Earl Sweatshirt, Black Hippy Take Over Downtown Music Festival

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Photography By: Lucas Farrar (@MrFarFetched)

When you see Earl Sweatshirt and Black Hippy headlining this year’s Downtown Music Festival, it makes you stop and realize how far these artists have come. On the one hand, you’ve got the 19-year-old Odd Future member whose growth since hitting the hip-hop scene three years ago has validated his cult following and left people fiending for his upcoming solo album, Doris. On the other hand, the TDE crew—consisting of former and current XXL Freshmen—has seen an explosion in popularity thanks in large part to Kendrick Lamar and his universally praised 2012 album, good kid, m.A.A.d city. The performer combination resulted in high-energy audience in both shows on Friday night (May 10), each held at intimate venues in New York’s Lower East Side.

Before things started at Element, Antwon, who is a Bay Area native on the rise, warmed up the crowd with his eclectic blend of hip-hop. He went into strong offerings such as “40 Bag,” “3rd World Girl” and the 1980s-infused “Living Every Dream.” Soon Syd Tha Kyd took the stage to spin a few cuts, and the Earl Sweatshirt chants rang loud in the small venue. After giving the DJ some props (a high five), Earl addressed his fans nonchalantly: “Hey, guys.” He moved with a quick pace, breezing through “Earl,” “Drop” and “Orange Juice” sans Tyler, The Creator. Afterwards, he wanted to get on his “New York shit,” previewing the collaboration with Vince Staples and his song with RZA. (It features a great hook: “I’ll fuck the freckles off your face, bitch.”) Once it ended, Lee Spielman of Trash Talk, who joined Earl on stage for support, crowd surfed just like any hardcore rocker would do.

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No times for breaks. Maneuvering through heavy rain outside to catch Black Hippy at Capitale, the crew was a little late to their scheduled time, so the Houston rapper Fat Tony held down court. At around 1:15 a.m., the crowd came alive as Jay Rock, ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul and Kendrick Lamar walked onto the stage. “We came here to rap,” Rock proclaimed, which was met with a thunderous cheer. The oldest Hippy member jumped straight into “Hood Gone Love It” and kept fans on their feet with “YOLA.”

At this show—which was billed as Black Hippy—the four rappers opted for separate solo sets rather than playing collective cuts. The approach made it feel like you were watching a timeline of their successes in motion. Each had their own fanbase, as concertgoers either cheered for Soul’s “Bohemian Groove” or when Q returned to play his smash hit “There He Go.” Q, who had terrific charisma, couldn’t leave the stage without poking fun at his lesser star power than Kendrick’s. Still, his music was just as catchy, brimming with dance-ready rhymes found in songs like “Hands On The Wheel” and “Yay, Yay.”

As soon as Q left the stage, Kendrick took over as the night’s main event. He blazed through familiar songs off good kid, starting first with “Backseat Freestyle,” during which audience members rapped back his lyrics like they’d done it before. Kendrick played with the crowd, asking which side was the loudest and inciting a small competition. Later on, he rounded up his set with “m.A.d.d. City” and “Swimming Pools (Drank).”

It was roughly 2:30 a.m. As the house lights went up, the audience wanted an encore from Kendrick and made that known through echoing chants. On his way to the upstairs balcony for his exit, Kendrick simply flashed a smile and waved goodbye. Encore or not, TDE left with unprecedented standards for a group performance. They’ll be back to return the favor soon enough.

Flip through our photo gallery recap below of Downtown Festival’s New York edition. The festival plans on expanding to other cities, including Toronto, Philadelphia and Denver with their own lineups.

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