Bonnaroo Embraces Hip-Hop (and Kanye)


This year marks the second year that Kanye West will be headlining Bonnaroo—the notorious festival held outside of Nashville in Manchester, Tennessee. His first appearance, the summer of 2008, didn’t go as planned, when the rapper showed up to perform 2 hours late and was subsequently booed off-stage.

Hip-Hop’s roll in festivals like Bonnaroo has usually been that of a side act until just a few summers ago. The very first Bonnaroo festival took place in 2002, and featured just a couple of small, little known hip-hop groups (which, don’t get me wrong, were incredible; if you have some time, check out one of the artists featured—Blackalicious. “Alphabet Aerobics” is mad cool). But, hip-hop was barely represented by the acts at the first Bonnaroo, amongst a company of Jack Johnson and Widespread Panic. As the years went on, it continued to grow more obvious that these festivals, rooted in rock, indie, and folk, were very much lacking in the hip-hop department. That is, until Kanye’s appearance in 2008. While Kanye is a lackluster performer, everyone can agree that his part in Bonnaroo history was rather dull. And ultimately, as Kanye was the first hip-hop artist to headline, a dull moment brought the genre’s roll in Bonnaroo into question.

Two years following, Jay Z performed what could be considered one of the greatest headlining performances in Bonnaroo history. This performance would seal open the door for more hip-hop artists to come. The year following Jay Z, Lil Wayne and Wiz Khalifa took the stage, both continuing the string of prominent rap names present at the festival.

Last year, when the 2013 festival rolled around, hip-hop’s presence at Bonnaroo hit an all-time high. With artists such as the Wu-tang Clan, Nas, Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore & Ryan lewis, Schoolboy Q, RZA, DJ Jazzy Jeff and A$AP Rocky, hip-hop finally found itself a place in festival culture.

This year boasts quite the lineup as well. Wiz Khalifa is back, and joined by the likes of Chance The Rapper, Danny Brown, A$AP Ferg, Pusha T, Ice Cube, and Lauryn Hill. The biggest name of course, returning once more: Kanye West. An on-schedule performance is expected from Yeezy that will surely redeem the 2008 fiasco and furthermore exceed the expectations of everyone present. And with that, hip-hop will earn it’s place on the headlining stage forever, no questions asked.

For those that claim “hip-hop is dead”, acknowledging that artists like Nas and Kendrick have graced the stages of Bonnaroo, as well as A$AP and Chance, it’s hard to deny that, in fact, hip-hop is growing. Not only growing in terms of influence in the festival scene, but in terms of its audience world-wide. And if that doesn’t show that hip-hop is as alive as ever, what does?

written by Melissa McDougall


About the author

Melissa is a student at the University of Michigan. When she isn't doing nothing, she's busy making big life decisions as she works towards an undecided major.