12 acts to see at Afropunk Brooklyn 2017
Brooklyn’s Afropunk Festival is this weekend, Saturday (8/26) and Sunday (8/27), in Commodore Barry Park. There are TONS of great acts to see (check out set times), and as with most festivals, you probably won’t manage to see them all. We’ve put together a list of 12 artists we wanted to highlight (and could have listed many more). The artists we chose range from veterans to newcomers, from very popular acts to much smaller acts.
Read on for our list. Who are you most excited to see at Afropunk?
Though Afropunk’s heavy hitters are usually rap and R&B, a festival with “punk” in its name can’t be without a few punk acts, and Afropunk always books some great ones. Among this year’s lineup is Burn, who helped define the sound of ’90s post-hardcore with their highly influential 1990 debut EP on Revelation. They broke up just two years later, but they’ve reunited a few times since and they’re now set to release their first full-length in 16 years, Do or Die. It was produced by Converge guitarist Kurt Ballou and it’s coming out on Converge vocalist J Bannon’s Deathwish label, and the songs we’ve heard from it have been pretty ripping.
While more of a cult artist in the U.S., Dizzee Rascal is hugely influential in the UK as a leading light in the garage and grime scenes. He’s also had a string of Top 10 singles there as well, including collaborations with Calvin Harris, Florence & the Machine, Robbie Williams, and Armand Van Helden. Last year, Dizzee performed his Mercury Prize-winning 2003 debut Boy in Da Corner in full as part of the NYC Red Bull Music Academy, and his new album, Raskit, was released in July.
One of two artists on this list that Lauryn Hill co-signs is Jojo Abot. She’s from Ghana but now lives in NYC, and makes psychedelic neo-soul that pulls from Afrobeat as much as it pulls from modern American pop (she cites both Lana Del Rey and Fela Kuti as influences). She can win over crowds in the hip hop, indie, and global music communities, and her distinct sound doesn’t fit comfortably into any of those categories. Her set at Afropunk should be a very unique one — here’s an idea of what to expect:
Brooklyn rapper Leikeli47 always performs with a mask on (as you maybe saw when she opened for Santigold last year), which makes her both mysterious and unforgettable. She recently released the lead single for the season two soundtrack of HBO’s Insecure, a show that’s always full of excellent rap and R&B (many artists playing Afropunk this year have had music in the show), and even more recently announced her debut album Wash & Set. Going by the lead singles, it’s rap with an experimental edge but not at the cost of accessibility and danceability. They also remind you that Leikeli47 is no slacker behind the mic.
UK artist Little Simz has been co-signed by Lauryn Hill and she’s collaborated with Gorillaz, and it’s not hard to see why these huge legendary artists like her so much. In various ways, Little Simz’s very good 2016 album Stillness In Wonderland should appeal to fans of both Lauryn and Gorillaz. She transitions from rapping to soulful singing like Lauryn, and she’s got a real futuristic, electronic approach to hip hop that Gorillaz fans should appreciate.
If you go to shows in NYC, there’s a good chance you’ve stumbled upon Princess Nokia before. She’s a local staple, and she seems like she’s on the verge of a breakthrough right now. She signed to Rough Trade Records earlier this summer and her first single on the label, “G.O.A.T.,” is very promising.
The first time we heard Sampha’s stunning voice was on SBTRKT’s debut album back in 2011, and now, six years later, Sampha finally released a debut album of his own. Process is an excellent showcase for how far Sampha has come as a singer in those years, and it refuses to stick to one sound. There’s the danceable pop songs, the piano ballads, the experimental R&B songs, and more. Like the latest albums by Solange and Frank Ocean (both of whom Sampha has collaborated with), Process blurs the lines between indie and R&B to the point where talking about genre distinctions feels entirely unnecessary. His sound is distinct, highly impressive, and should be a treat to see live.
NYC’s own Timmy Regisford has been working behind the scenes in the music industry since 1985, though he’s most known for his prowess behind the decks, and for the now-legendary club and party Shelter (not to be confused with the band named Shelter). Shelter, which he co-founded with music exec Merlin Bobb, was right next door to Wetlands for a while (you may also know that Shelter location for housing the now-legendary N.A.S.A. parties on Friday nights for a year). Amazing, long, house music filled nights at the Hudson Street club turned condos are what turned me on to Regisford in the early ’90s, and club goers to this day still get to feel Shelter’s magic. Lately they’ve been doing parties at Output in Williamsburg. The next one happens this Sunday — an official Afropunk afterparty, but first you can catch the Shelter crew at the fest itself. Timmy, along with Shelter DJs Mark Francis and PTOE SOL, will all be spinning throughout Saturday. Can you feel it?
Solange is still riding high off the strength of 2016’s A Seat at the Table, one of the very best albums of that year, and she’s still sticking to festival appearances and one-off shows for now, which makes any chance to see her even more unmissable. As we witness when she headlined Panorama in July, her live show is at least as captivating as her album. She has a highly talented band and a spectacular stage show, and her voice soars across massive festival grounds.
Soul II Soul
Led by Jazzie B, Soul II Soul helped shape the direction of UK pop and dance in the ’90s by mixing classic R&B and soul with shuffling beats and dub rhythms. They also paved the way for the trip hop scene that would hit soon after, and was a direct influence on Bjork (who used Soul II Soul collaborator Nellee Hooper on her first two solo albums). Always more of a loose collective than an actual group, Jazzie revived Soul II Soul in 2007 after a 10 year break and has kept the positive party vibes going ever since. Soul II Soul don’t play North American shows very often, so this is a treat — plus classic singles like “Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)”, and “Keep On Movin'” are tailor made for arm-waving festival crowds.
After releasing three EPs from 2012-2014, SZA finally released her debut album CTRL via Top Dawg Entertainment earlier this year. CTRL pairs R&B and neo-soul sounds with SZA’s refreshingly honest lyrics, plus some notable guest appearances, like TDE labelmates Kendrick Lamar and Isaiah Rashad. She’s already more than proved her mettle live, having appeared on notable festival lineups like Coachella, Panorama, and many more. This year’s Afropunk will be a great time to hear her CTRL material before she comes back through NYC on tour with Smino and Ravyn Lenae in December.
As a solo artist and as a bassist for Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, Kamasi Washington, Suicidal Tendencies, and more, Stephen Bruner (aka Thundercat) flaunts his extreme talents in many ways. He’s a rare artist who can successfully use a bass as a lead instrument, and his solo material blends R&B, soul, electronica, jazz, hip hop and more seamlessly. For an idea of how diverse he is, this year’s Drunk features a song with Kendrick Lamar back to back with a song with Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins. His live shows can be awe-inspiring, and if you don’t believe us, believe Dave Chappelle, who joined Thundercat on stage earlier this year to call him a virtuoso.