By Jamel Smith
November 5, 2023
Photo: The Parallel Agency / ONE Musicfest
This year’s ONE Musicfest was the biggest it has ever been. Piedmont Park in Atlanta was occupied by music lovers from all over the country during the two-day gathering on October 28-29, with attendance clocking in at 100,000 people there to see artists like Janet Jackson, Kendrick Lamar, Megan Thee Stallion, Killer Mike, Smino, Boosie, and Coco Jones, among many others.
As always, Jay Carter’s ONE Musicfest served as a beacon of Black joy, culture, and music for Atlanta. Carter took to Instagram after the event to express his feelings about the festival: “Let me start by saying We All Won. Atlanta Won. Black Culture Won. Black Music Won. Small Minority Businesses Won. Huge Corporations Won. HBCUs Won. Creatives Won. When 100,000 people come together for an inclusive celebration of Black Music and Culture and leave inspired with new connections, memories, tears of joy, new experiences, and fulfilled dreams, it’s a WIN for everyone.”
Despite doubling in scale from the prior year, ONE Musicfest kept its grassroots spirit intact with a focus on small businesses and vendors, HBCU advocacy, and independent artists. One of the festival’s highlights was seeing the re-accredited local HBCU, Morris Brown College, receive $50,000 from festival sponsors on the gathering’s second day. Florida A&M also received $15,000 this year at the HBCU Change ceremony.
The vibes in Piedmont Park were on point: thousands traversed through the park with their friends, families, and loved ones with a myriad of food and drink selections from the food trucks and vendors. They danced to the music in the comfortably warm air, from DJs playing the hottest sounds from hip-hop to ampiano. Crowds gathered around the ONE Musicfest sign at the summit of the park for photos, played college drinking games and hilarious trivia with the University of Dope, and merely existed with each other. There were also several brand activations throughout the park– the coolest being haircuts offered by men’s grooming company, Bevel; acrylic nail designs and temporary tattoos in the front seat of SUVs at the Toyota activation; and a skate party sponsored by Shein.
As for the entertainment, the festival covered all bases across its three stages. From over forty acts and several DJs, these were some of our favorites:
Coming off the success of her platinum-selling single, “ICU,” there was no doubt that the newcomer would attract a large crowd. The child star turned R&B singer-songwriter, Coco Jones set the bar with “Caliber,” the first single from her EP, What I Didn’t Tell You, released in 2022. She was joined on stage by her four background dancers who remained on stage with her throughout the set. As the songstress traversed through fan favorites, “Straight No Chaser” and “Double Back,” she showcased vocal prowess through her runs over the hard-hitting tracks. The apex of the singer’s set was the penultimate song, “ICU.” Jones expressed gratitude towards her fans for making the song a career-defining success: “This next song has changed my life. At this point, it’s our song.” The 45-minute set concluded with the high-energy “Crazy For Me,” which interpolated a Beyoncé “Crazy In Love” moment that left the crowd singing along.
She raps, she sings, and she dances? The Chicago triple-threat performed on the main stage for the first time in one of the most impressive sets at ONE Musicfest, converting many spectators into fans by the end. Tink’s set started with “Million”– her ode to Aaliyah’s “One In A Million.” From the beginning of her set, Tink told the crowd two things: she was here for the women and her “day ones.” She empowered women with her records (“Cut It Out” and “Fake Love”), showed women the art of seduction with her sexy jam (“Cater”), and shouted out her “day 1’s” with her early songs (“Treat Me Like Somebody” and “Don’t Tell Nobody”). Tink finished her remarkable set by thanking her beloved fans for all of their support, and invited the newly converted to join the bandwagon by plugging her latest album, Thanks 4 Nothing.
Megan Thee Stallion
“Where the motherf****** OG hotties at?” The Houston rapper was met with ear-splitting fan screams right before she and her nine dancers opened with the thumping “Freak Nasty.” After her much-needed respite from the stage, Megan Thee Stallion triumphantly returned with her eye on rap star status. The rapper’s hits were heard throughout Piedmont Park, putting fans and bystanders in twerk frenzies and sing-alongs. Megan even invited a fan on stage who passionately rapped her “Last Week in HTX” verse with no breath to spare. Ultimately, Megan’s catalog of rap hits, impressive stage presence, and infectious crowd work made her set one to remember for fans. Songs like “NDA,” “Sex Talk,” “Big Ole Freak,” and “Plan B” were highlights in her one-hour set.
If the crowd was any indication, Smino was one of the most anticipated acts of the festival. Thousands of festivalgoers flooded the east side of Piedmont Park to experience the East St. Louis rapper-singer perform his 75-minute set. The show opened with a medley of crowd favorites from his past projects (“KLINK,” “SUMMER SALT,” Z4L,” “90 Proof,” “Wild Irish Roses”), leaving many reciting every song word for word for 20 minutes straight. Most impressively, Smino displayed his full range as a singer and rapper on songs like “Netflix & Dusse” and “Ole Ass Kendrick,” seamlessly transitioning between soulful singing and sharp lyricism. His crowdwork couldn’t have been any better, either. The Midwestern gentleman constantly reaffirmed the sea of Black faces in the audience: “All my Black people, y’all looking beautiful.” He was particularly smitten with the women in the audience. He ended his set with a booty-shaking, bass-thumping serenading of “Pro Freak.”
Durand Bernarr played the ONE Musicfest stage for the first time and turned it into a groovy church service full of humor and community. The soul singer and his band, Tithes + Offering, stunned the audience with their feel-good and tight live arrangements of Bernarr’s songs. Adorned in a flashy black and gold ensemble and an old-school headset mic, Bernarr maximized his time onstage with soaring vocals and infectious dance movements that made the crowd get up and dance. At one point, he even led the audience in a couple rounds of the Mississippi Cha Cha Slide. The set of R&B and soul songs were broken up with motivational sermonettes about overcoming heartbreak, experiencing people, and leaving your comfort zone. A student and archivist of Black performance, Bernarr’s wheelhouse included vocal and choreographed moments reminiscent of Luther Vandross, Little Richard, Rick James, and Erykah Badu; he flamboyantly roamed the stage, worked the crowd with relatable anecdotes about self-love, sexual relations, and flaunted his vocal chops. This peaked with a rock-remixed encore of “Stuck,” where he went full Little Richard, screaming in the mic from his knees like a rock star.
The Nigerian-born, UK-based R&B singer-songwriter started her set with a soft-spoken and slowed-down version of “Wait 4 You” before asking the crowd, “y’all ready to vibe with me tonight?” Her rich voice swept over the crowd as the sun set, making it feel like a dream. She performed a string of Afrobeats and dream pop songs (“Higher, “Replay,” “Damages,” “Mister Rebel,” “Looku Looku”) that left the audience swooning over her regal voice and calm, sensual stage presence reminiscent of Sade Adu. In one of her he more memorable moments, the Tems went into the audience to serenade fans with a melodic freestyle of light-hearted rizz and surface adoration. Of course, she couldn’t leave the stage without performing her mega hits. With moments to spare before the last set of the festival on Sunday night, she rounded off her set with “Essence” and “Free Mind.”
50 Years of Hip-Hop Celebration and Stages
One of the central tenets of this year’s festival was celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop. The Sprite-sponsored stage hosted many rap legends throughout the festival such as Kid Capri, DJ Drama, Trina, Goodie Mobb, Lady of Rage, DJ Quik, KRS-1, and many others. Audiences were transported back to their hip-hop yesteryears with myriad regional hip-hop ranging from the East and West Coasts to the Dirty South. New York hip-hop legend, Ed Lover, hosted his own set with Mr. Cheeks, Lost Boys, Nice & Smooth, Brand Nubian, Alkinyele, Dead Prez, as did the beloved Southern hip-hop DJ Greg Street with Killer Mike, Eightball & MJG, Project Pat, and Uncle Luke. Additional legendary personalities and DJs such as DJ Toomp, DJ Jelly, Big Tigger, Sway Calloway and Rico Wade of Organized Noize made appearances on the stage to join in the celebrations. Rappers ushered the audience to pay their respects to the genre’s fallen stars– Notorious BIG, Tupac, Freaky Tah, DMX, and Guru.
In one of the most touching moments of the festival, Ed Lover received a proclamation from the Atlanta City Council honoring his career achievements and service in the city and hip-hop at large. The celebrations were a major success at ONE Musicfest with over twenty legendary acts sharing the stage. Whether it was “boom-bapping” with Brand Nubian to “Slow Down” or getting crunk with Killer Mike to the Atlanta anthem “Kryptonite,” the Hip-Hop 50 stage was on fire. We watched and danced as we “let that muthaf**** burn!”
Janet Jackson hit the main stage on Saturday night and put on a masterclass, performing thirty years worth of her R&B and pop hits. “This song was my first No. 1 back in 1986,” she said as “When I Think Of You” started playing in the park. The legend’s 90-minute set was adorned with evergreen hit songs (“What Have You Done For Me Lately,” “Nasty,” “Miss You Much,” “That’s The Way Love Goes,” “All For You”) and fan favorites (“When We Oooo,” “Throb,” “I Get Lonely”). Never without surprises, Jackson had a few up her sleeves for the Atlanta crowd. Rapper and producer Jermaine Dupri joined his former collaborator onstage to perform a medley of “So Excited,” “Welcome to Atlanta,” and “Money Ain’t A Thing.” However, one of the grandest moments of the weekend was when North Carolina’s own J. Cole surprised the crowd with his 2015 rap feature on Jackson’s, “No Sleeep,” and a standalone performance of “No Role Modelz.” Jackson ended her set with her 1997 No. 1 hit “Together Again,” which left everyone dancing joyfully as they exited the park for the end of night one.
Kendrick Lamar capped off ONE Musicfest with a fiery headlining set complete with big production, bright pyrotechnics, and a masterful display of showmanship. Following a short interlude of “The Heart Pt. 5,” Lamar exploded onto the stage with his high-energy opener, “N95.” From there, the superstar performed beloved hits like “ELEMENT.,” “Swimming Pools,” “Backseat Freestyle,” “HUMBLE.,” and “King Kunta,” as well as superfan classics like “Nosetalgia,” “ADHD.” Interspersed throughout the show were interludes of dance and art. Henry Taylor paintings were in rotation as Kendrick’s background dancers performed Alvin Ailey-esque choreography in front of them, creating a heightened experience for the audience. Very much a love letter to Atlanta, the rap superstar took breaks throughout his set to show public displays of gratitude for a city that has always held him down since his beginnings at The Tabernacle. Lamar performed with a veteran’s flow, a hit catalog and a comforting stage presence. It felt like a huge family reunion, as he led the crowd in an acapella version of “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” praising everyone’s synchronicity and urging them to continue. The show ended with the defacto Black Lives Matter anthem, “Alright,” and Mr. Morale’s “Savior,” as a reminder that while his music makes us feel empowered, he is still human and we should take him as such.
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In this article
- Big Tigger
- Coco Jones
- DJ Greg Street
- DJ Jelly
- DJ Toomp
- Eightball & MJG
- Florida A&M
- j. cole
- Jamel Smith
- janet jackson
- Jay Carter
- kendrick lamar
- killer mike
- Megan thee stallion
- Morris Brown College
- one musicfest
- organized noize
- piedmont park
- PROJECT PAT
- Rico Wade
- Sway Calloway
- Uncle Luke