Oakland is the heart of the Bay Area. I might be biased as a kid who spent pretty much most of every summer and nearly every weekend at my grandma Jennie’s house on E. 24th Street until I was at least 11 years old. So when Goldenvoice SF announced a hip-hop and R&B festival was headed there this year in the form of the inaugural Blurry Vision 2018, my interest was immediately piqued.
It’s also interesting because Oakland has changed a lot since my days there. You have to look no further than the viral video from last weekend of a white woman calling the police on a black family in Lake Merritt minding their own business having a BBQ. That lady quickly learned you don’t fuck with Oakland, they don’t take too kindly to that gentrification bullshit. The same Saturday that Blurry Vision 2018 kicked off, black Oakland was celebrating 510 Day (Oakland’s area code) with a massive cookout in that very same spot that white lady tried calling the police.
The festival took place at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, a place I can’t recall ever going before. It’s a nice park that’s pretty remote, so much so that they shuttled festival attendees in from the West Oakland BART stop to the festival grounds. It was so cold that they sold out of official sweatshirts at 3 PM on the first day.
It was a first-year festival, so it wasn’t without its pitfalls. The bathroom situation was kind of a joke with not enough Port-a-Potties (even though the attendance was pretty slim). There was only one stage and it had some sound difficulties, probably due to the heavy wind that came across the harbor hitting the stage.
But Oakland did what Oakland does — they weathered it and had a ball as headliners SZA and the Migos closed each night out. It was nice seeing a much more diverse crowd than at most festivals, which data shows tends to be overwhelmingly white. At Blurry Vision 2018, there were a lot of brown folks celebrating their city and we had fun taking part as well. Check out what we found to be the Best and Worst of Blurry Vision 2018 below.
BEST: BROCKHAMPTON makes statement Saturday
BROCKHAMPTON is for the youth, and that was no clearer than Saturday night. I got the sense that the festival got its name Blurry Vision because of all the teenagers blowing smoke from their Juuls directly into my eyes — that or the wind blowing up dust nonstop. But I didn’t complain while watching this rising hip-hop collective bring the kind of energy I’ve rarely seen before in live hip-hop. They are just so different than anything I’ve ever seen, wearing bulletproof vests with the various slurs they’ve been called emblazoned across the front of them.
If this is what the youth is into these days, then maybe there’s hope for us yet. Stay tuned, as Pass The Aux had new contributor Zach Friedman at the festival on Saturday to watch the group perform — he’ll give you insight into why these guys are so popular with him and his peers later on this week.
BEST: Anderson .Paak’s swag on full display during rare NxWorries set
The main draw for me to Blurry Vision 2018 outside of the Oakland connection was one of only a handful of performances from Anderson .Paak’s side project with Knxwledge called NxWorries. Aside from a show a few days earlier at the Observatory in Santa Ana and an appearance at Smokin Grooves Fest next month, they aren’t playing many shows this way. It’s a shame because their 2016 album Yes Lawd! was one of my favorites of the year. Paak showcased more of his R&B singing abilities than his regular live show does.
The Miami Vice vibes to “Scared Money” and the swaggy as fuck “Suede” (which is coincidentally the song that first brought Paak to my attention prior to him dropping his critically-acclaimed album Malibu in January 2016) were easily the highlights.
During his set, he talked about how he used to work at a Ralph’s grocery chain and hated it. He’s come a long fucking ways from those days. Mark my words — Paak will be headlining festivals on his next album cycle.
WORST: Not enough Bay Area flavor
The Bay Area has a pretty rich hip-hop history, and Blurry Vision didn’t do enough to celebrate that. Aside from Kamaiyah, none of the names in the top half of each day’s lineup called the place home. As I’m typing this, E-40 is sitting courtside at the Warriors game against the Rockets. Goldenvoice couldn’t book him with Too $hort the way they are for their Long Beach festival happening in July? Even if you want to discount the legends because the festival favored newer flavors, there’s still a lot of rising hip-hop and R&B talent calling the Yay Area their home base. IAMSU!, SOB x RBE, OMB Peezy, and Saweetie are just a handful of names off the top of my head that represent some of the best of what the Bay has to offer.
BEST: This family getting down on Mother’s Day during Kamaiyah’s raunchy set
I was taking in Kamaiyah’s set from pretty close up and a few songs in, I noticed a baby on the shoulders. This was right when the Bay Area rapper’s dancers were doing their booty dances and this baby looked like she was having a blast. I took a picture and tweeted it, and Kamaiyah saw it after the set and found it pretty funny:
😭😭😭 wtf https://t.co/zQBlQgCRLa
— ill yaya (@kamaiyah) May 14, 2018
The parents also had two young daughters in tow and I talked to them briefly and had my photographer snap their photo. Turns out they came out to the festival from San Leandro once they saw it on Groupon. What better way to celebrate Mother’s Day than with the Migos and Kamaiyah?
WORST: Scheduling it on Mother’s Day weekend
Speaking of it being Mother’s Day weekend, the crowd was noticeably smaller Sunday night than it was Saturday night — and I don’t think it had anything to do with the strength of the lineup. The lineup definitely targeted a younger demographic, as Migos, SZA, BROCKHAMPTON, Majid Jordan, Alina Baraz, and DVSN all have a pretty young demographic.
Most kids in their late teens and early twenties either still live at home or within close proximity of their parents — how many kids were able to get out of Mother’s Day plans to go see the Migos? It didn’t seem like it was that many. In fact, I met a group of girls that drove out from Modesto, but they had to wait until later in the day because of Mother’s Day, and they still felt like they were getting side-eyed from their moms when they left. That meant they only caught three of the sets Sunday.
Five Favorite Blurry Vision 2018 Sets:
- NxWorries (Anderson .Paak + Knxwledge) — Obviously this is why I came out to the fest and they didn’t disappoint. As far as I could tell, they played every full song off the album. I was vibing pretty hard with some people that were feeling the tunes as much as me and that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
- BROCKHAMPTON — Now I’m starting to understand why these guys are so popular. They are tapped into what people want, especially teens. But these guys have actual live performance chops — they don’t use autotune or have vocal tracks do all the heavy lifting. They spit pretty much every bar — and you FEEL it when they spit it.
- Alina Baraz — Her solo EP that dropped earlier this year has been in heavy rotation, especially after seeing her play a stripped-down set at SXSW a couple months ago. She seems as confident as she’s ever been as a performer, and seeing the full production of these new songs was a pretty fun sight. She’s only going to keep climbing up these lineups.
- Kamaiyah — The one Bay Area queen absolutely killed her set and proved that hyphy music isn’t dead at all. In fact, if you listen to Cardi B’s album from this year I swear she must’ve been listening to some Kamaiyah based on some of the production. The Bay Area rapper has tons of swagger and her bars are raunchy as fuck. I loved it. A highlight of the set was a new song featuring Schoolboy Q that she said is due to drop this week.
- Clairo — I discovered this 19-year-old bedroom pop singer via the Instagram story of Jenny Lewis and immediately fell in love with the vibes this young singer has crafted. She had an early set Saturday and it was clear she hasn’t had many if any festival appearances, but she still owned her performance. “Flaming Hot Cheetos” has been a favorite of mine and it was cool to see it performed live.
If I didn’t make this clear in my intro, I fucking love Oakland. I will support anything musical that comes to that town because despite all the gentrification and shit that’s been happening, Oakland rises above. It’s about time that it gets some love — and this is only the beginning. Treasure Island Music Festival announced Monday that Middle Harbor Shoreline Park will serve as the location for their festival this year after taking last year off following a move from the actual Treasure Island. This is good news, and if Oakland can get some momentum, it’s bound to become a hotbed for these kinds of events. I say bring it on.
Photos by Chad Cochran