Chance the Rapper, Childish Gambino, and Wu-Tang Clan highlighted an action-packed Gov Ball 2017.
To get to Governors Ball, one must most walk 20 minutes across the RFK Bridge from East Harlem to Randall’s Island, a rectangular glob of land situated in the East River between Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx. There, on a converted driving range and adjacent park, one is beset with a crush of bodies and a three-day onslaught of world-class musical talent.
This weekend, HNHH sent its finest reporters across the Bridge to witness a wealth of hip hop and hip hop-adjacent performances from Danny Brown, ScHoolboy Q, Majid Jordan, Chance the Rapper, Stormzy, Rae Sremmurd, YG, A$AP Ferg, Wu-Tang Clan, Childish Gambino, Logic, Wiz Khalifa, and more.
-----FRIDAY----- (by Danny Schwartz)
The Weather God blessed the first day of Gov Ball with sparkling blue skies and a temperature hovering around 78 degrees. I would estimate that 85% of festival-goers were white and 95% were 30 or younger. Young girls in jean shorts and white sneakers mingled with young bros in mid-calfs and jerseys. In one 10-minute span, I spotted a Jackie Moon #33 Flint Tropics jersey and six different Michael Jordan jerseys: White Sox, North Carolina, NBA All-Star, Bulls (red), Bulls (black), and Wizards.
Late afternoon: anticipation was in the air as I rendezvoused with a group of friends at the styrofoam Statue of Liberty replica near the festival’s east entrance. Debauchery had yet to properly set in, except in the case of Julio, a 19-year-old member in my party who had just housed half a water bottle of vodka and would soon vomit after drinking from a jug of wine.
We headed to Danny Brown’s performance under the Bacardi tent. Brown entered to the sounds of Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” and kicked his set off with four songs from XXX: “Die Like a Rockstar,” “Lie4,” “I Will,” and “Adderall Admiral.” Though he delivered an emotive vocal performance, he was physically absent, pacing the stage like a lion looking for a good area in which to curl up and nap. It didn’t help his cause that the feeble, crawling beams of white light had little effect in the bright sun.
We left Danny Brown early to secure a choice spot at ScHoolboy Q. While we waited for Q to appear, NYC fun facts, (did you know that the Statue of Liberty’s shoe size is 897?) bad jokes, and inspirational NYC quotes from John Steinbeck, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Tom Wolfe flashed across the screen. Fans whispered about the one girl in the MAGA hat, fought with fans over space and sightlines, and bonded with others by initiating impromptu freestyle ciphers. Julio, the aforementioned yakker, was in the midst of a brave boot-and-rally campaign, now chain-smoking cigarettes and demonstrating an admirable zest for life.
Q’s performance was high-octane from the jump. He removed his shoes after the opening number, “Gangsta,” which only improved his post-weight loss ability to traverse the stage with power and grace. He continued with “Hands on the Wheel,” “Break the Bank,” “Studio,” and Groovy Tony.” His DJ sipped from a red solo cup and frequently leapt on top of his table. The crowd reached a fever pitch during “Collard Greens,” then groaned when Q casually revealed the Kendrick Lamar was supposed to come out to perform“HUMBLE.” but had to cancel due to an emergency. “Shit happens,” he said.
Musical performances need strong audiovisual synergy to succeed. In contrast to Danny Brown, Majid Jordan benefitted from the setting sun; they drew onlookers into the Bacardi tent with the blue and purple vapors that billowed at their feet. We left early to join the horde streaming in the direction of Chance the Rapper’s headlining performance hoping to catch a glimpse of the budding Chicago superstar.
Chance the Rapper
Chance began what would prove to be the best show of the entire weekend by driving a motorcycle on stage. Iconic.
What made Chance’s performance so great? 1) His opening salvo of “Mixtape,” “Blessings,” Angels,” and Smoke Break,” and everything that came after it, was elevated by his superb (SUPERB) band comprised of the Social Experiment— Nico Segal (f.k.a. Donnie Trumpet), keyboardist Peter Cottontale, and drummer god Stix—and his four-person, Thirdstory-led choir. 2) Chance himself, wearing his signature “3” hat and a jean jacket, charmed the masses with every syllable and every movement. He could squat and take a dump on the stage and it would be magical to watch.
He continued with a Kanye medley, [“Waves,” the glorious opening stretch of “Father Stretch My Hands,” “Ultralight Beam”] an Acid Rap-era medley, [“Lost,” “Favorite Song,” “Cocoa Butter Kisses”] and a run of hits. [“Sunday Candy,” “I'm The One,” “No Problem”] He brought out Francis and the Lights for an elaborate song and dance routine. “All Night” electrified the crowd.
Chance’s set had an artful narrative arc that allowed space for his supporting cast to shine. He relinquished the stage to his choir for their harmonious rendition of “D.R.A.M. Sings Special.” He recruited Cottontale for tender introductions to “All We Got” and “Same Drugs,” so that they began as intimate living room duets and swelled to include the full band in all its might. Ty Dolla $ign came out to help Chance close out Gov Ball's Friday slate with “Blessings.” He bowed to Chance at the song's conclusion. “You’re the GOAT, bro,” he said.
-----SATURDAY----- (by Jasmina Cuevas)
When Stormzy hit the stage for his first ever festival in NYC, he made sure that he gave people a show they wouldn’t forget. "This is our first fest in New York, so we're going to turn up different... We do something called grime music," Stormzy expressed before he put on a hard-hitting show. The rapper performed tracks off of his album, Gang Signs & Prayer and definitely kicked off what would be a day filled with some of hip-hop’s best.
Not only did Rae Sremmurd announce their Reebok collab on Saturday but they had one of the best sets at Gov Ball. They definitely were having a good day. The duo hit the stage around 3:45 but the crowd was patiently waiting for them long before that. On top of performing their break out hits: “No Flex Zone” and “No Type,” they performed some of their newer tracks including “Black Beatles.” During their set, they took a few minutes to laugh at Slim Jimmi’s unfortunate leg injury at their last Gov Ball performance. They played the video on a loop for a minute before they went on with their show. Overall, it was a good vibe: fans were singing along to every track, girls were showing the duo mad love and nobody broke any bones.
Though the crowd for YG’s set was a bit smaller than the other acts (Rae Sremmurd was performing at the same time), that didn’t stop the rapper from putting on a good show. The Compton rapper brought the must needed West Coast vibes to Gov Ball on Saturday. He performed his hit songs, “My Nigga,” “Who Do You Love,” “Why You Always Hatin,’” and a few more. BUT the most important track was “FDT.” YG made sure he reminded everyone how he felt about our current president before he closed out his set, “I fuck with New York, too. But there’s one person from New York that I don’t fuck with.” And everyone joined right in. Guess Donnie didn’t have much of a fanbase at Gov Ball.
A$AP Ferg never fails at putting on a memorable show. The Harlemite had the crowd on their feet while he performed songs off of his most recent album, Always Strive and Prosper. And he didn’t stop there. He performed “Fuck Out My Face,” and the crowd’s favorite, “Back Hurt.” He also made sure to take a moment to shout out A$AP Yams and play A$AP Yams’ mother’s tribute off of Always Strive and Prosper. Before closing out the show, Ferg brought out Flatbush Zombies and they took the show up about ten notches. Exactly what fans were looking for.
It’s pretty clear that Wu-Tang was one of the most important hip-hop acts at Gov Ball. The crew hit the stage an hour after A$AP Ferg and fucking killed it. The crew celebrated 20 years of Wu-Tang Forever by performing some of their major hits, "Bring da Ruckus," Raekwon’s “Ice Cream,” GZA’s “Duel of the Iron Mic” and so much more. The 75-minute set definitely wasn’t enough for Wu fans but being able to see them live in action would surely suffice. The guys even brought out Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s son, Young Dirty Bastard, and they paid homage to the rapper. Method Man also brought out Redman for their collab, “Da Rockwilder.” Oh, let’s not forget the fact that Meth jumped backwards into the crowd and they dropped him! All that and more took place and ultimately it was a memorable set. Wu closed out the show with an acapella version of "Protect Ya Neck." Yup, they did the damn thing.
Childish Gambino closed out Gov Ball on Saturday with a miraculous performance. Before revealing that Gov Ball will be his only performance this year, the rapper fulfilled all his fans’ musical needs. Gambino performed his earlier releases, "Sober," "3005," "Telegraph Ave," and "Worldstar in between performing songs off of Awaken, My Love! He also revealed his son’s name - Legend and somehow had time to do a house party sketch from ‘Atlanta.’ And yes, he performed “Redbone!” Talk about doing it all. But even with such an amazing performance, Gambino left a lot of his fans sad as fuck after he stated that his next album might be his last. What. The. Fuck.
-----SUNDAY----- (by DS)
After a restorative afternoon nap, I sauntered across the RFK Bridge around 7:45 PM on Sunday to watch Logic and Wiz Khalifa close out the festival.
The sky was a dark grey, and ponchos and college hoodies replaced basketball jerseys as the prevailing sartorial theme. And though there was no shortage of festival-goers two-stepping across the grounds and swigging 24-ounce cans of Miller High Life, many seemed a bit weary from the long weekend.
Logic was a fountain of positivity throughout his 75-minute set, much of which he trying to rile up members of the crowd—he initially rated their energy a “2”—and engage with them on a personal level.
At one point, someone threw a Rubik’s Cube on stage for Logic to solve, as one would lob a joint on stage for another rapper to smoke. I had never seen Logic perform before, but I assume this is a staple of his shows. He solved the Cube in about 25 seconds, then relinquished the stage to his real life best friend, the corpulent and exuberant Big Lenbo, who delivered an impressive Big Pun impression over the course of “Young Jesus” and his new single “Stupid.”
The highlight of the set came when Logic introduced Cat, who who was signing lyrics for the hearing impaired, and sat with her on the side of the stage and spit an off-the-dome freestyle with increasing velocity to see if she could keep up. He spent at least 15 minutes asking crowd members their name and age. He encouraging them to be their best selves, to never discriminate against others, to pursue “peace, love, and positivity.” He spoke of his own battle with anxiety and shared the following parting message: “Thank you for allowing me to be me.”
He finished with a performance of his anti-suicide plea “1-800-273-8255.” The cameraman panned to a man sobbing into his friend’s shirt. Before exiting the stage, Logic rapped half a song with a 17-year-old kid in the front row. The kid broke down in tears, slamming the ground in jubilation like LeBron after winning the NBA Finals for the first time.
Wiz Khalifa’s set, by comparison, revelled in earthly pleasures. A pair of bare breasts found its way onto the big screen within the show’s first five minutes. Shortly thereafter, Wiz announced that "we got some more titties coming out" and responded by fondling his own areola.
All in all, Wiz’s show amounted to a religious service at the altar of the benevolent Weed God. A few hours before his show, he sent out a tweet inviting all performing artists to come by his trailer and smoke some KK. The first words to come out of the mouth of his DJ/hype man Bonics were, "New York, can we smoke some weed right now?”
Wiz’s band, comprised of a keyboardist, drummer, and bassist (Moog bass!), occasionally stole the show from their leader’s high-stepping, tongue-waggling antics. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard gospel chords superimposed on top of “Roll Up.”
Ty Dolla $ign pinch hit for the second time in three days, joining Wiz on stage for “You and Your Friends” and “Blasé.” The band carried a better-than-expected cover of The Chainsmokers’ “Closer,” and a dude came out to throw gigantic inflatable joints into the crowd. Wiz launched into his classic “Mesmorized,” which resulted in the best of his broad array of stage visuals: a journey through a dense forest of purple kush.
Shortly after getting loose to Nirvana’s grunge classic “Smells Like Teen Spirit, Wiz dedicated a rendition of “See You Again” to his transgender brother, who died earlier this year.
"He would always say, 'You know I just don't want you to feel like you ever gotta fit in,' and that's what I wanna tell you guys tonight,” Wiz said. “Don't ever feel like you gotta fit in or be like the people around you.”
30 minutes later, a girl crossed back across the RFK Bridge with a giant inflatable joint hoisted over her shoulder. She walked into the 125th Street Metro-North station and stepped on a train, which whisked her back to suburbia.