Art of Cool Festival 2017: Day Two

Posted on 30 April 2017

The art of cool is only mastered through participation so the Runaway media team (Sammy Feldblum, Holland Gallagher, Justin Laidlaw, Ryan Cocca) jumped in head first for this year’s festivities.

With day one behind us, here's a look at what went down on Saturday.


Q: Was it good for you?

Justin: Having the day to fully immerse myself in festival gave me the chance to take it all in; the programming, the music, the talk in the streets. Durham was poppin’! This was the first weekend with decent weather since the turn of Spring and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Welcome to festival season, Durham!

Sammy: Weird but good. The tack of Art of Cool toward hip-hop was on full display yesterday, as the day talks went from “Who Sampled” to a panel talk about the past and present of hip-hop to a rooftop cypher, and the headliner of the night was Common, with Raleigh emcee Rapsody as an opener. Musically, I hit the retro portion of the programming at night, catching George Clinton before Common, so I’m not feeling like I kept my ear to the streets much. But the day was very sweaty and very lit, summertime vibes come early.

Holland: Yep. Beginning with some heated bars on the heated city plaza by local rap standouts Sean Kyd, the Deeep End, and P.A.T. Junior and ending with classic rap spinning at the Armory courtesy of legend Just Blaze, the day was full and satisfying.


Q: Favorite act from day 2?

Justin: I am speaking on behalf of everyone at Motorco when I say holy shit, NAO! She had the crowd in a frenzy 10 minutes before she ever stepped on stage. I had no idea who she was and was clearly in the minority. I am ignorant, no longer.

If you had asked me at the beginning of the festival how I felt about skipping out on George Clinton in favor of the end of R.LUM.R’s set and NAO, I would have had you committed. After yesterday, it sounds like the straight jacket belongs to anyone who didn’t make it to NAO blasting the roof off Motorco. Her band’s large booming synth grooves and her unique, high-pitched London accent felt like a combination of Santigold, AWOLNATION, and fellow AOC performer George Clinton all in one captivating showcase of brilliant songwriting and inspiring showwomanship. She noted that her performance came on the heels of bad food poisoning that kept her bedridden for the last two days. It was like the musical version of the Jordan flu game!

Sammy: Since I know that Ryan was juiced off the Wade Banner, I’ll take Common. He nailed all his marks, and the show was crisp, whether he was introing a song about Black Lives Mattering, revisiting old hits or wading into the crowd to bless the people. Plus, he pulled a woman on stage to have a faux date, complete with red wine for both of them, before rapping some woo-bars. But before I could get too far into deciding just what heights of clowntown he had ascended to, he freestyled to her for maybe five minutes, and had local bars aplenty: he flipped her hometown of Fayetteville into Fayetteville Street, put on for Eagle pride. Plus he just has a hell of a catalog. Dude is a pro.

On the other hand, having Common as a separate ticket is something of a bummer—if he’s headlining the festival, festival-goers should get to see him!

Holland: At the risk of being redundant, yeah, it was all about NAO for me. She gave the type of performance you might hope to get from [insert any international superstar pop singer] with a meticulous attention to excellence (extending to bringing her own sound people). NAO and her band were a unit, in sync on every drop, fluid in every transition. Everyone in the building will return to the memory for years to come.


Q: What stuck out from day 2?

Justin: My interest is always piqued to the conversation about Durham. I can’t help myself. In particular, hearing Jason from The Runaway Jukebox (yes, the name is mad confusing and misleading. No relation, but great podcast.) wax poetic about the southern hospitality he felt over the weekend (as someone coming from ATL) is encouraging. Even as Durham grows, the continuation of its arms wide open attitude speaks volumes when attracting talent and patreons for festivals.

Sammy: P-Funk was a lot less funky than you might’ve guessed. Portions of the show seemed like straight up noise rock, and had the feeling of Lil’ Jon on top of Metallica with every instrument turned to maximum. One dude did come out in a belt that said “NOSE” in bubble letters and crush out some contortionist dancing, but the energy was off-kilter for me. Some people were eating it up, though; there’s no accounting for taste, I guess.

Also notable: the cypher was dope. Host emcee J Rowdy lives up to the name, that dude is like Meek Mill on speed if he smiled more. And while most all of the other rappers looked like they were about fifteen, they had bars. Anderson Burrus, a local battle rapper, had a joke in every couplet: “A real bad dude // parked at McDonald’s but didn’t order any food!” Kids these days… smh.

On a more cynical note, 9th Wonder said at the panel, “Music is dying, bruh. It’s just dying.” It was part of a critique of money in music and how it distorts what comes out, but damn.

Holland: Interestingly, Wade Banner stuck out. Getting familiar with a voice over the radio and then seeing the person IRL is a fun phenomenon. By 12:30pm, though, I think the appeal wore off on a crowd expectant of an 11:30pm Just Blaze set.


Q: A hypothetical track made by artists that you saw yesterday.

Justin: Ace Henderson and Rapsody representing for the home team with soon-to-be-if-not-already international superstar NAO on the hook produced by Just Blaze. Ace and Rapsody’s bring distinguished but complementary rapping styles while NAO charges the central chorus with her booming melodies. It will be a unique challenge for Just Blaze to bring out the best in all three but NAO’s sound would crush on a Public Service Announcement-style anthem.

Sammy: George Clinton’s drummer, bald and shirtless and all the way turnt up, comes in hot with an every-drum-at-once style solo. Then, silence: Wade Banner’s dj tag echoes out, and J Rowdy hops on a lush, organ-based Just Blaze production and spits fire until you just sprint out of whatever room you’re in and bodycheck somebody, Knuck If You Buck style. I guess that means that you’re featured in this one.

By the time you come back to wherever you were listening, Reverend Barber is finishing a speech about peace and justice, and you submit yourself to humble warriorship for a better world.

Holland: Any NAO-related track would get instant play in my tapedeck.


Q: Day One or Day Two?

Justin: Considering I only saw one act all of Day One, this isn’t a fair fight. Day two wins by disqualification.

Sammy: Day two had Durham buzzing all day, everywhere Runaway went, and I’m with that. So I’m Team Day 2 on that count—plaza parties and a dude mixing beats outside the chicken and waffles truck and cyphers popping into being all through the city. Plus it was perfect barbeque weather, and I’ll take a Saturday over a Friday any day.

Still, I think messing with some younger acts on Day One was a good look. I’m writing some notes to self on that one.

Holland: I spent primetime on both days at Motorco and both shows were dope. Saturday slated an abundance of local talent, which I tend to favor, thanks in part to the involvement of Beats n Bars. But I hear Friday had Zoocru backing Rakim. But Saturday had Just Blaze bringing out 9th Wonder. But J. Cole came out to watch Goldlink on Friday.

Flipping a coin.

Coin rolled under my desk.



Q: What questions do you have leaving this weekend?

Justin: After two years of pseudo-jazz playing a major role in the festival’s offering, what does it say about the evolution of the genre? With the L.A. invasion last year and hip-hop front and center with Rakim and Common, how much does this open up the possibilities for artists in the future? Stones Throw is a label with a roster deep in millennial-friendly jazz/hip-hop artists to carry both fanbases. I don’t want to spoil the next response so I’ll leave it at that. See y’all next year!

Sammy: Well, for starters, as Combat Jack asked in a day talk: who would win in a battle, Kendrick or Drake? I mean Kung Fu Kenny is on top of the world, but Drake really can move a crowd…

More generally, to sell tickets, does a jazzfest inevitably have to kowtow to hip-hop? Was this always coming? Thinking of hip-hop in relation to jazz, how long does hip-hop maintain its perch as America’s preeminent musical force? And, as always, who comes next year?

I’m looking at you, Madlib…

Holland: How much would it cost to get NAO back next year?


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