Vince Staples’s star is rising fast. From his days in the Odd Future nebula to his releases for Def Jam Records, the Long Beach, California, native has watched his profile grow exponentially, earning critical acclaim and fan love for his lyricism and music without producing any obvious radio singles. With a new record titled Prima Donna to promote, he has been active on the festival circuit, with sets at FYF Fest in Los Angeles, Roskilde in Denmark, and Primavera Sound in Spain, among others. By the time he makes it to City Plaza on Saturday, Staples will no doubt have it down to a science, maybe even an art.
Since its beginning, Hopscotch has included hip-hop in its genre jumbleat least to some extent. There’s generally a concern about novelty when festivals throw a few rap acts into the overwhelmingly white mix, but in recent years, Hopscotch organizers made informed curatorial decisions to secure marquee artists like Earl Sweatshirt and Pusha T alongside independents like Father, Open Mike Eagle, and Cakes Da Killa. While Murphy’s law struck Hopscotch’s rap picks a few times in previous years with unexpected cancelations by Big Boi and Action Bronson, it hasn’t deterred artists from subsequent participation.
But regrettably, when it comes to programming, Hopscotch still proves somewhat vexing to the hip-hop fans it seeks to draw. With significant sociopolitical movements like Black Lives Matter proving a necessary presence at the fore of such events in this toxic election year, the festival has chosen artisanal coffeehouse electropop act Sylvan Esso to headline over the likes of Staples. Putting aside any unproductive debates about which act draws more, nothing changes the fact that the latter is apparently the only rapper performing at any Hopscotch venue on Saturday night, a rather notable lapse. Those who wish to hear more rap music after Staples will need to kill time for about four and a half hours in the hope that the 12:30 a.m. set by electronic DJ/producer Mr. Carmack at CAM Raleigh will lean heavily on the hip-hop side.
With an entire day of a multi-venue event limited to a single rap artist, one has to wonder about which audience Hopscotch’s selections actually target. The casual rap listener can time Friday night right so as to catch Young Thug’s set at Memorial Auditorium. Yet for someone more fully vested in the genre, that means sacrificing an opportunity to hear the hugely talented Hellfyre Club alumnus Milo, whose set at Kings starts at the same time as that of the Atlanta star, as well as the surrounding ones by Ratking’s Wiki and Raleigh crew Kooley High. Complicating matters further, Big Freedia headlines the Lincoln Theatre the same night, capping a stacked bill that features Queens rapper Dai Burger and footwork don DJ Spinn. Scheduling matters, and nothing makes that concern clearer than when rap shows are competing with one another on one day and woefully scarce the next.
To its credit, Hopscotch found an ideal balance with Thursday’s hip-hop events. At Deep South, Charlotte’s Well$ tops an exciting bill of independent artists, including New Jersey spitter Angelo Mota, Raleigh’s Ace Henderson, and Nance. Over at CAM, Junglepussy brings New York fire to an eclectic lineup of R&B bass experimentalists Kelela and Kingdom. Swizzymack’s late-night set at Neptunes will certainly fuel a turn-up, too.
What’s especially maddening about Hopscotch’s hip-hop inconsistency this year is how scarcely it reflects the current abundance of the genre’s contemporary talent as well as trends coming from the American South. From Drake to Desiigner, so much of the modern rap aesthetic still depends on cities far from Toronto and Brooklyn. Geographically, Young Thug represents Atlanta, but his sound inspires fresh-faced talent in Philadelphia, Chicago, and other key rap centers. Locals Jodi and Kooley High will no doubt represent their home turf well; most of the rappers at Hopscotch come from cities above the Mason-Dixon line. By contrast, you’ll find dozens of guitar-based acts from in and around the Triangle in this year’s lineup as you jump between venues and day parties.
Apart from an admirable commitment to showcasing local and regional artists alongside national and global ones, the festival’s biggest strength remains its diversity. Indeed, for many who attend this year, none of the aforementioned grievances will matter. For a music lover with a broad palate and appetite for live performance, Hopscotch’s annual lineup announcement regularly inspires upwardly turned thumbs and other such signs of approval. No other fest promises attendees so many permutations to choose from.
Yet this very approach, which has made Hopscotch so appealing over the years, now threatens to bring it more in line with generalist festivals across the country. Rap music is one of America’s few truly homegrown musical traditions, and it has evolved to its current status as the voice of the nation’s youthand, in a way, that of the country itself in the wider world. While Raleigh’s most important annual music event has done solid work to include hip-hop, it still can do better.
This article appeared in print with the headline “Everywhere All at Once”