12 May 2018 (gig)
15 May 2018
Blurry Vision Festival made its debut on May 12th and 13th in Oakland, California. The festival was presented by Goldenvoice, a subsidiary of AEG, the global sporting and music corporation. Goldenvoice is responsible for presenting massive cross-genre festivals like Coachella (California), Firefly (Delaware), and Panorama (New York). Blurry Vision marks its second foray into primarily hip hop festivals. Their first was the Tyler, the Creator curated Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival in Los Angeles. Now in its 6th year, it has been a tremendous success.
Blurry Vision was held at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, west of downtown Oakland. It’s home to an amphitheater directly overlooking the San Francisco Bay and skyline. Due to its location, free shuttles were offered in from the nearest Bay Area Rapid Transit station. There was no onsite parking or walking in to the location. Only rideshares and shuttles were permitted. Lyft was the official partnered service and offered a $10 first ride discount for new users.
The line up was an even mix of Hip Hop and R&B, with several of the artists performing a mix of both. Two of the top Hip Hop labels dominate the top billings: Kendrick Lamar’s Top Dawg Entertainment and Drake’s OVO Sound. TDE offered Saturday headliner SZA, 2017’s breakout R&B star. TDE’s Isaiah Rashad sat in another top Saturday spot. OVO also had a strong presence. They brought R&B duos dvsn and Majid Jordan, along with singer/rapper Roy Woods, all hailing from Drake and OVO’s Canada. In total, that’s five of the top eight artists.
Another trend came from the opposite end of Saturday roster. 4 of the 5 first artists came to fame via a specific viral video or YouTuber background. Caleon Fox, who kicked things off at 1:40 pm, got started with a viral comedy rap song, “No Swag No Swag” (2.2 million views). He, like several of the others, is attempting to transition away from comedy rap with more serious tracks like “Semi Cinematic.” Next up, Trinidad Cardona, a 19 year old Phoenix native known for his viral song “Jennifer” (12 million views). It’s based on an ad-libbed bedroom recording and would later be shared by big names like Gucci Mane and Ludacris. The highest billed of these acts was Joji, taking the stage at 4:25 pm. He’s a Japan-born internet comedian turned downtempo R&B producer. His claim to fame is that he originated the Harlem Shake meme in 2013 (59 million views), not to be confused with the 2012 electronic song by producer Baauer, which he danced to (and especially not the original, more challenging Harlem Shake dance, invented in 1981).
In general, the festival ran smoothly, especially considering it’s in its first year. The primary unique feature is none of the 20 acts overlap, all sharing the same stage. Despite this, turnover time between acts was minimal and the original schedule was kept like clockwork. Alcoholic drinks were confined to a large area approximately 50-75 feet northeast of the stage. Over a dozen food vendors were present, and they even offered a basketball shooting section with prizes sponsored by True Religion brand jeans.
Here are some of the musical highlights from the weekend:
The second to last act on Saturday received one of the most rabid crowd responses of either day. At 7:45 pm, the Los Angeles based Brockhampton took the stage. At the band’s outset in 2015, most members were still teenagers. Led by Kevin Abstract, the first incarnation formed when he put out a request for bandmates in online community “KanyeToThe.” In 2017, they released three critically acclaimed albums known as the Saturation Trilogy. Recently signed to RCA, they plan to drop LP number four, titled Puppy, this June.
When their six MCs rushed the stage to Saturation III single, “Boogie,” over half the crowd began jumping up and down, hands raised. They were briefly preceded by eight orchestra members wearing army fatigues and blue face paint (as seen on album covers for Saturation I and III). More signature style could be seen with the six vocalists. They wore baggy ‘90s jeans and bulletproof vests, each with its own word on it (“Wakanda,” “Ray,” “Fiend,” “Valarie,” and two others with a racial and homophobic slur, but worn by members reappropriating them). The performance was marked by energetic antics like wildly headbanging, hopping on top of speakers and moshing on stage and in the crowd. Other antics were decidedly tongue-in-cheek and aligned to their insistence that they’re the “Internet’s first boy band,” and not a rap collective. This included slowly waving their arms side-to-side during sung breakdowns, and coordinated two-steps, jumps and kicks. Wrapping up with the sugary chorus of Saturation II standout “Sweet,” the crowd was left breathless and grinning.
Headlining Saturday was 27 year old SZA (pronounced “Sizza”). The New Jersey native had perhaps the biggest breakout year in 2017 of any artist in any genre. Although she signed to Kendrick Lamar’s Top Dawg Entertainment in 2013, it was her 2017 debut LP Ctrl that skyrocketed her in to superstardom. It picked up five 2018 Grammy nominations, including for Best New Artist and Best Urban Contemporary Album.
SZA cooly and confidently worked her way through close to the entirety of Ctrl. After album opener, “Supermodel,” she skipped to mid-album track “Go Gina.” As with many other tracks, there was a direct visual reference, in this case grainy footage of the mid-’90s smash Fox hit Martin, which featured the song’s namesake. SZA’s infectious and genuine nature shined throughout, leading the crowd in chant’s like “Go Gina! Damn Gina!”, a reference to a catch-phrase from the show, recently used in other songs like Chance the Rapper’s 2016 hit “No Problem.” Halfway through the set, before playing fan favorite “Drew Barrymore,” she told a humanizing story about being let down by a romantic interest who asked her to pick up marijuana for a party and then arrived with a different woman. Fans seemed to be moved on a deep personal level by her delivery and anecdotes. And when she closed out with smash Black Panther soundtrack hit, “All The Stars,” their bodies all moved too.
The sole Bay Area representative at Blurry Vision was Oakland’s new hometown favorite, Kamaiyah. She rolled in with the swagger of a conquering hero having just returned from standout Coachella performances a few weeks prior. There she brought out major Compton rapper YG and OG Oakland legend Too $hort. Her outfit was similar to Coachella, a monogrammed half purple windsuit, this time black over white for the contrasting half. The adoring crowd spontaneously erupted in affectionate chants of “Go Ya Ya, Go Ya Ya, Go!” indicating a deep familiarity with her music and nicknames. Her four young female African American backing dancers were the only to match Brockhampton’s raw energy on stage. Perhaps in a generous mood at her homecoming, she treated the crowd to a preview of some new material, including standout “Addicted to Ballin’.” It was preceded by the delightfully profane chorus to Dr. Dre’s classic “Let’s Get High,” and bore a resemblance in production.
Closing out the festival Sunday night were the undeniable heavyweights of the lineup, Atlanta’s Migos. The trio of Quavo, Takeoff and Offset burst onto the national scene with 2013 single, “Versace.” Their 2015 debut LP Yung Rich Nation peaked at number 17 on the Billboard charts.Their second and third came quick. 2017 & 2018 saw Culture & Culture II both peak #1 in the United States. They’ve only continued to reach new levels of recognition, with Offset engaging and starting a family with the queen of 2018, Bronx rapper Cardi B. They were even parodied on Saturday Night Live in May.
Taking the stage at 8:45 pm, they wasted no time engaging the crowd. As opener, Culture II’s “Higher We Go,” built to the beat drop, Quavo requested the crowd “Open it up.” A large circle formed in front. They then counted “1… 2... 1, 2, 3!” and the circle collapsed into a massive mosh pit just was the drums kicked in. Although their songs are typically more downtempo, the verses and choruses are so well known and beloved, the rowdy excitement never relented. They moved from early hits like “Hannah Montana,” to star making turn “Bad and Boujee,” and wrapped up with the Pharrell produced recent blockbuster “Stir Fry.”