On June 6th-8th, 2014, the 4th annual Governors Ball festival took place on Randall’s Island, New York. The festival is praised for many of its aspects that provide festival-goers an amazing overall experience. From the musical artists attending to the variety of food selection to the spacious and thoughtful layout of the festival grounds, Governors Ball has it all.
The relatively young festival has gained steam as time passes and has arguably unleashed a stronger lineup as each year goes by. This year, New York’s own Vampire Weekend and modern musical savant, Jack White, shared headlining duties with the incomparable Outkast.
In fact, hip hop as a whole was represented quite well over the weekend. From well known rappers like J. Cole and Tyler, the Creator to relatively underground acts like Ratking; hip hop music was very much alive among the tens of thousands of people in attendance.
Here is a recap of the hip hop acts at Governors Ball 2014:
Run the Jewels
The dynamic duo of Killer Mike and El-P were one of the first acts to grace the stages at the festival. Killer Mike donned his “Do Dope Fuck Hope” sweater as he furiously rapped into the mic during his verses. El-P was not to be outdone as he kept his energy up while he finessed his way through his very technique-heavy verses. The duo played bangers off of their self-titled album and they would provide comical banter between their cuts. DJ Trackstar provided some great scratches, especially during the breakdown of “Get It”.
One of the aspects that made the set great were how genuinely happy Jaime and Mike seemed to be performing together on stage. There is an undeniable chemistry between the two rappers and it definitely helps that they make some absolute bangers while in the studio. With that being said, the set was not without its flaws. Run the Jewels definitely hurt from the lack of a full band. After seeing them during their tour, I was able to hear the album in all its glory, all the while performed by the two rappers backed by a three-piece band. There was a very noticeable drop in quality of sound, although being in an outdoor venue in broad daylight also contributed a lot to this as well.
All in all, the energy was undeniable and the raps are stupid good. Let us hope that Run the Jewels 2 gets released sooner rather than later.
Grade: 3.5 big gold chains stolen from radio rappers out of 5.
Tyler, the Creator
Tyler started his set immediately after Earl’s during the afternoon on the last day of the festival. The crowd had rushed across the field after Earl finished his last song so that they could witness Tyler pick up where Earl left off. Tyler was accompanied by Taco on the 1s and 2s as well as Jasper and Earl as hypemen.
Odd Future shows are fueled by frenzied crowds and an immense amount of energy. The bass was blaring and Tyler was in rare form as he yelled, jumped and screamed across the stage. In between tracks he would brutally insult members of the crowd, even straight up saying he did not want to be near the audience in the VIP section because “they’re only there because their rich parents bought them the tickets”. It says a lot when an artist can berate the crowd and it only acts to fuel them in their frenzied state.
Overall, the show was a blast despite the lack of a band as well as the overbearing bass. The crowd jamming out to “Tamale” was one of the highlights of the entire weekend.
Grade: 4.25 angry VIP members out of 6.
The Odd Future rap phenom started his set saying he had 45 minutes and that after that we would all have to run to get to Tyler’s show. Earl’s performance was almost set up to be a warm up for Tyler’s, however in my opinion, it was overall a better set. Admittedly, I am more of a fan of Earl’s music than Tyler’s, but I believe that the bias going into the day was not the ultimate deciding factor of which I enjoyed more.
Similarly to Tyler’s set, Earl was backed by his DJ, Taco. He was also without live instrumentation, but it seemed as though the tracks in which Earl laid his raps onto sounded much more levelled in terms of the bass, highs and mids. On top of that, Earl played a great variety of his old tracks and new tracks of varying moods and tempos. His banter in between tracks were playful, yet not as in-your-face as Tyler’s.
The most impressive part of Earl’s performance are the raps themselves. Some of his verses contain a tongue twisting amount of alliteration coupled with other impressive poetic devices, yet, it seemed as though he was able to spit his verses effortlessly. He even performed two unreleased tracks that I believe will shock listeners as he is seemingly ditching his monotone style of rapping.
Grade: 3 sweaty sweatshirts out of 4
Chance the Rapper
Rap music is generally for rap fans. More specifically, it is often difficult for an average music fan to get into hip hop if they had not first been accustomed to it from a young age, especially when compared to other genres of music. Every so often, there are hip hop artists that come along who break down these barriers and are able to connect with the general population of music listeners. Chance the Rapper is definitely one of those artists.
You could just feel the sheer amount of love oozing from the crowd onto the stage where Chance stood. One of the best parts of his set was that it was painfully obvious that he could feel it too and he was having the time of his life. Chance became humanized and humbled by the love he was getting and it really served to connect him more to his audience. You could hear the passion in his voice and in the way he performed his tracks off his hit mixtape: Acid Rap.
It was also extremely important that he had a full band with him. Their interpretation of the recorded instrumentals from his mixtape came to life and filled the air around the tent where he performed. Couple all of this with the fact that he performed his interpretation of the “Arthur Theme Song” and Chance the Rapper just pulled off one of the best hip hop performances of the weekend.
Grade: 5 Nana NaNaNa’s out of 6
Similarly to Chance’s set, J. Cole was joined on stage by a full band but on a more grandiose scale. His 5 piece band included: guitar, drums, backup singers, keys and a DJ. The full bodied instrumentals hit the crowd at full force. The jazzy interpretations of J. Cole’s biggest hits left the crowd in awe.
J. Cole fed from the energy he was getting from his band as he did what he does best: spit. He never missed a step as he offered fan favorites from The Warm Up, Friday Night Lights, Cole World: A Sideline Story and Born Sinner. He even had a comedic skit with Dreamville rapper Bas and then they performed a song together. The show had a lot going for it, and more importantly it was extremely well executed.
J. Cole put together a show that should act as a template for how all hip hop shows should be. It is time to put those rap-over-your-mp3 performances to bed *cough A$AP Mob cough*. This is especially true in a festival setting as you are able to attract many new fans if you put on a good show, and it’s becoming more and more apparent that a good show absolutely requires a full band. The difference is black and white; it is time for hip hop artists to step their live show game up. J. Cole knows this and rappers need to take notes.
Grade: 5 Cole Worlds out of 5
Before talking about how the performance really was, it is really important to go over some facts leading up to the legendary duo’s set:
- They have been on hiatus for 8 years, with their last album being Idlewild
- Their fans are borderline obsessive
- They are considered as legendary hip hop fixtures and Andre 3000 is often mentioned in talks about greatest MCs of all time
Considering the facts above, it is safe to say that the amount of hype around Outkast’s 2014 comeback is extremely high. The expectations set for their performances are off the meter and this creates a very risky situation for Big Boi and Andre 3000 as they need to go above and beyond to only be on par with what their fans are expecting.
With that being said, the Outkast performance at Governor’s Ball 2014 not only reached expectations, it blew them out of the water. The performance was a monumental success as the duo performed cuts off of their extremely impressive discography. Any rumors of beef between Big Boi and Dre can be dismissed as their chemistry on stage was undeniable. The main stage was fronted by approximately 15,000 people and although I was not able to see how the back of the crowd were reacting, the front section were going absolutely nuts.
Sonically, the set was practically perfect. The band consisted of guitar, bass, drums, keys, a DJ, backup singers and even horns. On top of that, the set design was also really well done as a cube that was projected upon created some 3D illusions while the entire backdrop displayed complementary visual elements.
The only gripes I had with the set was that Dre’s vocals were a bit too low during his solo set and they did not end up performing my two favorite Outkast tracks: “Da Art of Storytellin’ Pt. 2” and “Chonkyfire”. However, those two criticisms are a result of me digging extremely deep.
I have seen many live acts from all different genres in the last 5 years but I can safely say that Outkast’s performance at Governors Ball 2014 was easily the best one I have ever experienced. It is also safe to say that it will stay that way for a very long time.
Grade: 11 arts out of 5 farts.
- Janelle Monae is a helluva performer
- Damon Albarn, the mastermind behind the Gorillaz, performed at the same time as Outkast. Apparently, he brought out De La Soul and Vic Mensa during his set.
- Missed Damien Marley due to scheduling conflict.
- Missed Ratking due to scheduling conflict but I did see them in passing. They had a full band and looked like they had a lot of energy. I think I saw one of the rappers’ forehead bleeding.
- Missed Childish Gambino due to scheduling conflict but I was able to catch the last song of his set. It ended up being “Bonfire”, which was accompanied by huge fireballs and a really energetic Donald Glover.