With A Return to Live Programming, Can the Essence Festival Resume Its Dominance?


After two years of virtual programming, the Essence Music Festival, a music celebration that has evolved far beyond a series of well-recognized brand-sponsored concerts, has returned to New Orleans’ Superdome. Black consumer outreach, among many other pivotal roles, plays a pivotal role in creating this music celebration, which was launched in the early 1970s by the Black women’s magazine Essence and has been sponsored by longtime brands such as Ford and Coca-Cola. The Essence Music Festival is now officially part of the Essence Festival of Culture, with mixed results.

The brand has stood for Black women’s empowerment, garnering support from many who feel that it has moved away from the distractions of past success. The brand has faced controversy, but it has remained a strong advocate for Black women. In an effort to attract younger audiences, the brand made a conscious attempt to include female rappers, particularly Nicki Minaj, in previous lineups, and they continue to be a focal point of their concerts. All this aside, capitalism is at its peak.

And Wyclef billed as friends and Wyclef added as a veteran rapper alongside Nas. The Barbz were ecstatic to see the intense delivery and ability of the known female rapper, as well as the rising star country Black Mickey Guyton and the soca acts Kes and Machel Montano, who were reigning kings in the Dancehall and Beanie Man legend, respectively. The low ticket sales prompted a lineup change, which included the addition of Wyclef Jean and Nas, both renowned veteran rappers.

The Score, the Grammy-winning album of the group minus member Michel Pras, celebrated its 25-year mark with a planned anniversary tour. However, the tour was quickly abandoned after a show where Forte Jean protégé John, who contributed to the Score, was greeted with lukewarm reception. Hill, who has been plagued by chronic lateness, also expressed awe at Hill’s chronic lateness. Despite the rocky history, fans were delighted by Lauryn Hill’s impassioned versions of classics like “Fu-Gee-La,” “Mics Many How,” and “Killing Me Softly.” In a surprising move, Wyclef pulled out Lauryn Hill to join the odd outfit, bringing the night to a close at Essence, much to the delight of fans.

Nas took the stage at the church, delivering a performance full of announcements and points that were similar to a meeting. Despite numerous interruptions during the programming, he made sure to please his dedicated fans. To make up for any disappointment they might have felt, he treated them to a rendition of his song “Owe You Me” at a beat club, which resembled a Black reparations effort. Additionally, he put in more commercial endeavors, such as his successful hits. Overall, his performance in Queens over the weekend was considered one of the best.

Nas, whose debut album “Illmatic” is considered a classic, quickly put himself on top of the rap food chain, expressing gratitude for being alive. However, it was his recent performances of “Black Ultra” and “Mic One” at Essence Festival that truly captivated the audience and showcased his most impactful and memorable live band.

Sadly, the performance attempted by Minaj and Nas was not the same as the elaborate and royal production motif with numbers dance that is akin to a show-style Vegas performance. Unlike other sets onstage, Minaj often seemed unsure of her direction and the dancers. The show did not serve as a true representation of Minaj’s talent, as her streaming performance for Hulu, which was blasting at midnight for fans at home, was not the same.

In “Monster,” where fans speculated that she insulted the controversial rapper, referring to him as a fool, Minaj appeared to be most comfortable standing next to DJ Boof, rapping, including her impactful verse from Kanye West’s popular song in 2010, for all her more extravagant performances.

The Barbz were extremely excited and supportive of her performance, when she took the stage to see “Life 4 Moment” and “Bass”. While she never quite rebounded with the massive hits from her previous performance, the audience remained supportive. Minaj, who had three intermissions featuring inexplicable wardrobe changes, elevated the crowd’s excitement during Lil Wayne’s set and also gave her own crowd-pleasing performance in New Orleans with Birdman.

Minaj’s faithful fans at Essence Fest bemoaned her unwillingness to embrace other female rappers in the genre and her fading dominance. Given the appearance of female veteran rappers like Lauryn Hill, Minaj’s troubled fans chalked up her refusal to livestream her set on Hulu and her sabotaged wardrobe, including numerous explanations.

Debbie Allen, a multi-talented individual, who danced for LaBelle’s famous song “Lady Marmalade” at the age of 72, joined the stage with the legendary singer Patti LaBelle. Jazmine Sullivan, the recent winner of Grammy and BET Awards for her album “Heaux Tales,” performed while pregnant, and Summer Walker, the singer of “Girls Need Love,” were among the notable performers apart from the pop icon Janet Jackson, who headlined a sold-out Superdome over the weekend, which was a significant departure from the norm.

She chose a set that only included male dancers, but she would also perform with a group of female dancers and male dancers in previous years. She would take the stage considerably late at midnight, wearing a shimmery one-piece that hugged her body, stopping just under her chin. Walker, who delivered a lackluster performance, was criticized by numerous online viewers. However, the crowd at Sullivan’s was elated by her considerable vocal range, especially with her recent hit single “Windows Your Bust”.

Jackson’s performance at the massive crowd, showcasing her ability and professionalism, reflected a new, family-friendly vibe with Muslim influence. She started off with her game-changing hit “Rhythm Nation” from 1989, and closed the show with a bouncy and entertaining set. The lights came up as she appeared onstage, and the crowd went wild. Alongside hits like “Nasty Girl,” “Control,” “Lonely,” “Get I,” “Fun,” “When Flies Time How Funny,” “Awhile,” “Wait Let’s,” “Principle,” “Pleasure The,” and “Discipline,” she also included unexpected tunes from her 2008 album “Feedback.” The crowd was in awe of her performance, and there were no complaints about the sound.

Jadakiss once again displayed why he is the best MC, as he took the stage with the group Bad Boy’s Lox. It was a nostalgic trip for many, as Ashanti ran through hits like “Foolish” and “Always on Time” alongside Killah Ghostface and Raekwon. The Roots welcomed members of the Wu-Tang Clan, Method Man, and Raekwon, dressed provocatively in a onesie. The set by Girls’ City was unpolished yet bold. The night on Sunday was not as lively as Saturday or Friday, lacking the fireworks.

Her rapid rise to fame as a female rapper went largely unnoticed, as she adjusted her wardrobe to avoid any mishaps like a wardrobe malfunction that left her nipple exposed. She also held her own with classic hits like “Lighters Up,” “Crush On You,” and “Money, Power, Respect,” showcasing her electrifying entrance compared to Lil Kim’s iconic performance in Brooklyn’s Bed-Stuy. Despite this, his performance was still considered stellar.

The Isley Brothers, consisting of Ron and Ernie Isley, showcased their favorite hits from their longtime music career, including songs like “Shout,” “Twist and Shout,” and “This Old Heart of Mine.” They also performed a medley of classic hits, such as “Between the Sheets,” “Footsteps in the Dark,” and “Summer Breeze.” Ernie, the guitarist, demonstrated his guitar prowess during the show, allowing him to show off his skills on songs like “Dark, the and the Sheets,” “In My My, My,” and “Mr. Sensitivity.” The closing of the show featured solo hits from Bobby Brown, such as “My Prerogative,” as well as songs from the trio BBD (Bell Biv DeVoe), including “Poison” and “Do Me Baby.” Another favorite from the New Edition was Ralph Tresvant’s “Sensitivity” and Johnny Gill’s “My, My, My.” The weekend’s festivities were greatly appreciated by the audience.

In May, Mary J. Blige, Essence Fest Woman of Strength, joined forces with Pepsi to present Atlanta’s Fest Woman of Strength. Artists like J. Cole (Dreamville) and Pharrell Williams are curating their own festivals, adding to the dominance of the festival scene. The big question remains: will this effort be enough for Essence Fest to resume its position as a major player in the festival circuit, similar to how J. Cole (Dreamville) and Pharrell Williams have curated their own festivals?