How Music Festivals Are Giving Legacy Hip-Hop Acts Renewed Relevance And Greater Longevity

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Last weekend in Denver, fans swarmed upon the Grandoozy Festival. Concertgoers got a chance to see a modern who’s who of hip-hop acts like Kendrick Lamar, Logic, and Big KRIT. They were also treated to a great opportunity to see golden era hip-hop legends De La Soul, who performed a set that Colorado’s Yellow Scene Magazine said was “crisp, clear, conscious” and exhibited “crowd control, and continued lyrical creativity.” There’s a strong chance that there were many young or otherwise inexperienced fans at the festival who were introduced to De La Soul in grand fashion at Grandoozy.

The idea of self-proclaimed hip-hop fans being unaware of De La Soul’s legacy is blasphemous to hip-hop traditionalists who remember where they were when albums like 3 Feet High And Rising and De La Soul Is Dead dropped, but the rap game is being flooded with young consumers who were babies — or not even a thought — during that time period.

It’s hard to get the youth into veteran acts when some of them don’t care to do the digging. There’s a generational divide spurred by hip-hop veterans and feckless youngsters which has fostered disdain and a festering apathy among millennials and generation Z-ers when it comes to exploring golden era hip-hop. There’s also a lack of promotion from traditional avenues like the radio, television, and print media — and in De La’s case, they’re not on streaming platforms. It’s hard out here for a vet. Not every hip-hop legend gets to enjoy the consistent visibility of a Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, or Nas.

But golden era acts have made money overseas for years, entertaining crowds on almost every continent. A who’s who of classic acts like KRS-One, Mobb Deep, the Diggin In The Crates crew, members of Wu-Tang Clan, and other legendary acts have all supplemented their income with trips overseas, performing for crowds that may not even speak fluent English but know their lyrics word for word.

Masta Ace has said that he loves the simplicity of booking overseas shows because there isn’t as much haggling about hotels and other logistical elements — presumably because the respect level is higher. Talib Kweli feels like “Americans are a bit spoiled by hip-hop because it grew up here. It’s like a local celebrity who comes back home and everyone is like, ‘He ain’t sh*t; I know his mama.’” Rapper Speech of Arrested Development also said in 2012 that “right now, I feel more excitement from those overseas. America’s in such a weird place musically.”

The international touring market has kept many hip-hop veterans afloat in an industry that’s drawn toward the new, hot thing. But being overseas isn’t all roses. Some acts have complained about the language and cultural barriers that exist before and after the show, as well issues like simply trying to find a hefty post-show meal in countries with light portions and early restaurant closing times. While Ace celebrated the overseas touring scene, he also said, “I would love to do more tours in the States if the right people are putting it on.”

Since his 2012 statement, there have been hoards of promoters and entities putting on music festivals that allow veteran acts to corner both the international and domestic markets all year. The now-defunct Rock The Bells was one of the first major tours specifically for hip-hop acts that exist outside of the Billboard chart bubble, providing a steady check and chance at visibility for many of the aforementioned artists. Underground stalwarts Rhymesayers have held their Soundset festival in Minnesota since 2008, which gives the label’s acts an opportunity to be on the bill not just with fellow legends, but the hottest stars of the moment.

This year’s edition featured in-demand acts like Migos, Logic, and Tyler, The Creator alongside the Wu, Ice-T, and Hieroglyphics. Besides festivals like Soundset, there are few places where those legendary acts would be in a position to perform in front of Migos fans in 2018. And while there is an argument that there’s no benefit for Wu-Tang to perform for a crowd populated by Migos supporters, that’s a simplistic way of evaluating hip-hop fans. For instance, one of Waka Flocka Flames’ favorite rappers is Nas. Good music is good music, and modern festivals are teeming with opportunities for fans to be exposed to “new” music. Nowadays, new music isn’t about how long something’s been out, but whether someone has been exposed to it yet.

Festivals aren’t just opportunities for acts to make money off of their catalog, but to make new inroads in the game. After being split up for more than a decade, A Tribe Called Quest did comeback shows at Rock The Bells in 2008 and 2010, which helped reignite interest in the legendary group. Their Beats, Rhymes, And Life documentary focused on their preparation for the shows, and the renewed buzz didn’t just bolster streams and purchases of their canonic work, it led right into 2016’s We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service album — which went number one on the Billboard charts and sold over 100,000 copies in its first week. Those highly anticipated festival performances were the springboard for their resurgence and strong sales figures, making them one of the first acts in hip-hop who has had such a massive comeback.

A similar revival is possible for other veteran acts who properly utilize the festival scene for its networking opportunities. At festivals like Coachella and Grandoozy, there are dozens of newer acts, PR people, and media outlets that represent opportunities for legacy acts to expand their visibility. Logic just announced that he has a song with the Wu-Tang Clan on his YSIV album. There’s a chance the seed for the track could have been planted at Soundset, where they both performed.

Whether they caught up with each other backstage and/or the Wu were blown away by his set, they made a connection that’s vital to bridging hip-hop’s generational gap. With their appearance on YSIV, the Wu will be on an album sure to be streamed by kids who join YBN Almighty Jay in not knowing their contributions to hip-hop history. Some of them are sure to subsequently Enter The 36 Chambers and expand the breadth of The Clan’s teenage demographic.

The circumstance highlights the power of the festival scene to help legacy hip-hop acts not just bank off of their existing catalog but to expand their legacy into a new generation of hip-hop consumers. There’s talk of a festival bubble, based on miscues like Fyrefest and other less successful shows. But veteran hip-hop acts should be the main group hoping that bubble never bursts — because it’s what has allowed some of them to pop all over again.