At day two of Afropunk 2016, the ever-hyped MTV Video Music Awards — happening just about 30 minutes north at Madison Square Garden — were an afterthought. No one was glued to their phones searching for a play-by-play of Beyonce’s performance, Kanye West‘s “Fade” video or any of the other pointedly news-worthy festivities happening in that corner of New York.
Instead, the festival’s last hurrah at Brooklyn’s Commodore Barry Park (Aug. 28) was hotter, wilder, and far more action-packed than Saturday’s soul, punk and hip-hop sets. With an attractive lineup that combined underground artists on the glow-up and minted mainstream icons, there was no shortage of standout moments.
Relive the highlights from Afropunk 2016 below.
Xavier Omär Brings the Vibes
Formerly known as SPZRKT, the young R&B singer whose music has gained underground appeal on Soundcloud, packed a significantly large crowd despite his early set. Those unfamiliar with Omär’s mood music found themselves captivated by the crooner’s velvety pitch on tracks like “Hesitate,” “Blind Man,” “Soon Enough” and “Middle Of Things, Beautiful Wife” remedied the sizzling beams of sun that ensconced the red. Only two years removed from working at a fast food chain in San Antonio and making music from his bedroom, now Omär is clearly riding a wave all his own.
Soulection’s Joe Kay and Sango Beats Play the Jams
Los Angeles-based indie record label and artist collective Soulection has been consistent on delivering quality, feel-good music. Their Sunday slot on the Gold Stage was no exception, as co-founder/DJ Joe Kay took the Red Stage, spinning a host of tunes from NxWorries’ (Anderson .Paak and Knxwledge) “Suede” to N.E.R.D.’s “Lapdance” on top of a space-y instrumental loop of Lupe Fiasco’s “And He Gets The Girl.” Hours later, producer Sango took the same stage, putting his baile funk reverb in rotation. He blurs genres effortlessly, fusing hard-knocking 808s to soft, mellow grooves (Drake’s “With You”). One of the highlights from Sango’s set was his reworks of R&B classics like Justin Timberlake’s “My Love” and The Isley Brother’s “Between The Sheets.”
Earl Sweatshirt Delivers Mood Music
Odd Future affiliate Earl Sweatshirt isn’t your average rapper. The 22-year-old rhymer was punctual, hopping on the Red Stage at 6:15 p.m. with a cheerful disposition, bouncing around to Jadakiss’ “We Gonna Make It” as a precursor to his set. “Pre,” a cut from his debut album Doris, was the first track to boom through the speakers, followed by “Hive,” “Grief” and “Huey” among others.
Gallant Stakes His Claim as R&B’s Next Big Thing
When you see a group of fresh-faced teens wearing outfits laced with golden sad faces, alt-R&B act Gallant must be near. The 24-year-old singer is fast becoming a festival favorite after his memorable Coachella debut included a duet with British soul singer Seal (remember iconic 1991 hit “Crazy”?). Although there were no guest surprises, he commanded the audience’s attention with hypnotic songs from his recently released debut album Ology. Most notably, lovers swayed their hips to the intoxicating number “Bourbon.” After setting the crowd in a trance with his vocals, he ended his set on a fiery note, climbing the railing of the stage and performing his standout single “Weight In Gold.” Gazing at the crowd, he said, “It looks real beautiful from up here.”
The Internet Makes Their Grand Return to Brooklyn
Two years ago, The Internet didn’t have a critically acclaimed album or a Grammy nomination under their belt. On Sunday, the thick crowd at the Gold Stage was treated to Syd tha Kyd’s smooth vocals on top of the floating bassline to “Dontcha.” Syd and the six-piece band powered through songs from 2015’s excellent Ego Death like “Girl,” “Get Away” and “Just Sayin/I Tried,” and held it down for day-one fans with material from their previous projects like 2011’s Purple Naked Ladies and 2013’s Feel Good.
Ice Cube Says “F–k the Police,” Invites Afropunk to His Gangsta Nation
Afropunk’s grand finale from Ice Cube drew a massive crowd as the N.W.A MC performed gangsta rap classics from his controversial discography. He also humblebragged about his iconic history in the game, offering the younger generation a lesson on his repertoire of “funky ass, old ass school beats” with tracks like “The N—a Ya Love To Hate,” “Why We Thugs” and “Check Yo Self (Remix).” The most moving moment of the night was Cube creating a united front on Barry Commodore Park’s sprawling lawn with chants of “F–k The Police,” which segued into a performance of the 1988 protest song against police brutality and racial profiling proving the explicit track, which celebrated its 28th anniversary earlier this month, is as relevant as ever.