All photos by Ray Legendre
Lenny Kravitz closed Afropunk Fest Sunday night with a rocking set 25 years in the making. Who knew the Bed-Stuy native had never played his home borough of Brooklyn? Not I.
The day’s most awe-inspiring performance, however, belonged to an “Indigo Child” from a tiny Atlanta suburb who was not yet born when Kravitz started cranking out guitar anthems.
Raury (pictured above, instructing the crowd to raise their hands) produced the kind of goosebump-inspiring moments – and collective euphoria – Sunday afternoon that heralded him as a major star at the ripe young age of 19. His triumphant seven-song set, ironically, served to make everything that came after feel like a bit of a letdown.
Below is my Afropunk Fest 2015 Sunday recap. Be sure to also check out my Saturday recap for shiny photos and words about Death Grips, Danny Brown, Suicidal Tendencies, SZA and more.
PETITE NOIR (Red Stage)
Weekend trains be damned, I arrived too late to catch Jesse Boykins III but just in time to catch Raury, or so I thought. It turned out South African dance-rock act Petite Noir had replaced Raury in the 4:15 slot. Silver-haired Yannick Ilunga and crew inspired the crowd to sweat with them on sticky tracks like “Down.” Shout-out to the dude in the Suicidal Tendencies T-shirt next to me who danced his face off.
RAURY (Red Stage)
Generally I am skeptical when artists speak of creating “a legendary moment” at a concert. But when Raury, a 19-year-old from Stone Mountain, Georgia, said this prior to his set finale “God’s Whisper,” the sentiment recalled something I heard Wayne Coyne prophetically say last summer at the start of a Flaming Lips show. With Raury, as with Coyne, anything is possible live. His stage presence is electric – spinning around while banging a drum, dropping to his knees to emphasize his emotion, signing a fan’s picture mid-song (!). His musicianship, whether rapping, singing or playing an acoustic guitar, was equally dynamic. It’s tempting to compare Raury to a host of musical legends – both in the way he imparts joy as he performs and the way he seems completely at ease in the moment – but Raury is Raury. He is a rare talent, the type artists and fans alike will look to for inspiration. “Times are too serious to be making music about bullshit,” he announced before leading a moment of silence for those killed by police brutality. “Fly,” the thoughtful song that followed – with its line “A man should kill no man on no condition” – sparked a “Black Lives Matter” chant at its conclusion. It briefly stood as the best song I’d heard live all year before the aforementioned “God’s Whisper,” a gigantic, all-encompassing number in concert and one the entire band throws itself into. The skies could have opened with the day’s forecasted showers at that point and I would not have cared.
GOLDLINK (Red Stage)
Anyone wondering how Goldlink would follow Raury got their answer when the DMV rapper informed the crowd, “Fat bitches ride dick with a T-shirt on,” early in his set. Uh, so he didn’t come to start a revolution. Goldlink came to make the crowd dance. The XXL Freshmen ‘15 member did so, more often than not, presiding as a hypeman for his DJ’s mid-set ode to all songs considered dope. Montell Jordan’s “This Is How We Do It” inspired a gleeful sing-along. Lil B’s “Wanton Soup” drizzled the afternoon in swag. Meanwhile, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” caused a parkwide high jump competition. Goldlink flashed his championship air guitar talents on the latter. The whole turned-up spectacle reminded me of a Girl Talk show if Greg Gillis occasionally paused his mash-ups to perform original raps.
KELELA (Red Stage)
I learned four things during the L.A.-based R&B singer’s set:
1. Her pipes go nice with the setting sun.
2. She doesn’t need a mic stand to fuck shit up.
3. The Afropunk crowd made her feel spiritual. “It’s amazing performing to this many black people,” she said. “Yes, Jesus, Lord, Mohammed, all of them.”
4. I suck at eating push-pops. RIP $5 push-pop.
GARY CLARK JR. (Green Stage)
The highlight of Gary Clark Jr’s set, for me, came as I listened to his guitar wail across the park on my walk to see Sam Dew perform on Gold Stage. That’s not to say the master guitarist with the rich, yet mournful voice failed to excite me when my face, not my back, was toward the stage. Clark’s was a great-sounding set. It’s just, from my vantage a football field away, I struggled to connect with his performance, and I wondered if my last great Afropunk set was behind me.
SAM DEW (Gold Stage)
Alas, Sam Dew, an artist I knew more by name than song, provided just the excitement I craved, with a side-stage set that felt as intimate as a small club. The Roc Nation signee’s Damn Sue originals such as “Desperately” and “Victor” sparkled in the close quarters with bass, drums and synths accompanying his exquisite voice. Dew’s falsetto, often looped for greater effect, made the night air feel that much cooler. His remake of Bill Withers’ “Use Me Up” resulted in catcalls from the women behind me. On another song, a woman near the stage just pointed at him, as if trying to catch the power of his voice in her hand like electricity. His set definitely provided my night with a much needed jolt.
LENNY KRAVITZ (Green Stage)
Almost at once, the lights of hundreds of cell phones illuminated the Green Stage field as Kravitz and his band launched into their second track, “American Woman.” Kravitz filled the dark void with his voice, guitar and, most of all, personality. Here was a rock god, some would say the last of a dying breed at music festivals. I stayed four or five songs to pay my respects. When Red Stage headliner Kaytranada’s dance joints overwhelmed the sound of Kravitz strumming an acoustic guitar alone on stage, I knew it was time to fly away. Oh, oh, oh, yeah.