“I’d like to start things off with a little prayer,” Rodney Rikai — Washington Wizards MC and Broccoli City Festival host — said Saturday at the Washington, D.C. fest.
But it wasn’t an “Our Father” that followed. Instead, an instantly recognizable 4-year-old voice shouted out of the speakers: “We don’t want no devils in the house” — the opening sample of Kanye West’s most recent album, The Life of Pablo.
The neo-gospel track was perfectly in line with the idealistic festival’s areligious morality: a place where good deeds — in this case, “engaging and activating” to promote “healthy eating and environmental sustainability” — are sweetened with mild hedonism via food, drink and non-broccoli green substances. Between The Internet, Jhene Aiko and Anderson Paak, the music was an essential array for anyone who enjoys what the Grammys might call “urban contemporary”: essential blog fodder but not yet essential radio adds. Headliner Future likely fueled a number of the 12,000 tickets sold, but nothing about the atmosphere suggested people were only there for “March Madness” (in April).
Instead, the audience arrived early — many in time to hear the opening salvo, which also featured a series of half-serious rules (i.e. “turn the f— up”). They were dressed to impress, despite the soggy weather; clothes often featured directives. “Stay Woke,” demanded one — a Twitter favorite that purportedly originated with last year’s Broccoli City headliner Erykah Badu. “Shut Up and Create,” another.
Onstage, righteousness had less sway. When Anderson Paak requested to “talk my sh–” between edgy rock jams (during which he alternated between playing drums and gyrating, both with enviable skill), his keyboard player started Vanessa Carlton’s hallmark of serious pop “A Thousand Miles.” “OK, I’ll put on my real sexy voice,” Paak relented, before playing one of his early singles “Suede.”
The Internet, still somehow bursting with youthful optimism three albums and a Grammy nomination in, charmed the crowd — most of whom seemed to already know the words to their songs — with their off-center, confessional R&B. “Everybody out here who has a crazy ass ex turn up — which means everybody,” said frontwoman Syd the Kyd, providing a cause everyone could get behind. “F— Donald Trump,” naturally, also elicited a huge response.
Jhene Aiko brought an unexpectedly free-spirited vibe to her set, donning harem pants and gently twirling across an onstage carpet. Club anthem “Post to Be” morphed into a slow jam, with its most notorious line getting a (apparently more provocative) twist: “Gotta eat the *p—y* like groceries.” Future bounced around to his endless hits, preaching to the converted while leaving skeptics unconvinced. “We represent for the lowlifes,” he said before…”Low Life,” offering maybe the truest description of both himself and his compatriot on the track, The Weeknd.
What never failed to move the crowd was Kanye: old Kanye, new Kanye, Kanye beats separated from their creator’s voice, songs Kanye sampled in their original form. Anyone who doubts the inimitable influence of Mr. West need only see a crowd of thousands sing along, grinning, to “I Love Kanye” — his teasing ode to the now-inevitable conversations about his every move, also from The Life of Pablo. A man turned to the woman he was with to sing the song’s last line, also a Twitter maxim: “I love you like Kanye loves Kanye,” which he concluded with a peck on her cheek.