Against the height of summer and amid almost impossible heat, The Source ventured into day three of the Panorama Festival, a sprawling music, art and technology concert tucked adjacent to Manhattan on Randall’s Island. With headlining acts ranging from Arcade Fire to Kendrick Lamar, a sweeping assortment of specialty cuisine, the cool shade of a VIP compound and a curated dance-floor from James Murphy and Soulwax, the festival brought plenty to satiate the tens of thousands of fans that swept across the island.
Day three seemed to bring a heightened sense of excitement; fatigue, heat and liquor melting into a sort of collective buzz. And while just the right amount of woozy exhaustion can catalyze delight in an unhindered crowd, it can also create an exhausted lull between performances. So it was nice to see the anticipation from the crowd as they bounced on the balls of their feet as each new act came to the stage.
Sunday’s Hip Hop lineup started early in the afternoon with Flatbush Zombies climbing atop the festival’s largest platform: The Panorama Stage. Originating in Flatbush, Brooklyn, the trio consists of rappers Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice and dual part rapper-slash-producer Erick Arc Elliott.
The group comes off as half comic-book-caricatures (affirmed by the album cover of their most recent effort, 3001: A Laced Odyssey) and half traditional rappers. Visceral and cerebral in equal proportion, the raw power of their sound proved immaculate throughout the set; the group growled and spit verses while rolling beats exuded enough bass to render any attempts at “Shazaming” a track entirely obsolete.
Yes, they made sure to perform cult-favorites like “Palm Trees” from their 2013 BetterOffDEAD mixtape, which the crowd could recite with both conviction and accuracy, but they also managed to coax several mosh-pits and spend a significant portion of their performance from within the crowd. This energy coupled with the chemistry and coordination of the group helped to cement their standing as one of the best performances of the day.
After a smooth guest cameo from Joey Bada$$, a snarling Bone Thugs-n-Harmony refix and enough rumbling resonance to roll through your toes, they made sure to leave a final snippet of wisdom with the crowd:
“Open your f*cking mind!”
A slice of nostalgia from an acid trip passed on meditatively and just like that, they were gone. Top Dawg Entertainment’s R&B/neo-soul artist SZA went on to perform at The Pavilion about an hour later. Impassioned with wide and sparkling eyes, SZA is best characterized by her sweet voice and lack of common ego that comes inherent with a lot of fringe-to-mainstream artists. SZA grinned through her set with R&B that bled easily from one track to the next, a stream of soft vocals drifting lazily and melting into the heat of the day.
While her performance included standouts like “Childs Play,” (which features an original Chance the Rapper verse over an XXYYXX produced flip) the performance was more than passable but far short of transcendent.
Perhaps a perfect juxtaposition to the soft and subtle crooning of SZA, came the thunderous, booming of Hip Hop’s predominant knuckle-busting duo, Run The Jewels.
Formed by the towering likes of artist/activist figurehead Killer Mike and one of Hip Hop’s most illustrious rapper-producers, El-P, RTJ is the closest thing that modern rap music has to a living N.W.A. or Public Enemy. Saying that RTJ is aggressive is like saying that a shattered bone is uncomfortable: they’re loud, infinitely outspoken and performing in front of a blood-red screen, they’re a two-man army.
El-P’s 2002 solo-debut (his first effort away from Company Flow) created a mark as one of Hip Hop’s most original producers and Run the Jewels production style is still one of the most progressive you’ll find, adorned by sounds with the same piercing myriad of electronic components that made El-P renowned to begin with.
As the genres most politically-outspoken duo, RTJ seem as likely to flip a cop car as they do to wave politely to the officers inside, an attitude generally conducive to a captivating live atmosphere. They performed highlights from their existing catalog: showcasing the driving rhythm of “Banana Clipper,” the ricocheting synths of “Early,” and anthemic standouts of “Lie, Cheat, Steal,” and “Crown,” with themes ranging from the sexually explicit (hilarious when the chorus to “Love Again” is bellowed by thousands of adoring fans) to the overt call toward working class unification and revolution by force if necessary.
An intense loyalty for the duo was practically built into the stitching of the audience and after a somewhat muted encore, they left the cheering crowd satisfied. RTJ had emphatically introduced themselves over a recording of Queen’s “We Are the Champions” and by the end of their set, in their own way, they had attested to it.
Right before LCD Soundsystem would take the stage to deliver mass catharsis to the bleeding hearts of New York City, A$AP Rocky began his performance, but only after making sure we knew to call him “Lord Flacko Jodye II” of course. The collective energy behind his accompanying group, A$AP MOB, dressed in full regalia, including hoodies that somehow avoided to catch fire inside of the sweltering pavilion, brought thousands of fans rushing to the set.
On stage, it’s clear that A$AP’s stature and swagger are unmatched, and despite his ego taking center stage after expressing dissatisfaction with the fact that he wasn’t headlining the festival (insert nonplussed emoji here) he delivered tenfold with his most indelible hits. From Billboard smash “F*ckin’ Problems” to the crescendo-echo of “Shabba” (“eight gold rings like I’m Shab-Shabba Ranks…”) A$AP defines celebrity with both ethos and aesthetic.
A$AP’s most selfless moment came with his dedication to A$AP Yams, the founding member of his collective who died in January, 2015. “Long Live A&AP Yams” flashed across the stadium-sized screens on the set, creating a sort of lyrical-eulogy to ensure his legacy is not soon forgotten.
While A$AP Rocky’s own aplomb sometimes outweighed the songs themselves, his discography is still enough to ensure we start sprinting when he comes to the stage, so maybe it’s justified after all.
As the curtains finally closed on Panorama’s Hip Hop lineup, it was clear that the festival had succeeded wildly in bringing out some of the most relevant groups active across the Hip Hop sphere today.
For three days, Panorama Festival brought pop-culture’s heaving epicenter to Randall’s Island; lights, sounds and senses burning just bright enough to hold us over until next summer.
Post-Production: Richie Williamson