Essence Festival 2015 Day 4 Highlights: Kendrick Lamar, Mary J. Blige, Lianne la Havas & More
On Sunday (July 6), at the final night of the Essence Music Festival at New Orleans' Mercedes Benz Superdome, attendees were treated to a few newcomers like Lianne de Havas and SZA. The two singers showed up and showed out in the Ford Hot Right Now Superlounge. They were also reacquainted with regular headliner Mary J. Blige who played the main stage just before Kendrick Lamar. He's the first rapper to close out the festival on his first appearance there -- quite the feat.
There was a severe thunderstorm in the city on Sunday afternoon. Everything -- and everyone -- moved a bit slower by show time. Floetry opened the main stage at 7 p.m. local time to an audience that filled only 40 percent of the venue. They gave their show full effort though; Marsha Ambrosius tended to one end of the stage and Natalie Stewart to the other. By 7:15 p.m., they'd got to "Butterflies" on their set list, the song they gifted Michael Jackson. In his honor, they performed a rendition of his own song, "Can't Help It," after "Butterflies." "Ladies and gentlemen," Stewart shouted. "Marsha Ambrosius!" The lead vocalist then performed a solo mini-set starting with "I Hope She Cheats on You." They played a solid set, but at the same time, the Superlounges were kicking off upstairs.
Teedra Moses was at the Walmart For the Love of R&B stage teasing the crowd with covers. "This lady," she said, setting up for the next song, "People used to say I sound just like her..." Fans screamed as she cued up Faith Evans' “Soon As I Get Home” and made it her own. "It's time for R&B music she said, it's still alive y'all. We outchea."
SZA was setting up next for the Ford Superlounge. She had a much younger crowd attend but there was a sprinkle of middle-aged fans throughout. The New Jersey native started off with "Child's Play," whipping her neck, running across the stage, and even hitting the Nae Nae as her fans cheered her on. "Aye, aye," they shouted. The live band which backed her seemed to revel in her rock star presentation as much as concert-goers. There could have been a thicker audience for SZA if not for Omarion's show at Verizon's Superlounge. Omarion was a huge draw that night.
After SZA, Lianne La Havas touched the Ford stage and got right to work. She started off with her new single, “Unstoppable." The audience picked up on the opening chords and hollered their approval. The U.K. singer-songwriter simply stood and belted out lyrics as the band played behind her. The most she did was a slow bounce, and it seemed that was when the music started to feel really good to her.
Just a few moments after La Havas started her set, Ma$e jumped into his over at the Coca-Cola Art of Hip-Hop Superlounge and reminded people of just how many hits he actually has. The Harlem rapper moved fast, only dedicating time to the hook and one verse from most tracks. He touched "Tell Me What You Want," "Lookin' At Me," and "Can't Hold Me Down." The crowd approved and bobbed along. At the latter end of his set he said, "I need to take these shades off, I can't see y'all." He never actually did though.
Ten minutes after Ma$e started, Tweet was at the Verizon Now Playing Superlounge, singing her heart out. She'd created her set list primarily from her LP Southern Hummingbird, and there weren’t any complaints. Tweet's debut album was one of best of 2002. The warmth of her voice and the soft melancholy of a song like "Come To My Place" moved through the crowd like the sweetest scent. "Y'all like that?" she asked afterwards. "That's one of my favorite songs..."
Mary J. Blige was on the main stage at that same time, kicking out hit after hit. For those who've never been to an MJB show, it usually isn't long before one realizes that she has a lot more smashes than they probably remember. From "Love Is All We Need" to "Real Love," the singer jumped and bounced around the stage in her red pantsuit as images of NYC streets flashed on the screens behind her. Blige is no stranger to the Essence Fest stage but last night she had a special surprise in store. As "You're All I Need" cued up, Blige walked back out to a crowd shrieking in delight. Method Man had put his arm around her neck and bopped out to the beat. Women who hadn't made their way to their seats yet frantically ran to their sections. Mary brought mayhem when she brought out Method Man.
Kendrick Lamar was the last act of the festival this year, and if he was nervous about performing in such a large arena, he certainly didn't show it. In charcoal sweats, a cream cap and a black Comme des Garcons polo, Lamar commanded the stage from beginning to end. He kicked off his set with "Money Trees" and seemed to be censoring himself until a few songs in ("Swimming Pools," "M.A.A.D City," and "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe"). Even from underneath those bright stage lights he saw how many fans he had in the building that he recognized. "My first show I did [was] out here in New Orleans," he shared. "I had about 200 dedicated fans, and I see some of them here tonight. I'll never forget that."
He seemed to get comfortable. After closing Essence Fest Sunday night, it's a given that Kendrick Lamar has won over a few more.