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Event Review: The Roots Picnic 2011 (With Nas, Wiz Khalifa, and More)

Even with a few raindrops, the 4th Annual Roots Picnic at the Festival Pier in Philly was a relatively nice day. Four year Picnic veteran, Amanda Diva, MC'd the event by playing snippets of hip-hop trivia, call-outs for crowd MCs and an occasional ad-libbed rap over the DJ’s mix of old and new school hip-hop favorites. Many of the performances were off schedule, which made it hard to know who would be performing up next.
I actually wish there weren't two stages. Hank and Cupcakes were one of several afternoon highlights. This Brooklyn duo consisted of Hank on bass in a green jump suit and heavily smeared lipstick and his counterpart Cupcakes on drums with his upper torso wrapped in florescent pink tape. They performed their songs “Ain’t No Love” and “Pleasure Town”. Their colorful energy and oddball musical integrity was something that the crowd definitely needed to keep them entertained.
Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros performed “Up From Below.” They seemed to have a relevant fan following in the crowd. Ebert climbed into the audience as they ended with “Home,” and someone near the front tossed Ebert a shiny, white and orange pair of vintage Bo Jackson Nikes to hang around his neck as an honor fitting for the Roots Picnic.
Esperanza Spalding connected immediately with the crowd, and many were desperate to have her onstage longer. It helps when you snag a Grammy and are backed by the Roots drummer Amhir "Questlove" Thompson and guitarist Kirk Douglas. She asked the crowd, “Who say’s jazz is dead?” before setting down her upright bass and strapping on a Fender.  Spaulding channeled Jaco Pastorius as her spider-like fingers plucked her guitar strings and sang like an angel. Questlove met her finger plucks with his fill of down stroked beats, thus creating a musical conversation that made our ears smile. Spaulding demonstrated poise and grace as she ended her set with Michael Jackson’s “I Can’t Help It." 

Wiz Khalifa and Chevy Woods were up next. Khalifa’s set was impressive and gave the crowd a reason to stay as his two-step beats and references to the party lifestyle excited the audience.Wiz, claiming that he knew where he was at, stopped his set as the beat for the Young Gunz hit single, No Better Luv, came on. Young Chris and Neef then walked out from behind the stage to perform the hit. Definitely an unexpected surprise. Wiz wasn't done yet though.. he also brought out Beanie Sigel (who unfortunately got a lot of boos from the crowd as he walked across the stage) and Freeway. Wiz then finished his set which featured “In Tha Cut”, "Mesmorized", a cover of Snoop Dogg’s “That Good,” “Roll Up” and “Black and Yellow.” I love watching Wiz perform. His set is full of energy! Definitely what the crowd needed!

In my opinion, majority of the audience was there to see The Roots, Esperanza, Mac Miller, Wiz Khalifa or the headliner and show closer, Nas. When Nas finally hit the stage joined by The Roots, the crowd went crazy! He performed "Get Down," "One Mic," "It Ain't Hard to Tell" and "The World Is Yours." Some people in attendance will tell you that he forgot the words to a few of the songs. After Nas' set, The Roots closed out the Picnic by paying tribute to late poet singer Gil Scott-Heron with Black Thought singing on the late poet singer’s 1974 ode to alcohol abuse, “The Bottle.” 

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