With Coachella only a day or so away, Ural Garrett writes about the evolution of the music-and-arts festival and how it has become a haven for hip-hop and R&B.
Despite historically leaning more toward rock or EDM, hip-hop always played a pivotal role at the Paul Tollett and Rick Van Santen-founded music-and-arts festival known as Coachella. By the time the annual music industry getaway to California’s desert oasis Indio marked its thirteenth year, mainstream and indie rap acts from Jay-Z to Jurassic 5 were cracking into the festival’s lineups. Speaking with @Okayplayer, Charles Nunley IV remembers his first time attending in 2006 when Kanye West was announced a day prior to the festival alongside announced performances from Common, Murs, 9th Wonder, Atmosphere, and others.
“That was the first time seeing artists that I’ve listened to and this is 2006,” said Nunley. “This is Be-era Common and Late Registration-era Kanye [West]. It definitely changed my concert experience because from there, I started going to a lot of shows.”
Despite only attending the first of the weekend festival when Saturday and Sunday were it, Nunley missed the now legendary pyramid set by electronica pioneers Daft Punk. In an editorial by Neal Rahman of EDM fan-zine Magnetic Magazine, the writer described the French duo’s performance “to the explosion of dance music in the 21st century what the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria is to World War I. It was the spark that ignited the fire, a fire that still continues to this day.”
However, the standard evolved appropriately Sunday, April 15, 2012.
As The Black Keys took Friday and Radiohead headlined Saturday, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg rounded out the final day. Throughout the hour-and-ten-minute set, the West Coast legends brought out Warren G, 50 Cent, Kurupt, Eminem and a pre-good kid, m.A.A.d city Kendrick Lamar and Tupac Shakur.
Wait? Hadn’t he been dead or hiding in Cuba for the past decade at the time? There ‘Pac was, performing classics ranging from “California Love” and “2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted” as if he was still amongst the living.
“All of a sudden, you see Tupac and they project him on the screen,” described Digital Content Manager and former IGN editor Ahmad Childress who was there with his pregnant wife at the time. “You see him on stage but he looks a little blue. You know people were going crazy.”
According to an MTV News story released around that time, the technological display was created by Oscar-winning CG production house Digital Domain with the cost ranging between $100,000 – $400,000.
The moment not only became a viral hit but became the most talked about moment in Coachella history. Childress said, “It didn’t look as if someone projected a video of him on the screen because the way the screen looked, he had depth. People were freaking out. I remember after that moment, I don’t think anyone was talking about Coachella without mentioning the Tupac Hologram.”
And it spawned imitators as well.
A few years later at the last Rock The Bells, Wu-Tang used Young Dirty Bastard as the hologram model for his father Ol’ Dirty Bastard during their headlining performance and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony did one during the festival as well. Even Chief Keef attempted to use a hologram performance since he couldn’t perform in Chicago for legal reasons.
Around the same weekend, Tupac resurrected via technological wizardry, Rihanna causes social media by storm when photos of emerged of the pop icon rolling a blunt as she stood on the shoulders of a man while rolling a blunt. On her Instagram account, she posted the pic with the caption: “Memories don’t live like people do #Coachella.”
Soon after, Coachella became a pop culture event that was part music industry pilgrimage and part cool-kids officiator. Even current Marvel Studios box office juggernaut Black Panther featured a mention of the festival in dialogue as the film nears its credits. In 2015, Drake caused a stir during his set after Madonna kissed him on stage. The disgusting look on Drizzy’s face is still the thing of memorable legends.
Meanwhile, Coachella also found itself ahead of the curve in EDM’s influence on hip-hop which is in line with the festival’s blending of cultures. Nunley remembers the moment Kanye West did the Carlton Shuffle as his then DJ A-Trak played A-Ha favorite “Take On Me.”
“It was definitely a preview of what Kanye was going music-wise,” Nunley said. “Late Registration was the album that Kanye created before Graduation where he started incorporating more electronic and pop sounds into his music.”
Those blending of cultures have been the norm in the festival’s history and no one understands that more than Brownies and Lemonade event producer Chad Kenny. The B&L events started by co-founders Kush Fernando and Jose Guzman have evolved from local Los Angeles nightlife staple to traveling international party. Most importantly, the crew has been known for successfully blending the best of hip-hop and EDM. Well-known creatives from Diplo and Padillion to DJ Quik to 21 Savage have made appearances.
Ironically, the event had a tent at the unofficial Coachella offshoot Brokechella before the name changed to Broke LA.
“That was one of those things where I think Golden Voice wasn’t necessarily thrilled with the name and we worked with Golden Voice on a number of different events here in Los Angeles,” explained Kenny who also co-founded the EDM crew and label Shifty Rhythms. “We just decided with organizers to change the name. Brokechella was strong enough on its own so we changed it to Broke LA. After that, our relationship with Golden Voice kind-of grew. We got the invite to play at Coachella and it was where all of that came from.”
Going from a local indie outlet to the stages of Coachella was a dream come true to Kenny.
“There were a lot of great moments but that was for sure the single greatest moment of my music career,” described Kenny of the performance that drew an estimated four thousand people. “That was my tenth Coachella in a row. I’d been going to Coachella a lot. It’s something about being there where it all clicked like ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe it’s my tenth Coachella and I’m there performing.’”
This year, hip-hop and R&B have the biggest presence yet. Vince Staples, Cardi B, Miguel, SZA, French Montana, Post Malone, Tyler, the Creator, Migos and more are set to perform over the two-weekend extravaganza. The biggest news this year came in Eminem, The Weeknd and Beyoncé (who skipped out last year due to being pregnant) make it the first time that the festival lacked a rock or EDM headliner.
Speaking with Kenny, he mentioned the change in music consumption and playlist culture.
“You can look at Rap Caviar being the biggest tentpole of our culture for music right now,” said Kenny. “A lot of people in mainstream and radio have adopted Trap music and Southern rap and stuff like that as legitimate styles of music I would say that. It’s just reflective of where music is. The Weeknd, Beyoncé, Eminem are legitimate music artists in the rap and R&B sphere. It’s pop music for the first time ever when you look at streams.”
With streaming making up nearly fifty percent of music revenue, hip-hop & R&B come in first place with a little over a quarter of music consumption in the U.S. Makes sense according to Nunley.
“That’s the appeal of something like Coachella,” he said. “You get everything in one shot. Coachella’s lineup is the result of the playlist culture. The idea of customizing your listening experience started to take off in the early 2000s and Coachella was the mirror of that. You didn’t just listen to one genre of music. You can have another genre next to another genre back to back.”
Ural Garrett is a Los Angeles-based writer, photographer, author and video producer whose work has appeared in everything from Complex to HipHopDX. Follow him on his adventures @UralG.