The first night of the 2023 ESSENCE of Culture concert series was truly a night to remember. Hosted by actor, screenwriter, and comedian Deon Cole, the evening featured several guests, some amazing moments, and a celebration of hip hop on its 50th anniversary.
Held at the Caesar’s Superdome in New Orleans, the show began with a stirring performance from the coolest couple around, Tobe and Martica “Fat” Nwigwe. Tobe ran through some of his biggest hits, along with the duets recorded with his wife throughout the years. Following the Nwigwe’s set, fan favorite Ari Lennox hit the stage in a stunning burgundy ensemble, and showed the crowd exactly why she’s one of the biggest R&B artists in the industry.
In what was a highly publicized appearance, hometown hero Juvenile rocked the ESSENCE crowd with the legendary Mannie Fresh as his DJ. The rapper, whose Tiny Desk episode aired earlier that day, wasn’t originally slated to be at this year’s festival, but due to an outcry from supporters on social media and the like, the iconic rapper was added to the bill. He gave the audience many of his notable songs, as well as the classic “Back That A**Up.”
Brian and Brandon Casey, Richard Wingo, and Kyle Norman – collectively known as Jagged Edge – brought a powerful dose of nostalgia, by performing records like “Walked Outta Heaven,” “Promise,” “Where the Party At,” and more. After an intermission featuring D-Nice, the genre of hip hop was celebrated properly by a medley from some of its central figures. The set included KRS-One, Sugar Hill Gang, Bonecrusher, EPMD, and Big Daddy Kane, along with Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick, who did “The Show,” to the backdrop of thousands of onlookers from across the country.
Before Ms. Lauryn Hill came out, the talented Janelle Monáe entered the Superdome with a striped two-piece, which meshed perfectly with the live rendition of their songs from The Age of Pleasure. In addition to the tracks from their fourth studio album, the Kansas City native also performed “Electric Lady” and the chart-topping “Tightrope” from The ArchAndroid.
After minutes of anticipation, the enigmatic Hill walked out to an eruption of applause. Backed by a large live band, she opened with “Everything is Everything,” followed by additional records from her Grammy Award-winning magnum opus, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. She also brought out fellow Fugees member Wyclef, who added an additional flavor to the New Jersey native’s much talked-about set.
Stay tuned for night two of the 2023 ESSENCE Festival of Culture. See you there!