On the first weekend in November, fans of music, fashion, and hip-hop culture descended on Long Beach, CA, for the first ComplexCon, a 48-hour blitz of art and commerce. For hours before the doors opened Saturday morning, eager attendees lined up outside the Long Beach Convention Center, jockeying for positions that might afford them a better shot at exclusive shoe drops or selfies with the likes of Lil B and Cam’ron. For that time―and throughout the weekend, whenever fans passed through the Convention Center’s entrance―they were greeted by the sounds of Beats 1, Apple Music’s global radio station, which was broadcasting live and in person with special guests and unprecedented programming.
Each day began with a joint show by Ebro Darden and Zane Lowe, two of the three anchor DJs on Beats 1 (the third is Julie Adenuga). Darden is a brash, California-bred hip-hop head, who eventually moved to New York City and became one of its scene’s most recognizable voices. Also a host on Hot 97, he keeps tabs on the rap that flows into and out of the genre’s birthplace, and has built a reputation for himself as a commentator on the culture at large.
Lowe, a New Zealander by birth, spent much of the 2000s establishing himself as one of the United Kingdom’s most beloved airway presences on BBC Radio 1, known for his eclectic taste. To that end: On Saturday, Zane wore a bomber jacket emblazoned with the logo British indie label XL Recordings, while on Sunday he opted for one that repped Def Jam, the seminal hip-hop empire from New York.
Those dueling approaches to music broadcasting made for a compelling contrast throughout ComplexCon. Discovery and careful creation often bumped up against one another. Songs by the likes of The Weeknd or Drake―a Beats 1 contributor himself―flowed seamlessly into work by lesser-known artists like the St. Louis upstart Smino. When, on Saturday, Ebro and Zane played Kanye West’s “Fade,” they included a mini history lesson. The Post Malone- and Ty Dolla $ign-assisted song from The Life of Pablo was preceded by “Mystery of Love,” the Mr. Fingers song that was flipped to create main structural components of “Fade.” The DJs even broke into an impromptu impression of Hardrive’s “Deep Inside,” which shows up as a vocal sample halfway through West’s track.
While Zane and Ebro kicked off each day and proceeded to entertain the crowd off-air, the Beats 1 experience never let up. On Saturday Samantha Ronson delivered a 2-hour set and had Vince Staples stop by for a guest appearance. On Sunday, Xzibit came through to host The Pharmacy, the Dr. Dre-founded show that has become one of Apple Music’s signature radio programs. He came prepared, letting loose with some stories about Ice Cube’s earliest days as a solo artist. The day also featured appearances by J-Rocc and Battlecat, two of California’s most storied DJs―the latter a Long Beach native, for good measure.
But when you think of the LBC, one name springs to mind: Snoop Dogg. In addition to his headlining set Sunday night, the legendary rapper sat down for a hilarious, inspiring, and even touching episode of OTHERtone, the Beats 1 show that Pharrell hosts with Scott Vener. OTHERtone was taped in front of a live audience in one of the Convention Center’s conference rooms―a conference room that was filled to the standing-room-only gills a full 45 minutes before taping was scheduled to begin.
The conversation often circled back to Snoop and Pharrell’s working relationship and shared experiences, like the video shoot in Brazil for the smash hit “Beautiful,” or the time Pharrell got too overwhelmed to produce Stevie Wonder, leaving Snoop to stumble his way through the session on his own. Pharrell recalled getting the Murder Was the Case soundtrack and marveling at the Snoop-led “What Would U Do?”; Snoop recounted the time Pharrell made him re-write his verses on “Drop It Like It’s Hot” to make sure he outshined the producer. (A few couple more things on the topic of “Beautiful”: When the pair of artists remembered an A&R picking that record as the single, they broke into a simultaneous impression of his voicemail, like old friends stretching a years-long running joke. And, as it turns out, the funk-flavored Brazilian music Pharrell soaked in during the “Beautiful” video shoot inspired him to write “Milkshake” for Kelis.)
Perhaps more than anything, the OTHERtone taping highlighted Snoop and Pharrell’s simple, unshakable passion for music as an artform. Despite being two of the most visible―and busiest―people in the entertainment industry, they spoke lucidly about minute parts of recording sessions over a decade old. Toward the end of the episode, the show was opened up to take questions from the audience. A young man asked Pharrell, a Virginia native, about music from the Washington, D.C. scene. Before he had a chance to answer, Snoop cut Pharrell off and expounded on his love for go-go, the hyper-regionalized sound that’s long been a staple in the nation’s capital. It was a potent reminder that when the music world’s best and brightest spend a weekend together focused on what they love, unforgettable things can happen.