As hip-hop improbably becomes more and more popular, the best part of Coachella has become watching rap and R&B up-and-comers on the small stages. Outside of a few clear exceptions like the greatest performer alive, Cardi B, and Kyle, many of the weekend’s biggest revelations and most fun performances took place off the main stage, in one of the tents dotting the Empire Polo Grounds. These artists are at the stage where they’re either figuring it out, making their case for a larger stage at a later date, or generally putting on great shows without the added pressure of entertaining the ridiculous crowds and expectations of the three larger stages.
Sometimes, it’s hard to get a sense of which way an artist’s fortunes will swing. While many were plagued by smaller-than-expected turnout, it’s difficult to tell how much of that can be attributed to things like scheduling, where two artists with overlapping fan bases are forced to compete and one wins out based on a whole host of reasons. I think this is what happened to Jidenna, who seemed subdued, since his half-full Gobi appearance coincided with 6lack, who packed the Mojave tent Sunday for a polished set that all but guaranteed they’d be switching tents the next time around.
There were a few disappointments and head-scratchers, as always, but there were also some simply stunning successes. Flatbush Zombies, who I’d have bet money would be performing to a tent of half-interested Orange County teens, instead rocked a rambunctious set for a raucous crowd that burst out of the Mojave tent in every direction. The only logical trajectory for the Brooklyn trio is up.