By Cameron Lee
June 28, 2022
Photo: Carter Howe
Returning to the concrete playground outside Citi Field’s parking lot in Queens, New York, for the second year in a row, Governors Ball seems to be hitting a stride at the new location. The weekend was originally slated to feature Migos, but had a last-minute change as the Atlanta rap trio canceled amidst rumors of a breakup. They were replaced by Lil Wayne, who was then replaced by A$AP Ferg. While festival cancellations post-Covid have been somewhat common, the unusually mild temperatures in mid-June weren’t. Although a little humid and cloudy, the youthful and garish crowd soaked in the mostly hip-hop, electronic and indie-pop lineup that featured Kid Cudi, North Carolina’s own J. Cole, Kaytranada, Flume, Playboi Carti, Clairo, Jazmine Sullivan, and many more.
With frequent flyovers from planes leaving nearby LaGuardia Airport and the periodic chugging sounds of the 7 Train, Governors Ball offers a rare opportunity to enjoy a sprawling music festival in the dense New York City borough of Queens.
Here are some highlights from the weekend:
Friday afternoon featured British grime rapper Skepta, who performed his high-energy set on the Go Puff stage during the sunniest point of the festival. Bouncing around, showcasing sturdy microphone and vocal control for his A$AP Rocky collab, “Praise The Lord (Da Shine),” Skepta proved to be a compelling festival performer, engaging the crowd and executing his songs well.
When Lil Wayne canceled, Harlem-native A$AP Ferg was an ideal replacement. While his DJ built anticipation for the home turf set with some classic hip-hop bangers, A$AP Ferg strolled onto the stage to “New Level,” his biggest track from 2016’s Always Strive and Prosper. Even though he didn’t quite capture the intensity and impact from the crowd one might expect from a New York City artist, those kicking off the festival weekend were certainly enjoying the vibes from the impromptu set.
There’s no question that one of the most anticipated acts of the weekend was Kid Cudi, but many were probably not prepared for the dance-heavy set that, at moments, had the entire crowd jumping. The energy was certainly electrifying as Cudi ended his hour-long set with his David Guetta collaboration, “Memories,” and then the Steve Aoki remix of his popular track, “Pursuit Of Happiness.” While many might have been surprised Cudi didn’t play “Day ‘N’ Nite,” the droves of attendees leaving the festival on opening night were seemingly exhilarated from the finale.
As the Saturday early afternoon crowd slowly trickled in, the festival’s rare singer-songwriter and pianist, Tom Odell eased us into day two. His soothing voice and piano notes from his UK chart-topping romantic ballad, “Another Love,” offered reprieve from the rap and electronic-heavy lineup. While Compton rapper YG showed up a bit late for his set, many in the audience were just as entertained by DJ Vision who kept the crowd engaged with hits like “Dior” from the late New York rapper Pop Smoke, and Baby Keem’s “Family Ties.” The lively DJ even performed some parts of the song himself. When YG finally stepped on stage to his 2014 track, “BPT,” screaming “4Hunnid” (the name of his label and clothing brand), fans were thrilled he showed up. Still maintaining the same energy and disdain for our former president, YG, performed his 2016 political anthem, “FDT” adding an extra “and I’m in your city, b*tch” at the end.
On the Bacardi stage nearby, a large crowd was building for an unusual festival attraction: Shaq. Yes, the four-time NBA champion, Hall of Famer, and business mogul. Shaq seems to be making progress on his goals to become one of the biggest DJs (under the name Diesel) in the music industry, as he boldly stated in his reality show, Shaq Life. Moseying onto the stage– as seven-foot giants do– Shaq wore a hometown Mets hat and Psycho Bunny shirt, and pulled it off before easing into his set. He played an equal amount of hip-hop, rock and pop mixes, and even brought several audience members on stage, at one point lifting a kid onto his shoulders. While we still don’t really know what Diesel’s in-studio production skills are like, one thing is for sure: there were a lot of smiles and merriment in the crowd. Everyone still loves Shaquille O’Neal.
— The Governors Ball (@GovBallNYC) June 11, 2022
In an era where many rappers are selectively performing over backing tracks, Carol City, Florida’s Denzel Curry is still spitting rhymes with masterful proficiency. Strolling onto the stage sporting a black jacket and Carhartt overalls to “Walkin” from his latest album, Meet My Eyez See Your Future, Curry displayed impressive crowd control throughout his 19-song set. From “Black Balloons” from 2018’s Ta13oo to “Ricky” from 2019’s Zuu, Curry started mosh pits while simultaneously rapid firing lyrics, showcasing his five-album catalog with dynamic dexterity.
Flume capped off Saturday night to a luminous evening sky with the best light show of the weekend that, quite honestly, lacked much onstage production throughout the three days. Bringing out May-a for the monster track “Never Be Like You” and Tove Lo for “Say It,” the Australian DJ and producer dazzled the crowd with a fluid 24-song set.
Sunday’s lineup was certainly the highlight of the weekend for many as it featured performances by J.I.D, Clairo, Glass Animals, Japanese Breakfast, Jazmine Sullivan, Kaytranada, Playboy Carti, and J. Cole. Heavy rain and thunder was expected toward the evening, but the festival gods blessed us with what looked like the largest crowd of the entire three days.
Atlanta rapper and Dreamville artist J.I.D’s 4 p.m. set awoke the crowd immediately by getting into one of his earliest and most recognizable songs, “Never.” Encouraging the attendees to periodically put their hands up, while also warning the moshers to give people in the front space, J.I.D paid tribute to New York rap legends A Tribe Called Quest and Mos Def. Citing the samples used for his songs “EdEddnEddy,” and a recent collaboration with 21 Savage and Baby Tate, “Surround Sound,” which originally sampled from the late, great gospel/soul singer Aretha Franklin.
With Clairo and Glass Animals both performing on the Verizon Stage following J.I.D, the main stage was primed for J. Cole and his full band for the headlining set. The adopted New Yorker and St. John’s University grad came out to emphatic screams to the intro song “95.south” from his latest album, The Off-Season, featuring Harlem native Cam’ron. After the initial rush from the intro faded, Cole properly greeted the largest crowd of the weekend and joked about his second career, “I’ve been playing basketball and shit, I came tonight to see if I can still rap.” Mentioning multiple times he used to live in Queens right off Grand Central Parkway, presumably while he was at school at St. John’s University, Cole added positive inspiration about achieving your dreams. Turning it all the way up for “A Tale Of 2 Citiez” and bringing out J.I.D and Kenny Mason for a show-stopping rendition of “Stick,” Cole closed out his 23-song set with his universal favorite, “No Role Modelz.”