After an exceptional Day One, it would be understandable for the festival not to live up to expectations. However, on the second day, despite not having festival organizer Tyler, The Creator on the billing for this day, superstars like Kids See Ghosts (Kanye West and Kid Cudi), Post Malone and BROCKHAMPTON turned this into a must-see day. That is to say nothing of the excellent undercard, which featured Earl Sweatshirt, who had recently dropped a new song “nowhere2go” and seems to be ramping up to kick off a new album. All of which is to say that there seemed to be no signs of slowing as the day started, and once the day started, it became apparent that there truly was no slowing down for this absolutely excellent festival.
Flatbush Zombies was the first act we caught for the day, which established a tone of aggression, intensity and pure fun. From the get-go, the set was extremely hype, and the group commanded a huge crowd as the fest was far fuller than it was at the same time yesterday. Meechy Darko’s intense scream raps got the crowd on their feet and jumping, starting multiple mosh pits around the stage. Fully aware of the situation they were in, Flatbush moved quickly from song to song, keeping the energy high and engaging in call and response with the crowd numerous times. Their set was largely comprised of newer hits like “Headstone,” but they pleased the crowd with a new song “New World Order” which got excellent crowd engagement. They managed to embody a classic, pure hip-hop energy with their set, and it wasn’t rare to see a member snap off and deliver a flawless acapella verse, spitting as if their lives depended upon it. When they closed out they threw back to their mixtape days with “Palm Trees,” finishing up a performance that was going to prove hard to top.
Moving to Jorja Smith was quite the transition but clearly, most of the crowd didn’t mind. She didn’t seem to command quite as large of a crowd as Flatbush did but they were enraptured nonetheless. She filled the role that The Internet did the night before by providing some much needed live instrumentation to a relatively DJ filled night. She mostly stuck to her latest album, which makes sense considering much of her music is new to begin with. One may have found it strange that there was such a juxtaposition between her, Flatbush Zombies and Jaden Smith, but affording the less hyped members of the crowd a moment of respite made for an excellent decision in pacing.
Across the venue, another J. Smith was taking the stage to a rather different crowd. As strange as it may seem given his famous parents, Jaden Smith is one of the most interesting breakout artists of the year. At first, many people presumed that Jaden Smith would be as much of a joke of an artist as his Twitter is, however his release of ICON quickly silenced any of those thoughts. Given the general success of the somewhat inconsistent album, he mostly stuck to those songs, catering to a much younger crowd than Jorja was over on the camp stage. The youth of the crowd would turn out to be a huge asset for Smith as he launched through ICON with great fervor, providing the crowd with an excellent night. At one point he mentioned an album coming on November 17th and then launched into a scream filled performance of “Icon” to close out the set before thanking Tyler for being his boyfriend. Those that did go to see Jaden could be heard walking around the venue saying that his set was a huge highlight for them.
Again in strong juxtaposition to the youthful and energetic performance of Jaden Smith, was Lauryn Hill who brought an old soul’s energy to the show with a performance of her classic album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Hill brought out a DJ before coming onstage who kicked off with classic songs, including Kendrick’s “Backseat Freestyle” and Biz Markie’s “Friend.” Despite her initially scheduled arrival time of 6:45 p.m., Lauryn herself didn’t appear on stage until 7:10. However, once she took the stage the delay hardly seemed to matter as she possessed the energy of far younger performers, and the backing of a live band helped balance out any shortcomings, though one may have needed a microscope to find any. One may occasionally be inclined to deride the current iteration of Hill as a legacy artist. But who wouldn’t be after releasing that level of an album, in fact, it’s more admirable that she stands by her masterpiece unwilling to sully her discography. And if it leads to shows like this then by all means, more power to her.
Across the way, Earl Sweatshirt, who recently surprised the world by releasing a new single and a feature verse on the excellent FM! by Vince Staples, showed up to a warm and ready crowd. Early on he played “nowhere2go,” his recently released single, and bolstered it with hits like “Hive” and “Wool.” Much of the set was hugely bassy and vibey, allowing the exhausted crowd to take things at their own pace. Earl frequently remarked on how great the crowd was and imparted some simple advice onto them, saying “drink water” because he wanted everyone to stay safe. To close out his set he brought out Rico Nasty, who performed one of her more energetic songs, waking up those in the crowd who had taken the time to get lost in the vibe of the set. Earl put together an excellent set but best of all was seeing him look genuinely happy and healthy. For an artist that is so deeply bound to his struggles with depression, it was genuinely touching to see him look so happy and perform so well, and while it may have gone unmentioned it was easy to tell that the hype for an inevitable Earl album was building.
While unable to catch most of it due to the rapidly approaching BROCKHAMPTON set, Post Malone was putting on a performance at the main Camp Stage. Those in the front seemed to be having a great time but in the back, particularly during “Psycho” and “I Fall Apart,” his set suffered from poor mixing and a delay between the stage and tower speakers which caused the set to become unlistenable and detract from his excellent voice.
BROCKHAMPTON, on the other hand, suffered no such technical issues. The crowd that gathered to see them was electric and was likely the biggest crowd to gather at the Flog Stage, outpacing even Pusha T’s congregation. Before taking the stage, Queen’s “We are the Champions” blasted through the loudspeakers, hyping up the crowd to unbelievable levels. Unfortunately, after they played “NEW ORLEANS” and “GUMMY,” the crowd crush at the front was so intense that they ended up canceling the remainder of the set per the fire marshal, essentially blowing up a set that was competing for set of the night.
In the end, though, the cancellation would matter little because the de facto set of the weekend was beginning uncontested on the Camp Stage. Kanye West and Kid Cudi (officially KIDS SEE GHOSTS) were lowered down in a transparent Plexiglas box with LED lining and floated above the stage for the duration of the show, allowing more audience members to see them silhouetted against the phenomenal visuals. The show kicked off with a performance of Kanye West’s “Father Stretch My Hands Pt.1” to get the crowd excited before they played the entirety of KIDS SEE GHOSTS.
Some of the highlights were the massive pyrotechnics that exploded behind the duo, making for a memorable visual moment. “4th Dimension” also gathered a huge amount of crowd participation, but the back half of the album, beginning with “FREEEE (GHOST TOWN PT.2)” was where the visuals really kicked in. The visuals for “FREEEE” featured pulsating bright colors that turned into the album cover when the set led into “REBORN.” “CUDI MONTAGE” and “KIDS SEE GHOSTS” received excellent crowd engagement and featured the visuals of the ghost and the ghost boy by Takeshi Murakami onscreen. After finishing the songs as a duo they moved into “Welcome to Heartbreak” and “Paranoid” both of which featured flashing LED’s within the box and received impassioned cheers from the crowd. Closing out the set was an excellent performance of “Pursuit of Happiness” and “Ghost Town” the latter of which was essentially a religious experience for everyone in the crowd, leaving everyone with one of the most memorable sets of a lifetime.
As previously mentioned, many were taking to calling this the festival of the year before it even started. After attending, it’s hard to imagine that any other festival surpassed it. Sure, a number of festivals are bigger and have even more popular artists, but nothing was quite put together like this was. Even the simplest of logistical elements worked, and those that weren’t interested in a particular act were more than welcome to enjoy free carnival rides until someone they enjoyed came onstage. This was an absolute testament to putting together the right lineup as opposed to just assembling a smattering of popular artists from Spotify’s viral 50 and setting them loose. There’s simply nothing else to say; everyone who can should go to Camp Flog Gnaw as it’s by far the most exciting festival of the year.
Photo Credit: Marv Watson