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Highlights From Essence Music Festival

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Josh Brasted/FilmMagicThe Essence Music Festival 2015 took over New Orleans’ Superdome last weekend for the 21st year. With their theme of “Through love we build! Through love we learn! Through love we share!, the festival encouraged music lovers to #BringtheLove, while Essence brought the music.

Gospel singer Lecrae and R&B crooner Trey Songz helped kick things off Thursday night before a sold-out crowd. Trey, who gushed onstage and backstage about his love for black women, performed his hits including “Invented Sex,” “Can’t Be Friends,” “Na Na,” and his latest, “Slow Motion.”

Backstage, Trey said one of the main reasons he attends Essence Music Festival is because the magazine empowers black women. “I love black women to death from their hair, to the way they smell, to their eyes,” Trey said. “What’s amazing about that is having been to Africa now, South Africa…it’s a beautiful thing to see just the differences in us all — from…the texture of our hair, to the color of our skin. There’s so many different beautiful things about black women, I don’t think I could think about it all right here, right now.”

Friday night was for those who love old school. Kem was up first, performing a variety of his hits, including “Love Calls.” He was followed up by India.Arie, who performed “I Am Not My Hair,” “Video,” “Brown Skin” and “Ready for Love.” India, who wore a butterfly head wrap and pink dress, which she said her mother designed, inspired the crowd by quoting former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, saying “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.” She also debuted new music, a song called “He’s Got the Magic.”

Other performers Friday night included Charlie Wilson along with Maze featuring Frankie Beverly on the main stage, with Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh, Kelly Price, and Avery*Sunshine, performing in the Superlounges. 

Saturday night continued with two ex-lovers sharing the stage, though not at the same time. Common and Erykah Badu headlined the evening, each performing a 60-minute set to a growing crowd.

Still, the night belonged to Missy Elliott, who reportedly rehearsed for three months for her Essence Music Festival performance. “It’s been over 20 years that I’ve been in this music industry,” she said before delivering a high-energy performance of her greatest 90s jams, including “The Rain,” “Work It,” “Get Ur Freak On” and “Pass That Dutch.” It seemed Missy could hardly stay on stage, hopping down several times to get closer to the audiences as she told the appreciative fans, “We’re gonna show New Orleans how we really get down.” 

Unfortunately, Missy didn’t get the chance to do much more: after she brought out Sharaya J. and even Jazmine Sullivan, the lights and sound were cut, just as she was preparing to introduce longtime collaborator, Monica. The two stood in the dark for several seconds before realizing the lights and mics weren’t coming back on. After Usher — who came on after Missy — finished his set, Essence Communications president Michelle Eubanks brought Missy back out to properly say goodnight to the crowd. Although Eubanks blamed the abrupt end of Missy’s set on a “production issue,” Missy felt otherwise.  “I’m sorry I was cut off. I came here to give 100 percent. I was cut off,” she said. “I was disappointed. I thank you for coming out.”

Back to Usher, who decided the Fourth of July was the time to make a statement onstage. The R&B singer wore a black leather jacket with the words “Have we really achieved our independence” written on the back in white lettering.  The jacket later came off to reveal another message on his T-shirt: the words “Fourth of July” were crossed out, and below them was written “Juneteenth.” Celebrated June 19th, Juneteenth marks the day Texas became the final U.S. state to abolish slavery, in June of 1865, nearly three years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.

Usher also delivered on a good set. The Atlanta-bred singer performed songs including “OMG,” “Climax,” “Here I Stand, “Nice & Slow,” “Love in the Club,” “Yeah!,” and “Matrimony,” bringing out rapper Wale for the latter.

The Essence Music Festival ended Sunday night with performances by Floetry, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Mary J. Blige, and Kendrick Lamar. The night truly belonged to Mary J. and King Kendrick. Clad in a red jumpsuit, Mary performed hits including “I’m Goin’ Down,” “Not Gon’ Cry,” “Real Love” and “Just Fine,” then brought out Method Man to perform their 1994 duet, “All I Need,” which was the highlight of her set.

Meth stayed in the audience to watch Kendrick deliver thought-provoking visuals and a high-energy performance.  After telling the crowd he came all the way from Compton, California “to see my people,” Kendrick performed hits including “Poetic Justice,” “I,” and “Swimming Pools.” The most touching moment, however, is when Kendrick spoke to a young boy at the edge of the stage, who was enjoying the concert with his father. After telling the boy to make sure he listens to his father, Kendrick dedicated “Alright” to him. He then performed a freestyle, perfectly ending the festival for a satisfied crowd.

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