Last night was a brilliant night to be in New York, despite a never-ending downpour or rain and thunder. Entering a hide-away concert venue stashed in the back of the Rough Trade record store in Williamsburg, we found ourselves immersed in the Afropunk music scene, featuring hand-picked artists SZA, Cakes Da Killa, Denitia and Sene, Princess Nokia, and HO99O9.
SZA (pronounced siz-ah)
If you were impressed by lady SZA’s last album Z (and if you haven’t listened yet, you need to), you’d be blown away by her live performance. Top Dawg Entertainment’s “first lady” is the first woman and R&B singer to ever be signed to the label. Her stage presence contains an endearing child-like excitement to be there, and you’re constantly reminded that this girl has an effortless, almost angelic voice that can pull through the audience more effectively than any of the chillwave recordings on her EP. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night, SZA pulled friend Willow Smith on stage to perform their song ‘Domino’. (You can watch their duet here. ) Smith surprised with stunning and soulful vocals to complement SZA, and we can’t help but look forward to more music from Willow. Best known for “airy coos and glitter-trappings” on songs like Babylon, the 23-year old siren was well-worth a long wait in the rain.
Cakes Da Killa
Cakes Da Killa was unrivaled as a performer last night. Rapidly gaining recognition for his raunchy lyrics and extravagant flow on his latest EP Hunger Pains, his style is most often compared to Nicki Minaj, Foxy Brown, and counterpart in New York’s queer rap scene Le1f. His performance, explosive and raunchy, left the audience wild for the night, and solidified his presence as a rising star. Cakes never misses a beat, spits each line rapid-fire, and his antics easily work the crowd into a frenzy. In short we can’t argue with Cakes’s anthem “I Run This Club“.
Denitia and Sene.
Denetia and sene provided a smooth antidote to the stressful performances before their set. The duo delivers laid-back electro-soul with lilting, reverberating vocals from his and hers perspectives. The pair’s style is simple and alluring; the two often built off of each-other’s electronic chords and free-verse lyrics, highlighting a easy-going, symmetrical dynamic. Check out their soulful, hazy video for ‘Divided’, released in April, here.
Princess Nokia’s set, following the thrashing HO99O9 act, was sadly more an unfortunate series of events than a choice performance, mainly because the stage team couldn’t get the mic volume to surpass that of the band. Nokia struggled to be heard through the first song, and her performance seemed stressed and rushed thereafter. The audience was hard to capture, quickly losing interest, and Princess Nokia’s nebulous genre- an unidentifiable mix of trip-hop, drum ‘n’ bass, ambient, and rap- is not easily swallowed in a concert setting. The fast-talking Princess may deserve an A for effort. She encouraged mosh pits, preached feminist and afro-positive messages throughout, and even tried crowd surfing at the end of her set, but as an overall performance, it wasn’t cohesive. Watch her video for ‘DRAGONS’ here.
HO99O9 (pronounced as ‘horror’)
It’s incredibly hard to describe this group, since there’s little information or music to be found on them thus far. What we can say is: their live performance was absolutely insane. Somehow coupling rap and thrashing punk rock vibes, the group’s antics on stage scream rebellion. One member even leaped off the stage, hooked onto the balcony above, swinging for a minute, and then clambered up to rap among audience members, hardly missing a beat. Props to red bull for introducing the unexpected to the Afropunk crowd. Though it seems the thrash-core rappers care less about popularity: as they gently put it on their Facebook page: “you can either like it or f%*$ off!” Watch their video for ‘Bone Collector’ here. Afropunk will host the Afropunk Festival in Brooklyn coming up in August, where SZA and Cakes Da Killa are set to perform again, which FDRMX plans to cover as well. Check out the stellar line-up here.