Perhaps the saying gets old, but the Essence Festival is BACK! Okay, just for a moment, let’s act as if we don’t know that it’s an annual event.
The Essence Festival has been a star-studded event since 1994, and was dubbed “the party with a purpose” in New Orleans. It is still considered to be the largest African American-themed musical concert in the United States. The only time New Orleans didn’t play host to it was in 2006 due to Hurricane Katrina, when our next-door neighbor, Houston, Texas, took the lead for concert-goers.
Without further ado, let’s get into the acts. This year, we decided to organize our list of must-see acts by categorizing them into contemporary R&B, soul, rap, and old-school artists who have a good old throwback feel that never dies. Keep in mind that the majority of this year’s acts encompass female empowerment, with just enough men to aid in a casual distraction here and there.
Teyana Taylor (Superlounge): The “Google Me” singer made a splash on the scene with her MTV special My Super Sweet 16. Years later and a song drop here and there, it was her love triangle with Washington Wizards player Brandon Jennings and The Game actress Tae Heckard that kept her in the spotlight. Taylor expressed on The Breakfast Club radio show that she believed that her ex, Jennings, and her friend—at the time—Heckard, were having an affair that resulted in a child. Not to be deterred, Taylor’s reemerging talent took center stage for 2014’s VII—her homage to rapper Lil’ Kim during the VH1 Hip Hop Honors. And who could forget having the body that everyone wants theirs to be like, as seen in Kanye West’s “Faded” video? Her “Google Me” browser hits became major in less than 24 hours, which reminded the world just why Taylor is talented as a singer and rapper. She’s got a great voice that’s sultry and worthy of being on the roster.
Jazmine Sullivan (Mainstage): Honestly, there’s not a whole lot to say about the woman whose vocal gifts send chills up the spines of many. With a voice reminiscent of a gospel singer over R&B-produced melodies and catering to the broken heart, Sullivan no doubt is one to go see this year. Her debut album Fearless garnered her five Grammy nominations, although she was snubbed, depending on who you ask, not to win. However, beyond her formula for a raspy voice and “this man broke my heart” motto, her vocals alone will send you to church and make you want a drink simultaneously.
Jhene Aiko (Superlounge): While not known for being a vocalist, Aiko has a soft style and lyrical dominance that make her a standout. Songs like “Spotless Mind” illustrate her consistency in every record she makes within her range. She always gives off an ethereal vibe through her music while remaining modern enough to be played on hip hop stations across the nation.
Jill Scott (Mainstage): Scott is a three-time Grammy Award-winning singer whose voice does just what she’s recommended for—soul. With albums like The Light in the Sun and WOMAN, Scott has proven that she can hold her own both on stage and on the big screen. She speaks to your soul just as much as a poet speaks to your conscience.
BJ The Chicago Kid (Superlounge): “She say she wanna drink, do drugs, and have sex tonight, but I got church in the morning” comes straight from BJ’s hit “Church.” With a raw voice over trap-sounding R&B beats, BJ is definitely one to check out. Church will still be accessible the following Sunday if you indeed listen to BJ while drinking whiskey. God forgives, right?
Solange (Mainstage): Carving one heck of a name for herself outside of her famous sister who shall remain nameless, Solange has shown that she can create soul music, fashion statements, and a vocal ambiance that may need candles and wine to make hearing her complete. To date, A Seat at the Table has been her highest-charting album on Billboard, landing the number one spot with strong lyrics that force you to think.
Sir the Baptist (Superlounge): With the recent release of his EP SaintSinner, Sir is acclimating well to the climate of rappers crossing over with mild singing; nothing new in the game. Check out “Deliver Me,” featuring his rumored bae, Brandy. Sir can definitely create a record that appeals to your thoughts.
Chance the Rapper (Mainstage): The Grammy Award-winning and “Same Drugs” rapper garnered huge success all without the assistance of a major label. While he won’t be the only rapper to grace the fest, he can definitely keep up with today’s heavy hitters.
Remy Ma (Superlounge): The two-time Grammy-nominated raptress is known for her association with Fat Joe, her marriage to rapper Papoose, and the angry lines she spat on this year’s hit, “Ether.” Let’s just say, to some, she sent rapper Nicki Minaj’s lyrical abilities to an early grave. If you favor East Coast rappers, Remy Ma is one to aim for.
Master P, Slikk the Shocker, Mia X, and Mystikal (Mainstage): If you were born in the 80s and grew up on 90s and early 2000s music, seeing the “Make ‘Em Say Ugh” family is a MUST. The Louisiana natives who helped pioneer the New Orleans hip hop scene into mainstream America have a whole list of hits for nostalgia.
Xscape (Superlounge): Now, you knew it was coming! Ladies, get ready to “kick off your shoes and relax your feet, and party on down to the…” Hopefully you know the rest. Kandi, Tiny, and sisters LaTocha and Tamika are reuniting for the first time in years, and WE are here for it!
Top headliners like Diana Ross, John Legend, and Mary J. Blige don’t really need a mention because people are going to gravitate to them anyway on the Mainstage. Ross and legend Chaka Kahn will no doubt bring down the house with classic cuts from the peak of their era. Elle Varner’s “Refill” and quirky persona should no doubt hold a bevy of females during her Superlounge stage performances. Leela James, Kelly Price, Doug E. Fresh, and Lala Hathway will also help round out the roster of talent.
Overall, the great thing is that we get to choose whomever we want to see, as we always will. There’s a quote that says, “Good music is good music no matter what kind it is.” With a celebratory fest such as Essence Fest, there’s simply no shortage of great music from artists who love what they do.