The makeup of this year’s festival, held July 20 through July 22, featured many of Chicago’s up-and-coming artists, including singer Ravyn Lenae and rappers Saba, Open Mike Eagle, Noname, and Kweku Collins.
I made it to the final night of the fest, where I witnessed the crowd swell around the red stage to witness Noname’s performance. While her band carried most of the load, this young poetess and rapper’s nonchalant delivery was endearing to her fans, who seemed to enjoy her set very much. Although there were some mic issues at the beginning of her set, she was spitting some rapid-fire bars from a new project she just finished — until she forgot her lyrics. (She blamed it on the weed.) Noname does have a calming presence on stage, but I would like to see some more showmanship and a higher level of energy from her.
After Noname’s performance, attention shifted to the green stage where rapper DRAM came out accompanied by his DJ. I had never seen DRAM perform, and his show was pretty dope. There was no lip-synching, and his songwriting and singing were impressive. The bulk of his set was was like some type of lounge rap, but when he performed his hit song “Broccoli,” the energy level spiked, and he jumped into the crowd, much to his fans’ delight. You you may not know everything he does, but when you see DRAM perform live, you know why he is a star.
The night started bubbling with excitement for two reasons: performances by Chaka Khan and Lauryn Hill. There was great anticipation for Chaka Khan, and nervous excitement for Hill, who has a reputation for arriving late to shows. To watch Chaka Khan perform is to watch a pro who understands who she is and where she is in her career. Her voice sounded amazing, and she was able to enlist the services of background singers who could match her every note. Her performance of “I’m Every Woman” had men and women singing the entire song word for word. She did “Do You Love What You Feel” earlier, and listening to her musicians — particularly the bass player and guitar player — work that joint was masterful.
Now, for what you have been waiting for. Yes, Lauryn Hill showed up on time — well, 23 minutes late, but who’s counting — and showed out. This year marks the 20th anniversary since the release of the classic, Grammy Award-winning album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. She is celebrating the milestone by performing songs from the album in their original form. That is important to know because she has been performing renditions of her songs over the years while never returning to the original production.
She sounded amazing, and her performance was passionate and engaging. Even though the show felt a bit rushed, her intent and spirit resonated. Hill told the crowd the reason she wrote the album was not only because of her love of music but also to bridge a generational gap. The diversity of the crowd at Union Park on that day made it clear that she accomplished her goal.
Check out a few photos from the show in the gallery below.