6 Can't-Miss Acts at Essence Music Festival 2016

Mariah Carey performs in 2016
Ross Gilmore/Redferns

Mariah Carey performs on March 15, 2016.

The 22nd annual Essence Festival kicks off in New Orleans on Friday, and the lineup, for hip-hop and R&B fans, is stacked: Headliners range from Maxwell, promoting his highly anticipated fifth album blackSUMMERS'night, and the iconic Mariah Carey to Puff Daddy and the Bad Boy Family -- all supported by a range of artists from across the country and the globe. The daytime programming, with Tina Knowles, Rev. Al Sharpton and Oprah (!) speaking, isn’t too shabby either.

Kendrick Lamar Returns to Essence Festival

Here are just a few of the acts that we’re most excited about seeing this holiday weekend in the Big Easy:

Kendrick Lamar

Lamar has cemented himself as rap’s voice to beat, as far as critical acclaim goes -- serious but never boring, Lamar is sure to bring out some good kid, m.A.A.d city classics alongside “Alright” and “King Kunta” from last year’s mammoth To Pimp a Butterfly. Who knows -- maybe the singular MC will even perform a track or two off his rough-cuts album from earlier this year, untitled unmastered.

Little Simz

The U.K. MC is defiantly independent -- in spirit and in business, as she releases all her music through her own label. Her high-energy live presence is infectious. At an intimate set in New York late last year, she had the whole room bouncing -- here, she might face a tougher crowd, but it will be interesting to see how hip-hop and R&B lovers react to the Londoner’s fiery bars.

Mariah Carey

After more than two decades of hits, Carey has more than enough to fill a festival set. The only question is, which ones make the set list? We’re hoping for a little bit of the old and a little bit of the new, plus a few deep cuts -- “Crybaby,” anyone? Also, it’s important to note that Puff may very well be in the city in time for Mariah’s set (or Mariah could stick around for his): "Fantasy" and "Honey" with all hands on deck would be a sight to behold.

The New Edition/Maxwell One-Two Punch

Friday night will be ladies’ night at Essence -- well, every night is ladies' night at Essence, but this will certainly be one for the ages: the original boy band, New Edition, and Maxwell promoting his first album in seven years, back to back.

Cyril Neville

To have a New Orleans legend -- the voice of The Meters and the Neville Brothers -- performing in the city where he created his iconic catalog is a rare treat. Don’t be surprised if a few locals are invited to take the stage alongside the 67-year-old artist, to bring the funk as only New Orleans really can.


Where many of her fellow mid-'00s R&B hitmakers have faded from the industry, Ciara’s stuck with it -- continuing to perform and make music and be the spokesmodel she probably should have been from the jump (we’re still waiting on a line of dance workout videos though, Ci). With a heftier back catalog than you’d think (Remember “Oh”? And “Goodies”? And “Lose Control”?) and utterly ageless dance moves, Ciara’s set will doubtless be one of the highlights of the weekend.