The Roots Picnic 2012 | Philadelphia | Review | Photos

Words by: Jake Krolick & B. Getz | Images & Video by: Jake Krolick

5th Annual The Roots Picnic:: 06.02.12-06.03.12 :: Festival Pier @ Penn’s Landing :: Philadelphia, PA

Photo gallery and choice video from the Picnic below review!

The Roots by Jake Krolick

A year is a long time to wait for something as uniting and purely enjoyable as the early summer pop culture tradition of the annual The Roots Picnic. Philadelphia’s favorite sons welcomed an eclectic assortment of progressive artists to the Festival Pier @ Penn's Landing. In its fifth installment, the affair stretched over Saturday and Sunday, offering a myriad of performers than ran the gamut of genres, styles, and audiences. It’s easy to forget each year how amazing this event really is, and despite the changes to format this years’ experience was on par with the best yet. Saturday had puffy clouds and bluebird skies that made the day settle in with an ease seldom felt at the Festival Pier in early June. We learned this year that The Roots Picnic was partially born from an idea The Police did in the early 80s in Canada. Each band member would pick the lineup for a series of events dubbed The Police Picnics. These picnics included everyone from The Specials and Iggy Pop to Oingo Boingo. The diversity of artists and idea caught ?uestlove’s attention and influenced The Roots’ own picnic.

The Roots Picnic was a hodgepodge of artists that couldn’t be more diverse. The Main Stage was run by Philly’s favorite host, Amanda Seales, who becomes snarkier and more enjoyable each year. She introduced Kids These Days, a young Chicago band who carried out the torch and lit up the crowd with a funky set of hip-hop and soul led by rapper Vic Mensa. However, it wasn’t so much Mensa who turned our heads but his cohort and singer Macie Stewart. The 18-year-old musician from DePaul’s Community Music School in Chicago showed that she had some pipes on “Darling” and “Summerscent.”

Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire by Jake Krolick

Early on Saturday, formerly underground rappers Danny Brown and Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire shocked the Philly massive with cartoonish hip-hop and drug-addled rhyme schemes that pulled the veil off a new age hip-hop circus. Prior to his set Mr. Muthafuckin' paraded his entourage right through the center of the Picnic, with eXquire sporting a green camo getup and an unmistakable furry ear flapped winter hat (which he rocked well past his set into the night.) He had his lyrical shtick down pat and blasted the Picnic's first few hours with some opulent underground hip-hop. Just back from Barcelona, Danny Brown grabbed attention on the main stage. His music shook the pier with blasts of bass and bounce in the vein of Big Freedia as he spit raunchy lyrics onto the Picnic crowd. Barack Obama volunteers were promoting the 2012 presidential election in between Brown’s lyrics about the pope getting his junk sucked, which made for some amusing juxtapositions. Brown focused on material found on the aural-cuckoo’s nest that is DNA, his critically acclaimed album wrought with tales of disaffected adolescence, drugs, and his unconventional upbringing. Xsquire, the tubby, dookie-chain meets X-Clan throwback to the 80s, sought to humor the crowd with lisp-inflected anecdotes bordering on tongue-in-cheek misogyny. The pair really brought the house down with a rousing rendition of the underground classic “The Last Huzzah,” where Brown guests on Xsquire’s abstract psychosis set to a Necro beat.

St. Vincent by Jake Krolick

Tune-Yards played The Roots Picnic in 2010 and received a lukewarm reception at best. This year, as bandleader Merrill Garbus launched the Picnic into the artfully Afrobeat styling of “Gangsta,” the crowd made up for it with their applause. Her music and war paint intertwined itself with the looped drum beats, live keyboards, saxophones, and bass as Tune-Yards carried on a rich history of bands that successfully cross multicultural gaps. The performance stood on turf next to previous years’ performers who rocked the masses like Deerhoof, The Black Keys and TV on the Radio. Set highlights included a rowdy version of "Bizness" and defiant set ender "My Country."

Besides an early sound issue for St. Vincent their set was one to witness. The sun poured through the smoke onstage as front-woman Annie Clark captivated most of the crowd with some of her best material. She wailed on the guitar during “Black Rainbow” and “Cruel,” and added some subtle Theremin to "Northern Lights.“ The highlight of her set came in an explosive cover of The Pop Group’s "She's Beyond Good and Evil," where Clark really screamed out some of the earlier frustrations as she bore down on the song’s lyrics: "Our only defense is to gather like an army! I’ll hold you like a gun."

The Roots by Jake Krolick

Though the Roots were technically the headlining act, they served more as curators of the lineup than entertainers, selecting a cross-cultural palate of aural delicacies for whom a large contingent of the Philadelphia metropolitan area converged. Absent were the extended Roots crew like Dice Raw, Truck North, P.O.R.N. or Peedi Crakk. Instead it would be Pos, Maseo, Dave from De La Soul, Mos Def (now Yasin Bey), and Rakim who would join the hardest working band in show business for a two day sound clash of the highest order. When The Roots finally took the main stage on Saturday evening sound problems with emcee Black Thought’s mic dogged the first few minutes. After some tweaking, they restarted “Paul Revere,” a full-length tribute [video below] to dearly departed Beastie Boy Adam “MCA” Yauch, the song’s verbal jousting an early catalyst for hip-hop posse cuts. So went the theme for The Roots all weekend, a veritable reverence to the cats who informed the art for over two decades.

The opener segued into another classic, “Proceed” from 1994’s Do You Want More?, a harbinger of ill communication to come. In a touching and tremendous tribute, The Roots took it three hours south for a few bombastic go-go tracks featuring Wale, who rewound the clock for a choice nod to the recent passing of Chuck Brown, the D.C. godfather. The percussion portion of this breakdown was simply awe-inspiring, though par for the course when it comes to authentic hip-hop ethos with Brother ?uest at the helm.

De La Soul by Jake Krolick

De La Soul took the stage with The Roots ably backing Plugs 1, 2 & 3. For the next hour plus, throngs of hip-hoppers of all ages soaked in the stunning environs with the Ben Franklin Bridge as the backdrop. A wistful waltz through yesteryear saw De La deliver the dancehall chock full of songs that defined soulful, witty, and inventive hip-hop, drawing from De La Soul is Dead, Stakes is High, Buhloone Mindstate, AOI:Bionix, and of course, the era-defining 3 Feet High and Rising. “A Roller Skating Jam Named ‘Saturdays’” resonated as joyfully today as it did twenty years ago. This was not lost on The Roots, who nailed the idiosyncratic nuances that characterize De La Soul, tapping into the innate musicianship beneath these primitive, dynamic compositions. The Legendary would also sprinkle in a variety of their own gems over the two days, blessing the people with “Step into A Realm”, “Dynamite!”, “Everybody Is A Star,” “Break u Off”, and the obligatory “The Seed (2.0).”

When Mos Def took the stage late in the De La set, the energy level erupted. A meandering, Gil Scott Heron-esque adventure defined the quintessential “Umi Says” before Mos and Tariq went in with authority on the ageless anthem “Double Trouble” (from The Roots’ 1999 album Things Fall Apart). The thunderous undercurrent anchored by Frankie Knuckles (percussion) and ?uestlove (drums) was exacerbated exponentially by the now-fully incorporated bass work of Mark Kelley.

Major Lazer by Jake Krolick

If The Roots were the caretakers of the Picnic then on Sunday Diplo was the hero. It started nice and relaxed until the good beat doctor showed up to lay the smack down like it was Friday night and we had nothing to do the next day. It began with an hour of Major Lazer, Diplo’s spirited and passionate undertaking of reggae and dancehall complete with crowd surfing hype man Walshy Fire and two green tiger suited dancers who shook what there mamas gave them. The Major Lazer set had volcano power and it blasted us through everything from Don Carlos to Shabba Ranks with plenty of Lazer cuts mixed in like ”Original Don,” with its marching beat, and "Pon De Floor" off Guns Don't Kill People... Lazers Do. The Major Lazer sound system machine even raged some new songs from the group's upcoming album creating a sea of spinning tees. The clouds built in the early evening and a storm rolled in forcing the crowds into the tent, with ?uestLove watching Diplo as he worked his magic during a solo set inside. This was way bigger than expected, and Diplo took full advantage of it, mixing up material that united the sweaty horde packed into the tent into a dancing, arm waving atmosphere of fun. The stage was slowly consumed by comely dancers, and before long the line between Diplo and the crowd blurred. After all that, Diplo could be found spinning an after party at the new Morgan’s Pier.

Sunday sanctified the church of classic hip hop with a brief cameo from Sadat X and Lord Jamar from the inimitable Brand Nubian (where ya at, Grand Puba?!)

Diplo by Jake Krolick

Headliner Kid Cudi sent word he was forced to cancel due to problems with his private airplane (!!?!!). That’s definitely NOT how to make it in America, yet I’m not too sure very many people cared or noticed. Yet Philly favorite son Freeway showed up and showed love, ROC’ing the mic and repping the beard like only he can.

On Sunday evening, as the clouds parted and the sky grew darker, The Roots again presented a luminary, feting the “God MC” Rakim Allah to a roaring and adoring Philly massive. Paid in Full is indisputably one of the most important, influential, and all-around dopest rap records ever made. In 1986, hip-hop was still hatching as a genre, and emceeing as an art form. That would change when 4th & B’Way released Paid In Full, where Rakim rewrote the book of rhyme on this one. R’s diminutive flow, monotone seriousness, furious style, and incredible storytelling were the perfect ingredients to revolutionize rap. Every kid scribbled Ra’s lines in their notebook - this dude Jordan’d the rap game.

Not a band ever to be caught unprepared, ?uest had the boys locked and loaded for the God MC, and it was a 45-minute bludgeoning of the best kind. One after another - “I Ain’t No Joke,” “My Melody,” “ I Know You Got Soul”, and mammoth banger “Eric B. Is President.” Rakim delivered magnificently, the words that spawned the evolution of an emcee flowing gracefully, and The Roots brought it, too, recreating the most inventive, defining sonic blueprint of its time, and doing so with a romantic precision. When one thought it simply couldn’t get any sicker, they dropped a double encore of “Juice (Know the Ledge)” and jazz-funk playa theme “Don’t Sweat The Technique”. Crazy juice, peep the technique. the 18th letter, forever. Indeed.

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[Published on: 6/11/12]

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