Roots Picnic 2024 Unites Old School and New With Lil Wayne, Shaboozey, Andre 3000, Sexyy Red and More

With the Jay Z-curated “Made in America” festival canceled for the second year in a row, Philly natives the Roots’ annual Roots Picnic at the Mann in Fairmount Park is now the only game in town when it comes to hip-hop/ R&B in festival fashion. And this year’s brought veteran and newer artists together with a bill carefully curated by the Roots’ Questlove and Black Thought and their manager (and Live Nation Urban president) Shawn Gee, combining Lil Wayne’s Orleans parish set with Trombone Shorty and the Roots, Andre 3000’s new take on flute-y jazz with fast-rising trap goddess Sexyy Red and country singer Shaboozey, and more.

Los Angeles will soon get a taste of Philly pride when Roots Picnic: Hip-Hop is the Love of My Life — featuring Queen Latifah, the Pharcyde, Jungle Brothers and more — hits the Hollywood Bowl on June 29.

Here are 10 of the best moments from Philly’s 2024 Roots Picnic.

Jill Scott Gets a Hero’s Homecoming Welcome from Philly’s New Mayor
Despite being Philly-born, platinum-certified for her debut album and co-authoring the Roots’ biggest hit (1999’s “You Got Me”), Jill Scott had never headlined a Roots Picnic until this year. (She’d only performed once before, as part of a star-studded anniversary event celebrating the Roots’ “Things Fall Apart” album.) With that, Scott received a thunderous welcome from the sold-out crowd and an introduction from the city’s new mayor, Cherelle Parker, before launching into a steamy take on “The Real Thing.” Scott stayed on the sensual tip with the bubbling, slow funk of “Whatever” before welcoming Black Thought to the stage for a mesmeric version of “You Got Me,” followed by fellow local rapper Tierra Whack for a stewing rendition of “North Philly.”

Black Thought’s Mixtape Jam Gets by with Help from Method Man, Redman, Common, Ferg and More

Every Roots Picnic comes with a J. Period Live Mixtape package of ‘90s-era freestyling rappers, led by Black Thought. For 2024, Thought’s announced guests were more than stellar, with Wu-Tang Clan’s Method Man and Redman steering the conversation and guiding the often-bumpy ride of free verse. Since this mixtape segment always comes with its surprises, the sudden appearance of Common and his deep voiced soliloquies, Ferg and Philly block captains Beanie Sigel and Freeway made this Mixtape session razor sharp in its wild dialogue.

Sexyy Red Lives Up to Her Name
The St. Louis trap rapper was the most thrilling act on Saturday’s bill for several reasons. While she played the smaller Picnic stage (as opposed to the main), the enthusiastic crowd showed that she’s earned a higher spot on the bill. With her nearly all-white matching crop top-shorts-and-sunglasses outfit and mad twerking, Red was a blur as she rolled and purred through frankly sexual hits such as “SkeeYee” and “Looking 4 the Hoes.” However, she didn’t dial down the Trump-ism, performing in front of a giant image of a red hat that read “Make America Sexxy Again.”

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Nas Brings 212 to the 215
Unlike recent gigs where he’s been accompanied by large bands, Queensbridge’s master Nas came to Philly with a powerhouse drummer and DJ and rocked a lean, mean, rolling percussive set of his classics such as “Made You Look” and “N.Y. State of Mind,” along with totemic tracks from James Brown (“Popcorn”) and Marvin Gaye (“I Want You”). For additional NYC flavor, Nas welcomed Wu-Tang’s Ghostface Killah to his stage with a fiery duet on Raekwon’s “Verbal Intercourse” before Ghost took the mic for himself to re-appropriate the Wu-Tang classic “C.R.E.A.M.”

Marsha Ambrosius Thrills the Picnic Early
Jilly from Philly may have been Saturday night’s big R&B draw, but early afternoon visitors were graced with the tough and tender soul of songwriter-vocalist Marsha Ambrosius. The Liverpool-to-Philadelphia-to-Los Angeles transplant first known to U.S. audiences as a member of Floetry and her sultry, debut solo album “Late Nights & Early Mornings” has spent the last five years working with Dr. Dre on a joint album, “Casablanco,” finally for release this year, on June 28.  If the deeply emotional “The Greatest,” performed during her Picnic slot, is any indication of what’s to come, her Dre album will be worth the wait — and as bold as her decision to wear an all-leather outfit on stage in 85-degree Philly humidity.

Shaboozey Shows Off His Country Rap and Crooning Chops

Hot on the heels of Friday’s release of his new album, “Where I’ve Been, Isn’t Where I’m Going,” rising singer-songwriter-rapper Shaboozey and his DJ came out the strains of Ennio Morricone’s “The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly” theme. He wowed the crowd with his deep, rich vocals, getting a big response to his hit “A Bar Song (Tipsy)” — and placing pedal steel guitar next to thick beats is next level in any context.

BackYard Band Brings Out Amerie and Scarface
Washington DC’s young, dozen-strong go-go ensemble BackYard Band, brought their intricate instrumental skills to the small stage on Sunday with two radically different voices before them – the sweet of Amerie and the sour of Scarface. Amerie delivered a too-brief interlude before former Geto Boy Scarface unleashed his throaty Houston drawl. His version of “I Seen a Man Die” and its haunting refrain of “I never understood why I could never see a man cry ’til I seen a man die” brought a hush over the crowd in this continued time of violence.

Bassist-bandleader Adam Blackstone Brings the Church to the Picnic
Bassist Adam Blackstone may have dropped his first solo album in 2022 with “Legacy.” However, the Philadelphia-based session man is long renowned as the musical director to the stars and the orchestrator of \ events such as the Super Bowl LVI halftime performance with Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Mary J. Blige, Eminem and 50 Cent, Jay Z’s noted Basquiat-influenced Paris performance, the 2022 Academy Awards ceremony and Rihanna’s 777 Tour. So when he presented his six-piece ensemble on the main stage of the Roots Picnic, it sounded like an orchestra – think Stan Kenton’s big band with a thumping hip-hop backbeat. Along with gorgeous instrumentals such as “The Storm Shall Pass,” Blackstone welcomed gospel giant Tasha Cobbs Leonard to sing out loud her praises of God on the squelchy churchy “Burdens Down,” before hosting Fantasia Barrino for several songs. Resplendent in a tight black suit, the recent Oscar nominee for “The Color Purple” brought the house down with a spare instrumental, wilding trilling version of “Proud Mary.”

André 3000 and his New Blue Sun Ensemble Subtly Stun the Roots Picnic

Since the release of 2023’s meditative instrumental album, “New Blue Sun,” and its debut live shows earlier this year, Outkast-rapper-turned-flautist Andre 3000 and his ensemble have grown more confident and daring in their execution of supple and calm free jazz touched with layers of electronics, percussion, bid calls and washes of guitar synth. The group improvised for an hour — which seemed like one long song — before Andre shocked the crowd with a chattering, word-less rap and a howling bark only to laugh and say “Philadelphia – just letting you know I made that shit up… We’re just pulling shit out of the sky. We don’t know what we’re going to play next.”

Lil Wayne, Trombone Shorty and Babyface Close Out the Weekend
The Picnic’s closing set was a dedication to New Orleans, with the Roots backing Trombone Shorty, singer/ keyboardist PJ Morton, R&B crooner Lloyd and a surprisingly soulful Lil Wayne. Weezy took his time, dabbing on what seemed like two dozen or more of his most deeply grooving tracks with Questlove bumping drums behind him. But Babyface closed out the weekend with typical suavete: The over-50s in the crowd swooned to his elastic crooning on “Soon as I Get Home” and “For the Cool in You,” but he brought the house down with hits he’d written for other artists, such as the Whispers (“Two Occasions,” “Rock Steady”), Bobby Brown (“Don’t Be Cruel,” “Every Little Step”) and the Philly-favored Boyz II Men cover “End of the Road.”

Hearing Babyface’s memories come alive was the perfect closer for a mellow, humid Sunday in Philadelphia.

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