Block Party undercards shine while headliner lacks flair

Bri Chew/ HIGHLANDER
Bri Chew/ HIGHLANDER

You would likely struggle to find a resounding reaction to this year’s Block Party lineup because, well, there wasn’t one. Sure, the lineup’s release elicited the collective excitement of “oh, hey, another weekend to pretend it’s still summer ttfu,” but there quite clearly existed a dissonance between those enamored by the collection of artists and those perplexed by the lack of notables.

Though, if we’re being real (as we here are literally paid to do), this year’s Block Party, on paper, offered UCR one of its most well-balanced curations in recent memory. Sure, it admittedly lacked the thrilling stand-out headliner but it compensated by bringing forth a collection of consistently good-to-great artists, each with distinct (perhaps, too distinct) fan bases. The mix, in theory, was safe. It’s just as easy to nod your head to the sleekness of a Mick Jenkins track as it is near impossible to resist moving your feet to a pulsating Snakehips cut. Every artist on display had a genuinely unique sound and aesthetic, and interestingly enough, PartyNextDoor, AlunaGeorge and Mick Jenkins had recently released new projects, meaning this would be the first time new material would be played live.

The multiplicity of genres was underscored by an alluring variety of attractions.  With only one performance stage erected in the lawn area by the Bell Tower, the HUB area could be utilized for performances by UCR’s hip-hop dance groups and space elsewhere was occupied by the likes of swings, a ferris wheel, photo booths and, of course, food trucks. Lots and lots of food trucks.

Jeffrey Chang/ HIGHLANDER
Jeffrey Chang/ HIGHLANDER

This is all to say that, if you found yourself not having a good time at Block Party, you likely weren’t trying very hard to. The attractions were available to all, the side performances were quite entertaining, the array of food choices were remarkable and, oh yeah, despite an underwhelming headlining performance, the music wasn’t all that bad either.

 

Love yourself like Mick Jenkins loves love

The last four years of Mick Jenkins’ career have been a period of continuous evolution. His 2013 mixtape, “Trees and Truths,” revealed an ambitious lyricist with a deft, yet poignant delivery. The unassuming sound was refreshing and, as it seemed, Mick was your traditional “rapper’s rapper”: lyrically driven, spiritually and socially conscious, with a free-flowing delivery that was easy to digest. Yet, this label proved premature after his 2014 follow-up, “The Water[s],” which unveiled a fiery vocal approach over an eclectic blend of jazz and neo-soul undertones, and was utterly scrapped with 2015’s experimental EP “Waves” — a caustic array of vocal fluctuations and uproarious soundscapes.

Jenkins’ latest project and debut album, “The Healing Component” (THC), is his best effort yet, channeling the ever-developing elements of his artistry into a cohesive and enthralling 15 tracks. As for Mick himself? He sounds sharp as ever with the intent to make his newfound message everclear: Spread. Love. A pointed ally to “the water” — Jenkins’ tirelessly used metaphor for “the truth” on past projects.

Not surprisingly, both of these ideas were at the forefront of Jenkins’ headspace as he took the Block Party stage no less than 24 hours after “THC’”s release. After opening with two tracks from “The Water[s]” (“Jazz” and “Comfortable”), Jenkins settled into his debut’s feel-good lead single “Spread Love,” engaging the crowd in a chorus that reinforced the theme of the hour and setting forth a zigzagging set of familiar cuts and tracks anew.

With the on-stage assistance of rising Chicago-based vocalist, theMIND, Jenkins sprinted through soulful “THC” cuts including “Plugged,” “Daniel’s Bloom” and “1000 Xans,” while intermixing feature tracks like Chance the Rapper-collab “Grown Ass Kid” and the incendiary Joey Bada$$-featuring “Jerome.”

The few interludes served one of three purposes: Taking a sip of his “hot ass water” (welcome to Riverside!), leading a “Fuck the police!” chant and, most pertinently, spreading uplifting prophecy to a crowd collectively hooked on his every word. All this, before closing on the ultimate posse cut, “Gang” by Max P.

As a Southside Chicagoan, Jenkins’ positivity is a distinct contrast to the perils that harrow his city. Yet, in the midst of said complications, Mick’s response is succinct: Seek truth and spread love — a display of the near-stubborn simplicity amidst a backdrop of chaos and outside noise which has contributed to Jenkins’ rise. Sure, he’s evolved, but on his own terms and with a clear, enlightening message. One that many dedicated fans had the luxury of basking in for the first hour of Saturday’s festivities.

-Myles Andrews-Duve, Editor-in-Chief

 

AlunaGeorge brings new energy to Block Party stage

Following Mick Jenkins’ impassioned performance, AlunaGeorge delivered a hypnotic set. The London-based duo, consisting of Aluna Francis on vocals and George Reid on production, enthralled the crowd with their infectious energy. While there were definitely a number of devoted fans among the crowd, many  were captivated by Francis’ on-stage energy, whether or not they had any previous knowledge of the London duo. AlunaGeorge’s set was a definite change of pace from Jenkins’ more downtempo atmosphere, which eased the crowd into Snakehips’ forthcoming EDM-based performance.

The duo initially rose to prominence with their 2012 hit single, “You Know You Like it, ”which was their first billboard-topping track. The following year the duo released their debut album, “Body Music.” Sonically, AlunaGeorge combined sugary pop vocals with dubstep type production. After three years, they released their sophomore album, “I Remember” on September 16, barely a week before Block Party.

This project is an energetically grooving twelve tracks laden with Francis’ pop vocals and Reid’s dancehall soundscapes and the duo carried the sprit of this project to the Block Party stage.  The crowd danced to grooving tracks such as “I’m in Control” and their most recent collaboration with Flume, “I Remember”  before reaching their peak with the pop hit “You Know You Like it.” The appeal of their set relied on the sheer energy of their performance, as well as the non-stop grooving that ensued once the duo took stage.

-Faraz Rizvi, Arts & Entertainment Editor

 

Snakehips gets all your friends wasted

Soon after AlunaGeorge’s transcendent set, the sun was gradually reeled down as it became the backdrop of Snakehips’ sublime presence on the stage. Arguably the highlight of the evening, Snakehips surpassed expectations with their modern, yet vintage flare and an eclectic mix of R-and-B, indie, hip-hop and EDM.

Composed of two London-based producers in their mid-20s, Oliver Lee and James Carter have established a strong EDM presence in the music industry since the release of their 2014 debut single “On and On” –– an innovatively groovy tune accompanied by the sultry vocals of Australian charmer George Maple. Their meticulously crafted pieces have continued to draw large audiences and notch up high numbers of plays globally. Recognizable for their old-school stereo soul, Snakehips managed to capture the interests of UCR’s millennials by following the trend of sample-heavy electronic soundscapes.

The duo has topped charts with their remixes for artists such as the Weeknd, Banks and Bondax as well as their singles with Tinashe and other well-known artists. Snakehips’ most recent single, “Cruel,” continues to blend vintage R-and-B with electronic music. The soul-heavy, alluring vocals of Zayn Malik easily seduced audience members with upbeat, yet yearning lyrics. Snakehips’ set began in a similar fashion,  gradually seducing Highlanders into a fantasy-like, head-bobbing trance, that they hadn’t realized they’d fallen into.

The slowed beat of “Forever” built the anticipation as more students eagerly sprinted to join the audience. The crowd energetically hollered as they synchronously began swaying their hips and bobbing their heads once the dreamy vocals of “Forever” settled in.

With summer having ended only a few days ago, Snakehips already had the audience feeling nostalgic, effortlessly establishing their music as the soundtrack of summer heartaches. Their signature chill vibes set forth the tone of the evening as the duo continued on with their contemporary soul singles like “Gone,” “On & On” and more well-known soul-inflected studio confections. Unfortunately, Snakehips was not placed last in which they would have been the perfect closing of the night.

Snakehips clearly specializes in smooth-flowing ballads, but also demonstrated their versatility when they transitioned into an accelerated pace, entering an electronic-driven synth beat realm of hip-hop. They easily cater to a large group of audience members, delivering grimey sets by Troyboi and even mixing famous dance beats such as “Soulja Boy” and “Watch Me,” engaging the crowd as they threw their whips and nae naes.

After a tireless set of what seemed like never-ceasing hip swaying, Snakehips finally closed with their most anticipated single –– basically the anthem of summer 2016 –– “All My Friends.” Unsurprisingly, the crowd energetically recited the song back to the two producers on stage, drowning out Tinashe and Chance the Rapper’s vocals throughout the entirety of the song.

It’s fair to say that everything Snakehips touches turns into a glistening veil of summertime gold.

-Ashley Chung, Features Editor

 

Capacity was not filled at the PartyNextDoor

The most anticipated performance of the night, which was also thought of by some as the fairly disappointing headliner of this year’s Block Party, was  23-year-old Canadian singer/rapper/producer PartyNextDoor, formally known as Jahron Anthony Brathwaite. Ever since releasing his debut album, “PartyNextDoor,” under Drake’s record label OVO in 2013, PND has been in the public eye for being the first artist to be signed to OVO. His mellow, slightly ethereal trap and R-and-B style, with a few dancehall tracks thrown in here and there (“Only U,” “Not Nice”), accumulated fans from Drake’s widely-reigning circle and has remained faithful to itself ever since. But the question of his artistic maturation and creative growth has long been contemplated by admirers and critics alike.

His latest album, “PartyNextDoor 3,” which was released just this past summer, was no exception to this thought — many claimed it to be a disappointment since he failed to stray away from the well-established sound he created in the first “PartyNextDoor.” Hits such as “Come and See Me” and “Don’t Know How,” highlighted an otherwise underwhelming project. Nevertheless, the announcement of PND as a headliner generated a lot of buzz from students.

Yet, it was only PND’s most devoted listeners that walked away from the set, which was plagued by the stagnancy which has defined his career so far.  Since PND’s style has remained stagnant for so long, it was hard for him to have much flexibility throughout his set, which largely consisted of tracks cherry-picked from all three “PartyNextDoor” albums as well as some of his featured songs.

The disparity between the devoted and the casual listeners was immediately apparent as the crowd’s energy noticeably dissipated during his more obscure tracks. This was not aided by the calm, sedated mood of his songs. One of the few times PND revived the crowed was with his cover of Rihanna’s “Work” (which he actually penned). However, the crowd continued to thin out afterwards.

To be fair, the singer himself admitted on stage, “This is my first show in like a year and a half.” A lot has changed in the said timespan, and it means even more that this was the first time he had ever performed “PND3” live — perhaps signaling artistic growth for the 23-year old musician is here to come.

-Jasmine Yamanaka, Assistant Features Editor

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