In May, when it was announced that Raphael Saadiq and Little Brother were headlining City Plaza on Saturday night at the tenth-annual Hopscotch Music Festival, I frantically opened Instagram and posted the following comment to the official Hopscotch account: “Will there be single day tickets like last year *whining emoji*”. When the ticket options were revealed, not only were there single-day passes available, I could also purchase a ticket for the specific show I had my eye on! What more could a girl who equally loves hip-hop and ’90s R&B ask for?

I sent a screenshot of the ticket overview to one of Little Brother’s biggest fans, my older brother. After confirming that my guest room was in fact available for him, I then messaged my boyfriend, sharing that we would be celebrating his birthday at the Little Brother and Raphael Saadiq show. As a fan of both, he was hyped! We were all hyped!

In hindsight, as I write this four hours after the show, even with all of my quick-paced planning and excitement (I still play old Tony! Toni! Toné! hits weekly, if not every other day), there was no way I could have predicted what the experience would be like.

Cutting straight to the point, the Raphael Saadiq and Little Brother show was THE BEST concert experience ever! And this is coming from an avid concert-and-festival-goer (in 2017, I assisted with programming Durham’s Beats and Bars Festival, which is coming up again on September 14, and I have worked on smaller sized music-focused events).  

With thirty years of performing, producing, contributing to classic and contemporary hits, and, most recently, composing music for HBO’s hit series Insecure, Raphael Saadiq is no doubt a legend. His set had the perfect, humble yet braggadocious flex, as the Grammy-winning artist sung a medley of hits he wrote and/or produced for others—Total’s “Kissin’ You;” two of D’Angelo’s biggest hits, “Lady” and “Untitled (How Does it Feel);” Erykah Badu’s “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip Hop),” and Solange’s “Cranes in the Sky.” With Saadiq’s choral guidance, the crowd sung the latter in unison, even hitting all of the high notes. It was beautiful to watch the audience erupt in surprise or excitement with each transition—if they weren’t aware, they knew now!

Saadiq boastfully paced across the stage, yelling, “That’s MY shit! That’s MY shit!” and hyping the crowd up even more, including me. In response, I yelled at the stage, “You better SHOW OFF!” He blessed the crowd with new material from his fifth solo album, Jimmy Lee, and then transported us back to the ’90s performing, “Feels Good” and one of my many favorites, “Ask of You.” Although I was heartbroken that there was no “Anniversary” or “Whatever You Want” (I was hoping for a repeat of the collab he and Phonte did at the Roots Picnic earlier this year), the nostalgic vibes Saadiq created far exceeded my expectations and left me on a permanent ’90s R&B high.

And then there was North Carolina’s own Little Brother. Instead of performing songs from their highly anticipated comeback album in chronological order, hip-hop veterans Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh (with DJ Flash) constructed the perfect festival set list. In true Little Brother fashion, there were comedic moments throughout the set, with Phonte’s playful personality offering preacher-like sermons, matching the theme of spirituality that shows up in a non-overbearing way on May The Lord Watch. Phonte’s half-serious, half-lighthearted messages touched on gentrification, inclusiveness, love, and, most important, forgiveness. “If you learn anything from our journey and how we came through, you know that anything is possible—’cause we had a lot of shit to work through,” Phonte said, placing emphasis on a lot, followed by a proper “Let the church say amen.” 

A moment that, just a year ago, seemed impossible was in fact happening, and it was perfect! The duo’s interaction with the audience created a more intimate feel despite being outdoors. The chemistry between Rapper Big Pooh and Phonte is unmatched. The two complemented each other in a way that let them both shine, so that Little Brother, not just Phone or just Pooh, was the star. Fans soaked up every moment, committed to matching Phonte and Pooh’s high energy, whether they were rapping a new song from May the Lord Watch word-for-word or rapping in unison to classic hits like “The Becoming,” “Speed,” “Relax Yourself,” “Good Clothes,” “Dreams,” or “Lovin’ It.” When it was time for Joe Scudda to surprise the crowd, Hopscotch showed him an endless amount of love.

Before closing, Phonte gifted us with one more sermon—a sermon on “Grown-man rap time”. According to Phonte, “Coming to a rap show at twenty is different than coming to a rap show at forty.” The difference is quite simple. Instead of the show starting at midnight, we (the thirty-and-up crowd) come to the show while it’s still light out, they spit their raps, and then we all “take our asses home.” The audience laughed in agreement, but once they realized the show was over, they began chanting “LB, LB, LB,” and were rewarded with a bonus performance of “Life of the Party.”

By the end of their set, it became clear that for hip-hop fans, Phonte and Rapper Big Pooh were the life of Hopscotch. With a successful reunion and a well-received album after a nine-year hiatus, a visible weight appeared to have been lifted off of their shoulders, like they enjoyed performing together as much as we enjoyed seeing them together, and the moment was right on time.

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