By Jamel Smith
October 14, 2022
“We outside! And it’s gonna be alright!” Tank and the Bangas’ frontwoman, Tarriona “Tank” Ball, triumphantly engaged in a call-and-response of the phrase with the audience. It became clear that this was the respite we all needed for the weekend: being in community, experiencing the joys of a new season, and listening to good live music. For the second year since the pandemic, Atlanta’s ONE Musicfest was back, serving as a sanctuary for all people, but especially Black folks.
“I love my Black folk!” Tank exclaimed. “I have never been able to say that at a festival before!” That sentiment is what makes the Atlanta festival so singular in experience. Despite the rise of music festivals around the world, not many of them prioritize the urban and Black diasporic experience in an outdoor festival space. The festival’s founder, Jay Carter, recognized this opportunity and in 2010 premiered the one-day festival to 2,000 festival goers. Over the past decade, the festival’s humble beginnings have grown into a sold-out staple that over 50,000 people from all around the country flocked to attend on the weekend of October 8-9.
While the festival has certainly grown, its spirit remains the same. The sounds of R&B/soul, hip hop, gospel, dancehall, and reggae filled the air. To the left, there were rows of vendors with long lines of people waiting. To the right, there were people competing in a hilarious trivia game called University of Dope, “a disrespectful card game for hip hop lovers.” The question: “which R&B career did Diddy ruin the most? Day 26, Danity Kane, or Cassie?” Those who desired to dance could proceed down a block and join hundreds of people doing the electric slide to Cameo’s “Candy.” Those who desired to traverse on wheels were able to do so at the BET-sponsored skating rink installation. Indeed, there was a lot to experience. With over thirty acts and six DJs performing across four stages, these were some of our favorites.
Parkwood’s R&B princess garnered one of the biggest crowds of day two and, in just thirty minutes, showcased why she is one of the leading acts in today’s R&B and pop landscape. The Atlanta native exploded onto the Toyota SoundStage with a crowd favorite “Have Mercy” and “Freak Like Me” mashup with the rigor and vocal agility of a superstar. Chlöe also performed the buzz singles, “Treat Me” and “Surprise,” as well as an unreleased “For The Night,” which was hinted to be the next single in the young superstar’s canon. Halle made an appearance in spirit, as Chlöe revisited some of her catalog with her kid sister; namely, “Do It” and “Cool People.” Overall, the set was a real crowd pleaser. And the fans showed lots of love to Chlöe, leaving the young star with a huge smile on her face for her entire performance, saying: “Y’all don’t know how much I needed this.”
The ONE Musicfest Stage took a trip down memory lane with Mýa’s performance. Starting her set with the Billboard hit, “Case of the Ex,” Mýa quickly reacquainted the crowd of her tenure in hitmaking, as she performed all of her beloved hits: “It’s All About Me,” “My Love Is Like…Wo,” “Fallen,” and “Best of Me, Part 2,” as well as her classic soundtrack joints “Ghetto Supastar,” “Take Me There,” and “Lady Marmalade.” In an exciting encore, Mýa recaptured the crowd’s attention with a high-energy vogue routine to her 2003 house record, “Whatever B*tch,” a beloved relic for lifetime Mýa fans.
Daniel Daley, one half of the duo Dvsn, made his way out to an audience of screaming female fans and an rousing applause. His controversial single “If I Get Caught” sparked divisive Twitter takes around the “toxic” content of the song. However, as he crooned his way through the set, it became clear his rise in the canon of current male R&B artists was still in motion. Every song was met with affirmative responses, ranging between “I love this song” and “that’s my sh*t.” Men and women swooned and bodies rolled to his bass-thumping, sex-fueled ‘90s influenced R&B hits: “Too Deep” and “With Me” from his 2015 debut album, Sept. 5th, among others. It had been four years since Daley hit the ONE Musicfest stage. Since then, he and his production partner Nineteen85 have released two albums (A Muse in Her Feelings and a collaborative project with Ty Dolla $ign, Cheers to the Best Memories). However, the duo hadn’t been able to properly tour their music, partly due to the worldwide shutdown. Fans immediately showed their appreciation as Daley performed those underperformed songs (“Miss Me?,” “A Muse,” and the Future-featured “No Cryin”) for the first time. “If I Get Caught” received its moment as the final song, signifying that there is indeed a new album on the way.
Donning his signature all-black look (similar to that on his Thug Motivation 101 and The Inspiration album covers), Jeezy was one of the most beloved performances of the festival. The 45-year-old trap rap pioneer was welcomed home and he returned the favor by performing his hits– “Standing Ovation,” “Soul Survivor,” and “Put On”– with ease. Jeezy was also joined on stage by gubernatorial governor candidate, Stacey Abrams and Atlanta mayor, Andre Dickens, who made some effective remarks amping up the people of Georgia to participate in early voting– a lingering sentiment of the festival.
Tank and the Bangas
Tank and the Bangas owned the Freedom Stage with an explosive 45-minute performance of their Grammy-nominated songs. The group collectively wore pink with Tank sporting an oversized bubble jacket with white thigh-high leather boots. The performance, however, is where the eight-piece band shined. “We want you to come to New Orleans with us,” Tank said. What followed was comedic, soulful, funky, light-hearted, and very musical–just like the streets of the French Quarter, New Orleans. Specializing in live instrumentation, The Bangas captivated the crowd with their range of musicianship: a soulful flute solo, a rocking guitar solo, and jazzy horn line in the span of one song. Tank was on fire, as she brought every fiber of her being to the performance– the song, poetry, and oscillating vocal inflections. The same whimsical onomatopoeias that we all fell in love with back in 2017 when they made their world premiere on NPR Tiny Desk. Simply put, Tank and the Bangas was Black joy personified, leaving the crowd of Black folks feeling resilient, good, and loose on the festival’s second day.
Ja Rule & Ashanti
Y2K iconography was a prime factor of this year’s ONE Musicfest. Stage hosts included Big Tigger (best known from BET’s Rap City) and AJ and Free (the iconic duo from BET’s 106 and Park). Ja Rule and Ashanti was yet another pleasant trip down memory lane for late Gen-Xers and millennials. The two stars began their feel-good set with their landmark duets, “What’s Luv,” “Mesmerize,” and “Happy.” And after 20 years, their chemistry on stage is still top tier. As Ja Rule and Ashanti also performed their solo hits (“Can I Get A…,” “Put It On Me,” “The Way That I Love You,” “Rain on Me,” “Unfoolish”), it became perfectly clear that the sheer volume of beloved crowd favorites would solidify this set as one this year’s best.
On the heels of her commercially and critically successful album and tour for Heaux Tales, the two-time Grammy winner Jazmine Sullivan returned to ONE Musicfest and garnered one of the biggest crowds of the two-day festival. The audience was so vast that those in the back had to compete with Dougie Fresh’s equally awesome set on the Slutty Vegan stage behind them. Nevertheless, they stayed to experience the greatness of Sullivan. And with four classic albums in the singer’s canon, she had something for everybody. In a more touching moment, Sullivan invited the crowd of thousands to send a virtual love letter to her mother (“Miss Pam”) after tearfully revealing that the cancer survivor is once again battling breast cancer. The love continued as Sullivan went through all of her crowd favorites (“Girl Like Me,” “Holding You Down (Going In Circles),” “Hurt Me So Good,” “Pick Up Your Feelings”). And the masses rewarded her by singing along. As always, Sullivan’s set was a memorable moment of catharsis, community, and exceptional talent.
Ms. Lauryn Hill
About 30 minutes past her 9 p.m. set time, Ms. Lauryn Hill hit the main stage as the first night’s headliner. The remaining hour and a half was a stunning display of soul and hip-hop. Backed by an 11-piece band, Hill ran the gamut of her record-breaking, genre-defining magnum opuses, The Score and The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in a re-imagined (yet fully tolerable) way. The result was a “spiritual” and nostalgic moment. Her riveting performance of “To Zion” was the highlight of her set. After a reprise of the song, she was tearfully surprised by the muse of the song, her now 25-year old son Zion, and his two children! “This is my grandson Zephaniah. This is my granddaughter Azaria. This is my son, Zion,” Hill said. The entire park exploded with excitement. After commemorating The Score’s 25th anniversary and promising something special for Miseducation’s 25th anniversary next year, Ms. Lauryn Hill ended her set with her first No. 1 hit “Doo Wop (That Thing)” leaving the crowd dancing and ready for her possible return in 2023.