Culture, Community, Creativity: Inside Roots Picnic 2023 - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

Nothing signals the start of summer in Philadelphia like The Roots Picnic. The event has become a staple of the city’s cultural landscape, attracting musicians and music lovers alike from across the country. You can always expect to find something for everyone: hip-hop, R&B, gospel, and more.

Day 1

A perfect example of the diversity in Black music that can be found at The Roots Picnic would be Adam Blackstone’s set on Saturday. The multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer, and bassist took to the stage with a full band and performed a beautiful cover of “Lovely Day” by Black soul legend Bill Withers. After a few songs, Blackstone brought out Coco Jones who is known for her role as Hillary Banks in the modern reboot of Fresh Prince. During her set, Jones performed her hit song “ICU.” Shortly after the Gospel duo, Mary Mary joined Blackstone and performed a few upbeat classics like “God in Me” and “Shackles.”

Adam Blackstone x Coco Jones x Mary Mary | photo by Melissa Simpson

Next up on the Main Stage, Philadelphia fans got a much-needed reunion performance from State Property. Beanie Sigel, Freeway, Oschino, Omillio Sparks, Peedie Crakk, and the Young Gunz, performed Philly classics like “No Better Love,” “Flipside,” “Roc The Mic.” The Philly hip-hop icons last got together for a surprise appearance at Freeway’s 20th anniversary concert at The Fillmore back in February; this was a spectacular encore.

State Property | photo by Melissa Simpson

Over on the Presser Stage, the DMV came to Philly for an insane double-feature go-go set with performances from Backyard Band and Rare Essence. It was a party the entire time with folks dancing in the aisles and beating their feet to the congo drums and vibrant brass section. Some of the songs performed included a go-go cover of “Hello” by Adele, “E.S.S.E.N.C.E.,” “Wickedest Band Alive,” “Pretty Girls,” and “Keeping It Gangsta.” Towards the end of the set, Black Thought joined Rare Essence and spit a few bars over a traditional go-go beat and further proving that he’s a powerhouse emcee who can tackle any beat with ease.

GloRilla | photo by Melissa Simpson

Shortly after the go-go party, the Princess of Memphis rap who had a meteoric rise to fame, GloRillia, performed an energetic set with the crowd rapping along. Towards the end of her set, GloRilla performed her hit song “Tomorrow,” and instead of being accompanied by Cardi B (who is featured on the song’s remix), rapper and reality TV star Christian Rock made a guest appearance.

Back on the main stage, Philadelphia’s beloved Lil Uzi graced The Roots Picnic for the third time in their career. Folks who remember the early Uzi tracks turned up to songs from Luv Is Rage and Lil Uzi Vert vs. The World, but the crowd reached its maximum when it came time for Uzi to perform their hit song and new Philly anthem, “Just Wanna Rock.” The crowd was a sea of people blickin and doing hips.

Lil Uzi Vert | photo by Melissa Simpson

The evening ended with a beautiful and soulful performance from Ms. Lauryn Hill celebrating the 25th anniversary of her iconic album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Maybe the best surprise of the entire day was when Fugees members Wyclef Jean and Pras joined Hill on stage during the set for what they said was their last performance together. They played “Killing Me Softly,” “Zealots,” “How Many Mics,” and more, and you can watch video here and here.

Lauryn Hill | photo by Melissa Simpson

Day 2

Sunday was another day full of gorgeous vibes and an overabundance of Black music in all of its forms.

Saucy Santa performed a few of his viral songs that had fans twerking in the stands. Folks had to make a mad dash from the Presser to the main stage to catch Santana’s bestie Yung Miami and JT of City Girls. The pair came out looking absolutely flawless and spit their hot girl anthems that the crowd adored. The duo have a clear chemistry that only further amplified their performance.

Ari Lennox | photo by Melissa Simpson

Next up was the soulful songbird, Ari Lennox who looked like a Black angel dressed in a black and white crochet ensemble. She sang songs like “New Apartment” and “Shea Butter Baby” to a highly enthusiastic audience.

The vibes completely switched up on the Main Stage with The J. Period Mixtape set featuring Black Thought, Busta Rhymes, and Eve. Busta was accompanied to the stage by his lifelong friend, hypeman, and fellow rapper, Spliff Star. The pair were lively and playful throughout their set per their custom. Once Eve graced the stage, she, Black Thought, and special guest Jazmine Sullivan, performed a rendition of The Roots classic, “You Got Me.”

Black Thought, J Period, Busta Rhymes, Eve | photo by Melissa Simpson

The night ended with a beautiful headlining set from everyone’s favorite, Usher. The songs from his 30-year-long career were being sung by everyone in attendance at top volume. One could even argue that he has the best songs to sing along to.

The Roots Picnic is more than just a music festival – it’s a celebration of culture, community, and creativity. The festival has become a beloved tradition in Philadelphia and beyond, bringing people together to experience the power of Black music and art.

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