The Northside Festival in Williamsburg is many things to many people – technology event, film festival, art expo – and, of course, a showcase of over 500 bands. On the final night of June 14th, the week-long event culminated into an epic show with Vince Staples, Sleigh Bells and Run the Jewels all sharing the same stage with a legendary surprise guest- Nas.
The event took place in a giant parking lot that turned-venue for food trucks, beer, and Lemon-Ade-Rita’s. The stage was at a far end, overlooking the East River and, in the distance, the skyline. The crowd was a distinct mix of Northside attendees, rap fans and hipsters who probably got in for free. The festival attendees making the most of their passes were chilling out in the back, while the fans commited to seeing Killer Mike and El-P gravitated toward the front, smoking blunts in the packed area near the stage.
Vince Staples was in the opening slot, but his stage presence and the crowd reaction make it clear he has star potential. He started with tracks from his latest “Hell Can Wait” mixtape – “Seniorita” and “Hands Up” both got people into the straight-up hip-hop vibe. Then he debuted two new songs off his upcoming album from Def Jam (out on June 30th, as Vince was sure to remind us). These tracks featured heavy trap production under Vince’s nimble lyricism, and even if no one knew the words yet, the appeal of these tracks were clear
For some of his more popular songs, “Blue Suede”, Vince went down into the crowd, rapping every word while next to the front row, giving daps as he rhymed. For his entire set, the energy was up, and Vince’s on-stage banter added to the showmanship.
After a brief lull to give the stage crew time to set up the multiple guitars, it was time for Sleigh Bells to take the stage. The two guitarists rushed the stage as smoke shot up from both sides, shredding out an intro for the lead singer, Alexis. She came on stage in a dope cropped jacket that she quickly removed and swung over her head dramatically. The rest of the show was spent in a pink tie-dye crop top and ripped jean shorts – an outfit that wouldn’t be out of place in the Brooklyn crowd.
Sleigh Bells started with “Crown on the Ground” from their debut ep Treats and then took the pace up and down with a combination of slower jam and rocking power-chord anthems. Alexis’s vocal was especially showcased on the quieter tracks during the pure rock-star energy on earlier hits such as “Demons” came through loud and clear.
Many of the hip hop fans near the stage seemed unsure how to deal with this raw female power, but they eventually got into it, moshing and rocking out. All of the girls near the front seemed to be more than down to hear Sleigh Bells bring their pop metal sound to life.
Just after Sleigh Bells ended, rain started to trickle down in tiny droplets. This only served to elevate the crowd into madness when Killer Mike and El-P finally took the stage, both in all black. Mike has his arm in a sling since a fan altercation left him with a torn rotator cuff. But even one handed, Killer Mike tore it down.
The two were experts on stage, seamlessly integrating their banter into track segues. El-P said at one point “I know it’s raining… but we are still going to have a blockbuster night!” before launching into their track of the same name.
Both of the rappers kept it 100, flawless rapping every word with no assistance from backing tracks. The audience was totally onboard, and many fans in the front were rapping every word. At one point, someone crowd surfed momentarily, which added to the lyrical chaos.
While Run the Jewels killed their set, the biggest highlight was when the “Make You Look” beat dropped and El-P ad-libbed “Where Nas at?” as a hooded figure in black stepped onto the stage. God’s Son was in the building, and he rapped the full song as everyone went insane.
At the end, Nas himself gave props to Run the Jewels, saying they were “two of the realest” and after seeing their performance, no one could disagree. The crowd reaction, and the diverse yet complimentary line-up of the show bodes well for the collaborative and artist driven brand of hip hop Run the Jewels is selling. No doubt some festival attendees got a lot more realness that they bargained for and that alone was a Christmas fucking miracle.