by Brianna A. Smith, Special to The New Tri-State Defender
LONG BEACH, Calif. – Smokin’ Grooves is a new but old essential entry in the ever-crowded music festival season.
It was the first amphitheater tour where nearly all the performers were rooted in hip-hop.
Smokin’ Grooves launched throughout North America in 1996, appearing in cities that weren’t known for having much of a hip-hop scene in those days, such as Columbus, Ohio; Park City, Utah; and St. Paul, Minn. The tour featured artists such as Cypress Hill, Ziggy Marley, The Fugees, A Tribe Called Quest, Busta Rhymes and Spearhead.
The music festival originally aimed to prove hip-hop’s potential as a profit-oriented force in the concert world — and was marketed to show a more positive side of the music genre.
Its initial three-year run ended in 1998. It returned briefly, in 2002, with artists Lauryn Hill, Jurassic 5, Cee-Lo Green and Truth Hurts, but didn’t last beyond that year.
Now, after a 16-year hiatus, Smokin’ Grooves has returned with a one-day music festival, organized by Lewis and Goldenvoice, the Southern California-based concert promoters behind one of the biggest music festivals of the year: Coachella.
This past Saturday, dozens of acts across the spectrum of alternative hip-hop and R&B performed live at the daylong, sold-out concert aboard the Queen Mary, a historic ocean liner in Long Beach.
The festival’s lineup was anchored by veterans Erykah Badu and the Roots with surprise guest Busta Rhymes. In addition, Smokin’ Grooves also featured R&B sensations Miguel, Jhene Aiko and H.E.R.
One of the most exciting new artists in popular music today, H.E.R. delivered cuts such as “Say It Again,” “Focus,” “Wait For It” and “Losing.” Her two background vocalists, along with her impeccable band, imbued the kind of nuance that reminds you just how valuable live music is.
As busy as H.E.R. was on the mic, she still added more than just vocals to her set, performing a guitar solo while singing “U” and “Best Part” (her collaboration with Daniel Caesar).
She definitely put on a show — the crowd was ecstatic and receptive for the entire hour she performed.
The Roots, most popular for being Jimmy Fallon’s house band, graced the stage next. The veteran Philadelphia hip-hop group mixes hip-hop, neo-soul, rock and jazz, creating an euphoric musical performance.
For 45 minutes, The Roots gave a high-energy performance, surprising the audience with a cameo from hip-hop legend Busta Rhymes. The arena erupted with cheers as he performed “Pass the Courvoisier, Part II.”
Next up was Jhene Aiko, who had the crowd going insane as she floated onto the stage with her voice echoing out. She performed tracks from her most recent album, “Trip,” such as “While We’re Young,” “Sativa,” “Only Lovers Left Alive,” and “Never Call Me.” She also performed her featured hits “It’s A Vibe” and “Post to Be.” Aiko had the entire audience vibing to light and ambient sounds.
Having Miguel perform after Aiko had the lovers in the audience all coupled up and loving on each other. Miguel switched between his R&B roots — performing “All I Want Is You,” “Sure Thing” and “Adorn You” — and the energized head-bopping of the rock ‘n’ roll sound recently emphasized more on his latest album, “Wildheart” — performing “Drugs,” “Quickie,” “Sky Walker” and “How Many Drinks.” His strong and precise vocals never let up throughout his performance, adapting to the set’s shifting sounds and moods he delivered.
With four backup singers and a seven-piece band to accompany her, Erykah Badu came to put on a show. Badu strode onstage in a Tom Petty top hat and majestic jewelry singing her hit “Hello” featuring Andre 3000. Badu favored the audience with plenty of gems, running through all of her classics, from “I Want You,” “Appletree,” “On and On,” “Didn’t Cha Know,” “Next Lifetime” and “Love of My Life,” just to name a few. Badu kept people moving, singing and swaying the entire hour she performed.
Badu — who gave it her all singing and playing multiple instruments — is a majestic performer, whose ability to weave in humor and teachings during her set is one of the many reasons fans need to see her live.
It was an optimistic ending to a transcendent night. From the beacons of light to the beams of solitude, it was a complete and well put-together festival. The entire show was fun and full of amazing performers. Perhaps Smokin’ Grooves is back for good.