have known as she decided to perform the majority of her set sitting down. Her voice was swallowed by her backing band on songs like "Meet Me In The Sky" from her self-titled EP. People were even having full conversations during her set. Once she finally rose from her seat to lead a raucous sing-a-long of The Fugees' "Killing Me Softly", her performance received its warmest reception.
The vivacious lead singer of producer-singer duo Lion Babe, Jullian Hevery did not perform as much as she flowed. With hair fit for a lion's mane, the luminous singer belted out earthy vocals over Lucas Goodman's grandiose yet disparate production on songs like "Jump Hi". She had the crowd in the base of her vocal chords and when they heard the opening keys of "Treat Me Like Fire" from the duo's 2014 self-titled EP the group received the loudest reactions of the night which foreshadowed the mass exodus from the crowd once their set ended. Jesse Boykins III was the last person to perform, but Lion Babe made sure those in attendance left feeling as if there were two headliners.
I have had the pleasure of watching the rhythmic exorcism that is a Jesse Boykins III performance a few times in the last few years. Last night's performance was not as stellar as the others, with Jesse's voice being a bit pitchy and crowd interest inconsistent at points, but that's like calling a 25 point/7 assist game by Lebron James not stellar. At one point during his rendition of "Live in Me" from his 2014 album Love Apparatus, Jesse passionately sang the lyrics "please don't go away. Some day I'll be there" as a small group of concertgoers began filing out of the venue in the middle of his song. While the lyrics are originally aimed at a skeptical lover, Jesse's gaze was transfixed on the mini exodus forming in the back of the crowd and the temerity in his voice when he sang "I'll be there" gave the impression he was speaking to those people and reminding them of his lasting power in this music industry.
Red Bull Sound Select and Afropunk put on a diverse show that had minor hiccups but wonderfully showcased the future of music in real-time.