Located this year at the legendary Flushing Meadows–Corona Park, New York’s Annual Governors Ball Music Festival has become noteworthy for its ultra-diverse lineup. Still, nonetheless, we can’t forget the sprawling enclave of Black Excellence that graced the festival this year.
The menagerie of Black artists this year was eclectic and indicative of the festival’s increasing commitment to diversity. From hip-hop to R&B and soul to trap, there was something there for every fan of contemporary Black music.
While there were over 50 artists spanning many genres, here are some of the most memorable performances from Black artists across the three-day festival.
Hailing across state lines from New Jersey, 070 Shake made her second appearance at Gov Ball this year, which was an appropriate homecoming. As electrifying and energetic as it gets, she performed some of her biggest tracks to date: “Escapism,” “Glitter,” and “Honey” before ending her 30-minute set with her breakout feature off Kanye “Ye” West’s Ye. She sported an all-black, gothic look, and the ambiance was relatively calm, with some light mosh pit action. Overall, it was a wholesome performance and a great way to kick off the weekend.
Embracing more of a casual New Yorker, at-home aesthetic with his patented NYC starter kit: Brown Advisory Board Crystal sweats, a durag and hyper fly black shades, Brooklyn’s own Joey BadA$$ ate down and devoured his performance with grace and humility. Channeling the various eras of his career since its origins in 2012, BadA$$ delivered an emphatic medley of some of his greatest hits from three critically acclaimed albums: 1999, All Amerikkkan Bada$$ and 2000. Ultimately, he even blessed the audience with a new, never-before-heard track. Seasoned and well-versed in his craft, Bada$$ vindicates with relative ease that he isn’t new to this, but he’s true to this.
Seemingly finding solace in playing the forefront of his artistry, hit-making producer Metro Boomin made a big splash for his inaugural performance at this year’s Governors Ball. Keeping it calm and collected even amid a brief torrential downpour of rain, Boomin explored his works with the colorful, wildly successful pantheon of collaborators he has synergized with over the years: 21 Savage, Kanye West, Migos, Future, Young Thug, Drake and much more. In addition to all his classic hits, he performed some tracks from his latest project, Metro Boomin Presents Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (Soundtrack from and Inspired by the Motion Picture). Given his longevity, it’s easy to forget how extensive his catalog is. Known for his signature dark production style and catchy production tag, Boomin has been a titan of musical production within contemporary hip-hop and trap. His performance was a glaring reminder of that.
Out of all the wildly talented acts on the lineup for this year, Ice Spice was by far one of the most highly anticipated and in demand. For her first time on the Governors Ball stage, she embraced the crowd’s intensity and came out like a seasoned veteran who’s been doing this for a minute now. Brimming with her patented nonchalant IDGAF attitude and Bronx charisma, she performed the tracks that have put her on the map: “Munch (Feelin’ U),” “Princess Diana,” “In Ma Hood” and more. To top off her robust performance, she brought out fellow up-and-coming female rapper Sexyy Red to perform her viral track “Pound Town.” Ultimately, this performance reinforces the hype and illuminates the reality that all of the attention on her right now isn’t some gimmick or fluke. Spice is real and is actively playing for keeps.
Championing her low-frills aesthetic and being a shimmering representative for Black women at the festival, Ari Lennox instilled some much-needed soul for the fun-filled weekend. Coming out in a hot pink, two-piece outfit with black high heels, Lennox sang her heart out for the crowd with humor-infused banter between songs. Proving her live vocals were not to be played with, she performed a stylishly sexy medley of tracks from her two well-praised records: Shea Butter, Baby and Age/Sex/Location. In addition to her singing, her vibe was super chill, down-to-earth and relatable — shoutout to Ari for holding it down for the R&B/soul connoisseurs.
Fully immersed in his drug dealer persona, Pusha T came out with exorbitant vitality and enthusiasm. While Pusha T has a vast music catalog, he kept his set focused on his most recent project: It’s Almost Dry. Some of the assortment he chose to perform included “Let the Smokers Shine the Coupes,” “Brambleton,” “Just So You Remember, “Open Air,” “Dreamin of the Past” and “Diet Coke.” Pusha T coasted from each side of the stage to the other, and his conviction and energy were unmatched. Every lyric was palpable, and his thought processes about the drug game felt much more intimate and real in person. He’s so dedicated to his craft that instead of missing the show to be with his son on his birthday, he still came out to deliver his signature coke bars with vivacity and passion. If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what it is.
Representing all the hopeless romantics out there, Giveon put on a stellar, passion-filled performance with poise. Doused in an all-white outfit, Mr. “Heartbreak Anniversary” came through with all his hits: “Stuck On You,” “Guess,” “Lost Me,” “For Tonight,” and “Peaches.” Self-assured and equipped with strong vocal acumen, he wowed the crowd with his singing ability and delivered. With the sultriness of his voice, his presentation felt sensual, intimate and passionate, leaving zero room for ambiguity about the quality of his performances. It was excellent from start to finish. Go Giveon!
As the ultimate headliner for the weekend, it’s mesmerizing to see how far Kendrick Lamar has come throughout his 18-plus-year career. Putting on the final performance of the entire festival, K.Dot delivered a remarkable performance with relative ease. From the Afrocentric stage artwork to his clones dancing in the background to his tactful selection of songs, everything was intentional and designed to evoke thought just as much as provide entertainment. With five classic albums under his belt, he graced the crowd with some of his most famous songs to date: “Alright,” B***h, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “Humble,” “King Kunta,” “Money Trees,” “DNA” and more. He even gave us brief snippets of his deep cuts: “Sidewalks,” “Count Me Out,” and “ADHD,” to name a few. Toward the end of his amazing set, he brought out Baby Keem for a powerful, energy-filled live rendition of “Family Ties.” As a thoroughly trained professional of his craft, Oklama gracefully killed his performance and left the audience with something significant to end the weekend on a super high note.