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.