Spring Break Highlights: Buku Music + Arts Project
Thanks to the lovely people at Buku Music+Arts Project in New Orleans, Louisiana, I was able to attend the two-day festival for my fourth consecutive year. For those unfamiliar with Buku, it is a primarily music-oriented festival representing a diverse set of genres including Hip Hop, EDM, Alternative, Rock, and Psychedelic music. In addition to its musical focus, the Buku Project also features live mural drawings (which are later auctioned off for charity) as well as multiple futuristic art installations across the venue. Since its inception in 2012, the Buku Project has called the Mississippi river-side Mardi Gras World facilities home. In an effort to expand its outreach and attendance this year, the festival site was increased to include a new riverside stage (the Wharf) in addition to the usual Power Plant, Ballroom, Float Den, Back Alley, and Frontyard stages. This increased in stages allowed for a more spread out venue which was successful in combating previous issues with overcrowding at the small Mardi Gras World venue. Since this year’s lineup at Buku included such high-profile acts such as Migos, Bassnectar, MGMT, SZA, Isaiah Rashad, Sylvan Esso, and Virtual Self, I have decided to create a more concise recap by awarding distinctions such as “Best Act”, “Best Up and Coming Act”, “Most Energizing Act”, and “Most Avant-Garde Act”.
Most Energizing Act: Smino
Credits: ALive Photography
Coming off the recent success of his 2017 premiere solo record “blckswn”, the St. Louis via Chicago rapper did not hold back in his late afternoon set. Placed immediately after fellow collaborator and Chicago rapper Noname’s set, their was an understandable stampede of fans running from Noname to Smino in the five minutes between sets. This rush was assuredly increased by Noname urging fans to head over to Smino’s set (in fact she was in attendance herself in the front row). Throughout his set, Smino would turn to the audience to reflect on his youthful audience's potential for pivotal contributions both politically and creatively. While rapping, Smino countered a growing trend in modern rappers by both saying every word to his lyrics and rapping without a backtrack. In turn, the audience reacted positively to his set and brought a full dose of their New Orleans Creole spice to his set.
Most Avant-Garde Act: Nnamdi Ogbonnaya
Credits: ALive Photography
Keeping with the Chicago artist trend in this year’s lineup was Chicago-based multi-genre performer Nnamdi Ogbonnaya. Nnamdi was scheduled for a half hour set at the smaller Wharf stage, but went on for nearly 45 minutes past the scheduled time. Ogbonnaya’s performance was impossible to categorize due to his seamless transition from hardcore punk to indie rock to rap and even all the way to an almost spoken word-like song. Although the crowd was small, Nnamdi was able to connect with and energize every member of the audience, a skill that will certainly guarantee him success in the future.
Best Up and Coming Act: Princess Nokia
Photo Credits: ALive Photography
America’s favorite New Yorker Bruja feminist rapper did not disappoint in her Buku performance. Also playing at the smaller Wharf stage, Princess Nokia drew a considerable crowd to her set. Despite coming on about 20 minutes late, her crowd maintained the same energy that she brought throughout her hour-long set. The effervescent Manhattan rapper ran through her hits with a healthy dose of bangers off her recent album, Deluxe 1992, making sure to connect with the crowd by dancing and crowd surfing. Princess Nokia’s energy and commitment to her radical rap art will make anyone an instant fan. If you haven’t already heard Deluxe 1992, put it on repeat.
Best Act: Jay Electronica
Credit: ALive Photography
Finally, for the crown of the Buku Festival awards! Returning home for his first show in New Orleans in eight years was New Orleans’s own Jay Electronica. The elusive philosophical rapper concluded his abbreviated American tour back in his hometown to a packed audience. His return to the public spotlight has excited loyal fans who eagerly await his almost mythical album, Act II: Patents of Nobility which has been teased for nearly seven years. While many feared that his hiatus from the rap scene may have decreased his famed technical rap skill, his performance at Buku proved the world wrong.
Beginning with a mix of older lesser-know songs of his first EP and more popular songs like Exhibit C, Jay Elec displayed his raw rap ability early on in the show. After an impromptu memoriam for the late producer J Dilla, Electronica decided to exhibit his love for New Orleans. Calling almost 50 members of the audience on-stage, he spit freestyle acapella bars that were worthy of a hit song. Then, he invited three local rappers on stage in a completely acapella rap battle. In a twist of event, a young shy female rapper named Blue Shakur X won both Jay and the crowd’s heart with a fiery freestyle. After praising the young talent that his city had produced, he was still determined to build a deeper connection with his crowd. For the final three songs he walked five rows in to perform among his fans. At this point I was mere inches from the nomadic rap legend, while the entire group surrounding him rapped his lyrics harmoniously. Elapsing his hour mark for his set-time, Jay Electronica was told to wrap up his show. However, in a true testament to his amiability and humbleness, Jay Electronica walked through a bit of the crowd greeting each fan personally. Getting to speak to him will be a memory I forever treasure.