Photo by Josh Brasted FilmMagic
ESSENCE hit it big again this year with their 21st annual ESSENCE Festival. The ESSENCE Festival celebrated once again with four days of R&B music, community events, and black culture between the New Orleans’ convention center and the Mercedes Benz Superdome.
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The 2015 ESSENCE Festival was kicked off by smooth R&B crooner Trey Songz and the funniest man in America, comedian Kevin Hart. Hart reminded fans that he is quite the comedic storyteller. What wasn’t so funny was his cell phone use ban. “Trigga Trey” returned to the Essence stage to serenade the ladies once again. Songz surprised fans when he transitioned from his “Slow Motion” to Juvenile’s “Slow Motion,” where the New Orleans native rapper joined him on stage to perform. Trey wooed the ladies as usual with his vocals, solid band, and handsome looks.
On day 2 thousands of people filed into the Superdome for a night of classic and timeless hits. While the younger crowd rushed to the superlounges to see Nico & Vinz, Adrian Marcel, and Goapele, fans across all generations took their seats on the main floor to observe “Uncle” Charlie Wilson and Frankie Beverly & Maze bring down the house! Slick Rick The Ruler held down the Coca-Cola Art of Hip-Hop stage running through hits such as “Children’s Story” and a few freestyles! India Arie gave her fans love and soul as she belted out the lyrics of “Ready To Love” & “The Truth”.
R&B Legend Charlie Wilson stole the show once again, as the 62-year-old moved and grooved with endless energy. He moved the crowd with his live band and his non-stop dancing. You could feel the joy in the room as fans across the dome joined in singing his former band’s (The Gap Band) hit classic “Outstanding”. Charlie celebrated the new school by dancing a little to Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.” Uncle Charlie brought the crowd to the dance floor, to the bedroom, and to church.
Saturday night, also known as Day 3 of ESSENCE Festival, was a night to remember as Erykah Badu, Missy Elliott, Usher, Common and Mystikal delivered a night of electrifying performances and timeless hits stemming from their ’90s and early 2000s musical catalogs. Oscar winner Common drove the ladies wild as he brought a woman on stage and hugged her from behind as well as kissed her on her neck while switching from a freestyle to his collaborative song with Erykah Badu.
New Orleans’ own Mystikal held down the Coca-Cola Art of Hip-Hop superlounge performing his classics such as “Danger” and “Shake It Fast”. Neo soul songstress Erykah Badu added color to the main stage backed by a live band with a tambourine player, her background singers, and congos. Badu’s show was interestingly entertaining between her interaction with her band and back up singers as well as with the audience. When she got to her classic “Tyrone” she confronted the audience, trying to gain understanding as to how they missed some of the lyrics when people all over the world know the lyrics.
Saturday truly belonged to icon Missy Elliott. Missy turned Essence into one big party as she ran through her classic hits from the ’90s and early 2000s. Missy ran through her hits “Get Ur Freak On”, “One Minute Man,” “Supa Dupa Fly,””Sock It To Me,” “Hot Boyz,” and more. When she got to “Pass That Dutch” she instructed the DJ to run it back so that fans could truly get into her dancers’ stage presence and intricate choreography. She stated that she believed in being a true artist and giving her all on the stage. Next, Missy took fans down memory lane as she played and performed songs she’d produced for other artists. She performed “Let It Go,” which was her collaborative effort with Lil’ Kim & Keyshia Cole. Elliott brought out Jazmine Sullivan to perform her hit “Circles”. Next, Missy brought out powerhouse vocalist Monica, but Missy’s set was cut short and her mics were cut off. The lights even went off. This was a disappointment to Missy, Monica, and of course fans. At the end of the show, Essence brought Missy back out to close out her set properly.
Usher closed out the show. Although he entered into two difficult situations; following a super energetic performance by Missy, and winning over fans who were still upset that Missy’s show was cut short, Usher still proved why he reigns supreme and why he has 23 years of music under his belt as he ran through hits off of ‘8701’, ‘My Way’, ‘Confessions’, and more. He even brought it to present day as Wale joined him on stage to perform “The Matrimony.” Although this time around Usher wasn’t joined by his usual back up dancers, it didn’t matter. Usher commanded the attention of the audience and captivated their hearts as he sung hit after hit. Usher also discussed his growth as a man between each album. Fans seemed most excited when he performed the hits off his Diamond album ‘Confessions’.
Floetry opened the show Sunday evening on the main stage. Through sultry soul and vocal prowess they showed why their reunion happened at the perfect time. Teedra Moses reminded fans in the superlounge that it was time for R&B and it is time to take it serious and keep the genre alive. Omarion also drew a huge crowd in the superlounge.
Harlem’s own Ma$e took fans down memory lane as he reminded those packed in the superlounge just how many hits he has. Ma$e performed “Lookin’ At Me,” “Can’t Hold Me Down,” “Tell Me What You Want,” and more. Tweet also gave fans a treat as she performed many of her singles from her ‘Southern Hummingbird’ album in the Verizon Now Playing superlounge.
The Queen of Hip Hop Soul, Mary J. Blige, returned to the main stage this year. Blige rocked the dome with effortless precision as she represented nearly all of her 12 albums found in her discography this night. Blige kept the crowd going as she evoked so much emotion as she performed hit after hit after hit. In typical Mary fashion, she bounced around the stage doing her “Mary Bop” in two different pantsuits. Mary took it back with her hits like “Real Love,” “I’m Going Down,” “Not Gon’ Cry,” “I Can Love You,” “Your Child,” “Enough Cryin’,” and many more. Although Blige has rocked the main stage at ESSENCE Festival before, she had a surprise up her sleeve this time. Mary caused pandemonium when she brought out Method Man to perform “I’ll Be There for You/You’re All I Need to Get By.” It felt like it was 1995 in the Superdome!
Kendrick Lamar closed ESSENCE Festival Sunday night. His energy and delivery reminded fans why he is one of the best emcees out! Casually dressed, the Compton born rapper performed “Swimming Pools,” “M.A.A.D City,” “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” his verse on A$AP Rocky’s “F*ckin’ Problems,” “Alright,” and much more. As he looked out into the audience he reminisced on how one of his very first shows took place in New Orleans in front of a much smaller yet equally energetic crowd! It’s safe to say K. Dot won over new fans across all generations.