I was there for the rap. From what I estimated when I was making my way to Mardi Gras World on the banks of the Mississippi, this wasn't going to be a rap crowd. There were hella white girls in thong onesies, fishnets, and leotards rolling on Molly, doing that skipping dance they do as electronic music boomed in the distance. I had never been to New Orleans or its Buku Music + Art Project in my life, so I didn’t know what to expect. I know in the past they’ve had hip-hop acts sprinkled into a mostly EDM-centric lineup but, having never been to an EDM festival either, this was all new for me.
Unfortunately for me, a number of the scheduled rap acts skipped out on their performances, including Ski Mask the Slump God, Lil Uzi Vert, and Famous Dex. Migos salted the wound by starting their set late on Friday night, giving the crowd only about 30 minutes of their time. You know who didn’t cancel? Jay Electronica. Yes, the man, the myth, and dare I say, the legend. His set was intimate, like his music. If you’ve ever seen him live, you know that he has the ability to hold the crowd in the palm of his hands. To be somewhat of a cult figure without ever releasing an album is an incredible, strange feat. The crowd knew every word to every song he performed.
Jay even let three fans get on stage to spit bars a cappella. He also went into the crowd on various occasions because he felt “too far from the people.” I just wish I watched him in a random New Orleans hood spot for a more official feel in the city that birthed him. Instead, I watched from a balcony in the ballroom next to a couple cops who were in turn watching the crowd. Seeing their faces as he talked to the crowd about how the levees breaking during Hurricane Katrina was a government conspiracy was the highlight of my weekend.
Smino was another artist I was excited to see. His music is often slow-paced, the type of shit you smoke and ride to, so I was curious to see how he come across live. Man, it was a vibe. As soon as he hit the Ballroom stage, weed smoke filled the air and his music put the crowd into a trance. I’m definitely waiting on the follow-up to the incredible (and incredibly underrated) blkswn. If there were any doubts lingering about the energy of his music, he was amazing live. Go see him if you ever get the chance.
The two hip-hop women in charge were SZA and Noname. Both put on great sets, but SZA rolled her ankle and had to cut her set short. I had never seen either of them live before and came away mad at myself for not checking them earlier. Even as both of them complained about not feeling well—SZA her voice, Noname a hangover—they soldiered on for an enthusiastic audience.
The best performance I witnessed was that of local collective Pink Room Project. Their shit sounds like if Kanye’s “Fade,” New Orleans bounce, Cash Money, and Kirk Franklin had a baby. There was a dude hyping the crowd in a choir robe while lead rapper Brandon Ares performed on a small stage surrounded by the fencing you find in front of your house in the hood. Buku Fest was weird, man, and I honestly didn’t know what the fuck I was hearing and watching. Check out the Pink Room's Brandon Ares' GOOD LOVE 2017:DYKE tape, it just dropped three months ago and will give you a taste of a new sound coming out of the 504. I'd consider Buku Fest a success simply because it put me onto them.