Smokin Grooves 2022 showcased the very best in R&B and hip-hop all day Saturday at Los Angeles State Historic Park. The 36 acts included headliners Erykah Badu and Kamasi Washington and other major talents like Nas, Miguel, Toro y Moi, The Roots, Flying Lotus, Little Dragon, Jhené Aiko, Talib Kweli, The Internet, Free Nationals, Angie Stone, Musiq Soulchild, India. Arie and Macy Gray and numerous talents on the rise like Charlotte Day Wilson, SiR, Phony Ppl, Blu & Exile and Ravyn Lenae. Live Nation packed a line-up full of talent and despite only two stages that were kind of far apart, there was no way to see it all. The one-day fest offered grooves for all and was a success despite moments of rain including the walk out at the end. With numerous acts having a 30-minute set or less, it was problematic when the set times fell behind schedule, as they did for much of the day.
Despite Erykah Badu‘s set starting 30 minutes late and squashed to about 30 minutes total due to delayed sets throughout the day, she and her band and background singers played a marvelous set including “Hello” with the vocalist wearing a brown jacket and furry hat looking like a queen. Following the song she said, “Peace and love, how are y’all”? She introduced the next song by telling the crowd it’s usually a good idea to mind your business by saying, “I don’t know what’s right for you and you don’t know what’s right for me” before going into a cover of the Faith Hope & Charity disco song “To Each His Own” from 1975. The screen flashed with bold letters that said “Leave Other People’s Bitches Alone”, earning some laughter from the crowd. Badu’s “On And On” was incredible, the stage was fogged up in blue and purple lighting while she snapped out the truth. Badu hit some beats on her finger pad during the good vibes of “Love Of My Life”, accompanied by an echo from fans.
Brooklyn rapper Nas brought back the best of the 90s and early 2000s and kept it real and inspiring, working the stage in a red leather jacket and matching pants. From the iconic 2002 track “Made You Look” to 1994 classic “N.Y. State of Mind”, the fans were in for a hits-filled set. “Adam and Eve” brought lyrical mastery while “Hate Me Now” was complete fire with red lighting and fans responding wildly, even though the rain started up slightly. “If I Ruled The World” sounded as timeless and powerful as ever and “You Owe Me” offered the bumpin’ groove everyone hoped for. The fans sang along together on “Hey Ma” and Nas took a moment to say “staying true is what I do. Be who you are no matter where you are, be proud of who you are, Black, Asian, Greek, Italian, Mexican. I’m ultra Black”. Nas wrapped up with his signature “One Mic”, with the powerful lyrics hitting particularly hard even in 2022, as one would hope words could be the weapon of choice for all. Nas told his fans to “live your life to the fullest” among other words of affirmation and he gave a shout out to his longtime drummer Eddie Cole who played his last show with the rapper and who will go on as musical director for Cirque du Soleil.
Sweden’s Little Dragon may have been the most thrilling performance of the night, blending striking visuals with a talented group of musicians for their own brand of soulful dance-pop. Lead singer Yukimi Nagano entered the stage with a neon green cloth draped over her head (and a matching neon green skirt) while stunning kaleidoscope images zoomed behind the band for the entire set. Nagano removed the cloth revealing her neon pink hair during 2020 track “Hold On”, with its danceable beat and thumping bass under blue and purple lights. The dreamy banger concluded with Nagano hitting her own drum pad by the song’s end.
The percussion was stellar on “Rush”, elevated by Nagano’s energy dancing on the stage. The fans took in the vibe and her voice broke perfectly during a soulful moment as she shook the tambourine. The entire crowd was dancing during popular older hit “Ritual Union” and a pair of recent tracks off 2020 album New Me, Same Us were next, including dreamy song “Another Lover” and “Where You Belong” with Nagano’s voice soaring. SBTRKT’s hypnotic down-tempo jam “Wildfire” was next, with Nagano dancing with a neon pink cloth. The set closed with an extended version of 2018 banger “Lover Chanting” with drummer Erik Bodin sang the male vocals “Do you wanna be my girl? I wanna be, be your man”, joining Nagano for one of the standout dance songs of the past five years with its super dirty, intoxicating beat.
Miguel continues to be one of the most consistent performers in modern R&B, up there with Bruno Mars; he may have even had the most lively set at Coachella following Beyonce’s extravaganza in 2018. The San Pedro native took a moment to mention his Los Angeles hometown while speaking with pride about his half Mexican, half black heritage. He kicked off the exceptional set with swagger on “Sure Thing” and took flight effortlessly on “Sky Walker” sporting a black, red and white leather jacket and sunglasses. He grooved on the feel-good “waves”, dancing it out and later introducing his talented band members. By now the leather jacket was off and Miguel was in a sleeveless t-shirt saying, “If you don’t know this song…you’ll know it after tonight”. The crowd laughed and Miguel said the next song was “Vixen”, a romantic older tune, highlighted with perfect falsetto moments. The bass line was in effect for the classic “Adorn” while the entire crowd sang along and Miguel added some slick moves while the band kept it hot. The guitars and drums rocked out on “Coffee”, while Miguel passionately sang the sensual melody to a thunderous crowd and he closed out with the uplifting, downtempo “Candles in the Sun”.
The Internet‘s set was much too short, but the LA five-piece was full of good cheer with lead singer Syd full of smiles and swagger. She marched with confidence in her red pants and black jacket for the flirtatious, sexy “Come Over”. Mid-tempo jam “Special Affair” got the crowd grooving and later guitarist Steve Lacy joined in on the vocals for the danceable jam “Roll (Burbank Funk) while the bass delivered, the band crushed and hands were up feeling the song’s energy. Syd gave a shout to producer Kaytranada (we wish he was there too!) prior to performing future-soul track “Girl” and The Internet wrapped with the delightful “Hold On” with Syd shining on the vocals and the band impressing throughout.
Canadian soul singer Charlotte Day Wilson broke out from the pack of rising talents, kicking off with “Mountains” while playing the keyboard in sunglasses and all black. The stunning gospel vocal track played and in the future, we will run, not walk when Wilson returns with an actual choir. The romantic slow jam “Take Care Of You” brought a strong response from the crowd as soon as they heard the opening instrumentation, with Wilson standing with her guitar. Charlotte Day Wilson’s voice smoldered on her lower register on the timeless “Work” and her mastery of the piano was evident on a magical “Wish It Was Easy” with the guitar crying along.
Brooklyn band Phony Ppl started off with their bass player in an orange Lucha libre mask while the band zoomed into the lively opening song “On My Shit” with the lead singer Elbie Thrie saying, “put one hand in the air if you’re on your shit, put two hands up if you’re on your shit” while the crowd lifted their arms up in response. The mid-tempo party song “Before You Get a Boyfriend” got the crowd joining in on the catchy “oh-oh-oh, ah-ah, na-na-nas”. Their danceable funk tune “Fkn Around” brought out some crazy good guitar skills as well.
Chicago singer Ravyn Lenae’s voice shined on “Skin Tight”, showcasing a really sweet voice and lovely falsetto. She danced it out, shaking her hips on “Closer (ODE 2 U)”, blending opera-like vocals with elements of Aaliyah. On the ballad “Light Me Up”, and some of the others, Lenae hit some Minnie Riperton-level notes and she shined again on the beautiful “Sticky”.
There was so much talent at Smokin Grooves, it was bonkers for 11 consecutive hours. The Roots brought their Philadelphia hip-hop heat with “The Next Movement” and “Here I Come”, Angie Stone performed an extended version of the timeless “Wish I Didn’t Miss You”, Free Nationals played without frequent collaborator Anderson .Paak smashing it anyway on on “Am I Wrong”, Thundercat brought the stank face on bass-led “Them Changes”, Macy Gray got funky on “Sweet Baby”, Jhené Aiko sounded like a dream on “Stay Ready (What A Life)”, LA R&B singer SiR brought the feels on “John Redcorn” and rapper Talib Kweli brought out Goapele for a special version of his timeless “Get By”.