Is Afropunk the quintessential NYC music fest? Hanging out in Commodore Barry Park this past weekend, it was hard to feel otherwise. The weather was (mostly) gorgeous, the crowd fashion was insane (see for yourself above), and the music was, well, everything.
The great thing about Afropunk is that it celebrates black music—and, by extension, the sonic landscape of NYC—without defining it. So this time around, we got punk, sure (CBGB vets Cro Mags and reggae-core pioneers Bad Brains, who played with guests vocalists on Saturday), but also soul (Saturday's headliner, old-school crowd pleasers Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings, and alt-R&B queen Meshell Ndegeocello, who linked up with local avant-jazz saxist Matana Roberts for a heady set of psychedelic funk on Sunday), metal (Ice T's bruising Body Count and teenage Brooklyn trio Unlocking the Truth, displaying formidable chops and burgeoning star power), hip-hop (noise-rap vanguardists Clipping and the profoundly trippy Shabazz Palaces) and, of course, the ever-unclassifiable Fishbone. Standing on the lawn Sunday, watching the latter group shred through its classic cover of Curtis Mayfield's "Freddie's Dead," it was easy to see how all these dots connect.
Sunday headliner D'Angelo kept the crowd waiting more than an hour—maybe the weekend's most truly punk gesture. But in the meantime, we heard a speech from Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams—"There's two kinds of people in this city: those who live in Brooklyn and those who wish they did," he said—participated in a "Hands up, don't shoot!" chant in honor of the late Mike Brown and Ferguson, Missouri, and danced to a choice selection of tunes. D'Angelo's set, a covers-heavy, Questlove-aided soul-rock odyssey, had a certain defiant charm, but it couldn't top a park full of hip-hop fans rapping along with Notorious B.I.G. beforehand. "Where Brooklyn at?" was the fest's operative question. Each August, in what's starting to feel like a hallowed NYC tradition, the answer is the same: Afropunk.
RECOMMENDED: Full coverage of the Afropunk Festival