I don’t need to hear much more than the combination of the words “afro” and “punk” to get riled up for a two-day festival. Tell me I’ve got a press pass and give me PR info for some of the most awesome bands there, and my heart is yours. So thanks to the press rep for Afropunk for stealing my heart.
Rained out last year, the impending festival caused more than a little anxiety for some long-term fans. Thank God the weather was prime for partying the entire weekend, and the turnout for Afropunk Fest 2012 was impressive to say the least. Even with the last-minute cancellation of Gym Class Heroes, the entry line for the free music event wrapped around the park on both days. Thankfully, fans outside had 15 food and vendor trucks to choose from as they waited for the line to calm.
Mexicue, Kelvin Natural Slush Co., Fishing Shrimp, Valducci’s Pizza and Cupcake Crew, just to name a few, provided all day treats for festival-goers both Saturday and Sunday. As sponsors of the event, Heineken and Vitamin Water were also well-stocked. Several booths around the festival even featured free samples of Vitamin Water, which undoubtedly prevented more than a few cases of dehydration, including my own on the first day.
Aside from yummy food options and a plethora of merchandise booths with everything from band gear to eco-friendly watches to various local vendors and clothing companies from around the city, the festival featured a motorcycle contest, “art walls,” skateboarding competitions, Twitter giveaways and so much more. The main event of the festival, the amazing music lineup, needs no introduction. But I might give it one anyway.
Known for featuring an impressive collection of inspiring and significant artists, Afropunk did not fail to deliver in 2012. With big names like Erykah Badu and Das Racist in addition to up-and-coming talent and some surprise appearances by the likes of Pharrell and Mos Def, 2012′s Afropunk Fest was destined to entertain in the best of ways.
Since I unfortunately haven’t quite mastered the art of being in multiple places at once, many of Afropunk’s performances were lost on me, but the artists I was privy to were outstanding. After check-in, my own personal Afropunk experience started off with Ninjasonik‘s performance at the festival skatepark. While the guys spit their rhymes and showed off their DJ skills, skaters from all walks of life occupied the half-pipes below their stage, displaying their own talents and skills. Fortunately for us, and for you, I was able to have a quick chat with Telli after his set, and he offered some legitimate insight to the purpose behind Afropunk.
“Afropunk is catered to ‘afro-punk’,” he explains. ”When we first started there was no place for a black kid that was different, so they made afropunk, and I didn’t like that. I was like if you a punk, you a punk. But now, through the evolution of what we’re doin’ and so many other bands, it’s not a different thing. So now it’s like Afropunk is dope because they fought to have a place for black people that were different. Now it’s just evolved into no segregation. Now it’s just punk. Soon they can take the afro off of it.”
Telli himself is evolving from his origin with Ninkasonik’s ”punk-rap” and getting ready to release a solo mixtape, 2Legit, which features Asher Roth and production by Roofeeo among others.
“Ninjasonik is like punk-rap and it’s for the world, so everybody can love it,” Telli expresses. “But my shit is geared toward me, man. I’m really important to the culture. I go out of my way to bring people together and make shit happen. It always starts with the music. Just telling my story over the music.”
Roofeeo himself did some time as a DJ at Afropunk this year, and TV on the Radio performed as Sunday’s late show. Unfortunately, I overdosed on energy drinks and other substances by that point and was forced to head home prematurely.
Following Ninjasonik, Spank Rock took the stage to put on a hell of a show, which I’ve come to understand is apparently expected of him. Disguised in a grey hoodie, his thin, blonde DJ soon took the stage as much more than your average DJ in a borderline S&M bikini. Spank himself rocked an orange jumpsuit, which seemed to be an underlying theme with performers on Saturday’s Red Stage, as Das Racist took the stage soon after, and Dapwell sported a navy version of the same general style.
As can be expected, Erykah Badu’s set was the highlight of Saturday night’s events, for a variety of reasons. In addition to her ridiculous voice, Badu sported a giant gold chain (for real..it was GIANT) and spent a little time on her drum machine giving the crowd something to groove to. As if her amazing voice alone weren’t worth the wait for her stage presence, mid-show she produced the face, voice and lyrical talent that makes 90% of women weak in the knees: Yasiin Bey a.k.a. Mos Def. Though he only stayed for one song, he only needed a few moments to whip the crowd into a frenzy with his trademark grin as he emerged from backstage.
Sunday’s lineup, starting with Bad Rabbits for me, was just as bombastic and served to round off the weekend perfectly. Vocalist Fredua Boakye commanded the stage with his insane vocal range and funky lyrics. Bad Rabbits puts on a great show, which I happily witnessed from the second row, right behind bassist, Graham Masser‘s parents. Somehow even better than their happy, fun-loving attitudes on stage are the guys in their natural habitat after the show.
“We’re lucky to be out there, so we don’t take ourselves too seriously,” the band agrees. “We’ve been around each other for ten years touring, and a couple of us have lived together/in a van, so after a while it’s kinda just like your brother or sister or something like that.”
This comment results in an eruption of laughter from the guys, as none of them could qualify as a sister, before they let us in on the origin of their dynamic and eclectic sound, which they describe as “Lamb of God meets Michael Jackson.“
“It’s just how we write music,” the guys agree. “It’s a reflection of what we listen to, what we grew up on. I think the live show is always a reflection of our heavier side. We’re huge Deftones fans, Every Time I Die, but at the same time we listen to Michael Jackson and a lot of other shit.” Needless to say, I’m in love.
While I waited to sit down with Bad Rabbits, I overheard the glorious sounds of one Alexis Brown from Straight Line Stitch absolutely dominating the stage. Not only is she hot and tatted up, she’s one of the few frontwomen in heavy metal and she kills the mic. I literally almost ventured away from the Bad Rabbits site just to get a glimpse of her and figure out how she was producing that amazing scream. Mad props.
I closed out Sunday with some sounds from the ever talented Reggie Watts and downtime with a friend, which is the second best part of a weekend concert, aside from the music itself. Events like Afropunk serve not only to provide an outlet for musical talent and creativity, but to strengthen the experience and economy of Brooklyn itself and to bring us back together with the people we connect with. Mission accomplished, Afropunk.
Originally published August 31, 2012 on NewYorkSocialStatus.com