Durham, North Carolina doesn’t shy away from her blackness. Having a festival that celebrates the musical experience of black culture says a lot about the weight Durham holds and the regard she has for musical influences. NC is home to some of the world’s best jazz musicians, such as John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Nina Simone, and Lou Donaldson. The Art of Cool, which is now in its fifth year, was birthed in the right place.
Unlike most festivals, the AOC Festival, which went down September 28th to the 29th in downtown Durham, wants you to walk away with more than musical happiness; they want you full on ideas centered around community responsibility, networking and mental wellness. The AOC Festival provided panel talks from panelist like Sango, Alex Wolfe, Rapsody, and Mika Sunga.
The festival prides itself on exposing new and eclectic music with strong jazz influences. AOC doesn’t shy away from allowing local artist to perform throughout downtown Durham with the same respect they show larger names. As you walked down Main Street you could hear sounds from artists like King Draft, Allie Capo, and M8alla.
If you weren’t listening to music, then you could have made your way to the middle of the action at American Underground which held Innovate Your Cool, which was powered by Facebook. Innovate Your Cool allowed an open invitation for everyone who wanted more than just grooves and notes. They pushed the envelope on countless topics such as social media branding, mental health and entertainment awareness. (Okayplayer hosted a panel on “Feminism in Hip-Hop” starring Rapsody)
Heading into the nights at the Durham Bulls Ballpark, you saw performances from Anthony Hamilton, Maxwell, Nas, and headliner Erykah Badu. But the most notable moment of the night came after Royce Da 5’9 missed his flight.
This allowed one of the most memorable reunions in hip-hop to occur.
It’s no secret that 9th Wonder is a staple to the AOC community. Throughout the years, he’s been a performer or speaker at the festival. On Saturday night 9th Wonder (and Rapper Big Pooh) teased that Little Brother was going to be performing together for the first time in over a decade.
Social media lit up when the word got out that Little Brother was reuniting. When 8 pm hit, and they weren’t on stage, the joke around the crowd was “they must’ve started arguing again.” But moments later, the stage got dark and 9th Wonder began to spin and history was made.
As videos started to hit the timeline, social media posts from the hip-hop community came swarming in with support:
Rapper Big Pooh and Phonte didn’t miss a beat. It’s clear the cult following Little Brother has never wavered. It’s only a matter of time before we see if the spark will ignite some new music, but until then, let’s appreciate the moment.
Another standout performance came from legendary rapper Nas. As soon as the Queens-rapper hit the stage, fans screamed, handing him energy as he performed tracks like “The World is Yours” and “If I Ruled The World”(when the beat dropped on that joint everyone lost their mind.) Wearing all black and a New York fitted, Nas bodied the stage and flawlessly flowed under the beat of the live drums.
Other than Little Brother, the highlight of the AOC Fest was Erykah Badu. She is the first female headliner of AOC, and sis did not disappoint.
Seeing Erykah Badu in concert was something I didn’t know was needed. I’ve heard of her attraction but didn’t believe it. I didn’t think any women on stage could really be more alluring than Beyoncé; I was wrong. With the night and the ballpark quiet under the stars, Erykah appeared draped in a varsity jacket with a sheer white skirt that showed off her high-top sneakers.
She began singing and harmonizing with the keys and it was right then, folks, I was done for. She sung hit after hit and before she called Tyrone, Erykah jumped off the stage and got in the crowd and hugged almost everyone she could. She allowed fans to help her sing and even kissed the cheek of a lucky fan. When she hopped back on stage she said, “This is my therapy. Thank you for allowing me to do this. I’m giving y’all the love you give me back.”
It’s not every day that festivals are birthed in smaller cities. The Art oF Cool Festival allows Durham to showcase her gifts of culture, people, and community. Often times, when one speaks on North Carolina, Charlotte is the city mentioned.
But during this particular weekend Durham glowed. She stood in a light by herself for once.
Quierra Luck is a sports writer based in North Carolina. You can follow her at @Quierra_Luck
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