With a nightly presence on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and a hometown summer-starting festival now in its 10th year, The Roots brand is in excellent shape.
The lineup for this year’s Roots Picnic is particularly strong, from the top-line talent on down. Roots rapper Tariq ”Black Thought” Trotter says it gets “easier and easier” to book the festival because desirable acts want to be a part of it. He’s particularly hyped because, with acts like Lil Wayne, Pete Rock, 21 Savage, Jeezy, and Noname, “it’s the most hip-hop-oriented festival we’ve had in a few years.”
Here are a dozen acts not to miss:
Pharrell & The Roots. One of the unique kicks of the Roots Picnic is big-name headliners teaming with the host band, rather than playing a standard set with their regular road bands. This year, it’s Mr. “Happy” himself, the Neptunes producer and N*E*R*D bandleader Pharrell Williams, who will most likely join the band mid-set. Song to check out: Pharrell, “Frontin’, feat Jay Z.” The Roots, “Don’t Feel Right.”
Solange. With last year’s A Seat at the Table, Solange Knowles stepped up and out of her sister’s shadow, with a bold and insightful set of songs about race and identity in America. If the notices from her show last month at the Guggenheim Museum are any indication, look for her to put on a dramatic, visually arresting show. Check out: “Cranes in the Sky.”
Lil Wayne. The 34-year-old New Orleans rapper who released his debut album in 1999 became a dominant force at his creative peak in the late ’00s. These days, he’s more likely to make headlines for his ongoing feud with Cash Money Records honcho Birdman. Last year, he played Made in America with former protege 2 Chainz and has just released T-Wayne, a collaborative album with Auto-Tune kingpin T-Pain that was recorded in 2009. Check out: “A Milli.”
Thundercat. The prodigiously talented bass player born Stephen Bruner frequently collaborates with psychedelic DJ-producer Flying Lotus, rapper Kendrick Lamar, and jazz man Kamasi Washington. So naturally, his yacht-rock-friendly new album, Drunk, includes guest spots with Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald. Song: “Show You the Way.”
Michael Kiwanuka. A Londoner of Ugandan parentage, 1970s-style singer-songwriter soul man Kiwanuka canceled his tour date last year in support of his excellent Danger Mouse-produced Love & Hate, and this is his first appearance in Philadelphia since gaining attention for the use of his song “Cold Little Heart” in the HBO series Big Little Lies.
Noname. Chicago spoken-word and slam poet turned rapper Fatimah Warner, who guested on Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book, released her own impressive Telefone last year. Check out: “Diddy Bop.”
Black Thought & J. Period Mixtape. The Roots rapper steps out with mixtape DJ J. Period (born Shawn Jones) and special guests Fat Joe, Mobb Deep, and producer (and former Root) Scott Storch. More surprises are likely in store. Check out: The Live Mixtape (Illadelph Edition).
Kimbra. New Zealand indie-pop art-song practitioner and friend of Questlove’s who sang on Gotye’s 2011 mega-hit “Somebody That I Used To Know,” most recently heard from on her 2014 Golden Echo. Check out: “Miracle.”
Gilles Peterson. Influential British DJ who made a name for himself during the Acid Jazz 1990s, and has continued to be an influential tastemaker with wide-ranging interests via an internationally syndicated radio show. A DJ set. Check out: Searching for the Perfect Beat radio show.
Jeezy. Atlanta rapper once known as Lil Jeezy and then Young Jeezy and now just plain old Jeezy. A trap music pioneer whose seventh album, Trap Or Die 3, includes guest spots from Lil Wayne, French Montana, and others. Check out: “Bout That.”
James Vincent McMorrow. Acoustic-guitar-wielding Irish singer-songwriter who might seem out of place at the more hip-hop and R&B leading Picnic, until you notice his ghostly falsetto and the production work by Drake associate Nineteen85 on last year’s We Move. He continues the move from alt-folk to alt-R&B on the new True Care. Check out: “True Care.”
Tunji Ige. A 21-year-old Philadelphia rapper and producer to watch. American-born to Nigerian parents, Ige blends the influence of Fela Kuti into his sound, which on last year’s Missed Calls was created in collaboration with Noah Breakfast, the production half of the now-broken-up Drexel University-born rap crew Chiddy Bang. Check out: “On My Grind.”