This year's Essence Festival arrives under the shadow of Prince, whose magical, explosively purple headlining appearance at Essence's 20th anniversary is remembered among the festival's best and, following his death in April, among its definitive moments.
The 2016 Essence Festival — with headliners Mariah Carey, Ciara, Kendrick Lamar, Maxwell and Puff Daddy, among others — is July 1-3 at the Superdome, with speeches and seminars from writer/director Ava DuVernay, Tyra Banks and many others at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. There are likely to be multiple tributes to Prince.
It's a festival he cherished and embraced, savoring his stage time (at the 10th and 20th anniversaries) and supporting its artists and its off-campus events. In 2014, he sponsored a hackathon to teach New Orleans schoolchildren how to code and build mobile and web apps. He helped Essence book artists and encouraged them to take the intimidating spotlight inside the Superdome. It's no coincidence then that his influence is all over the artists on this year's bill — from powerhouse vocalist Ledisi, who sang with Prince on his late-career single "Ain't Gonna Miss U When U're Gone," to several younger artists whose Princely influence is undeniable. Below are 10 rising acts to check out.
Friday, July 1
The songwriter — who has penned hits for Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, among others — made his solo album debut with 2014's ambitious double LP The Rebirth followed by 2015's Cuffing Season, parts 1 and 2, channeling his big polished pop into sensual R&B party tracks.
Best known as Veronica on the hit Fox TV series Empire, the versatile singer teased her debut album Music Is My Boyfriend with the Timbaland-backed love anthem "Smile" and "Go," a dramatic, trap-backed summertime single.
On February's Begin, the debut album from singer Jillian Hervey and producer Lucas Goodman as Lion Babe, the duo's neo-soul and alt-R&B spans disco throwbacks ("Where Do We Go") and simmering Pharrell-produced bangers ("Wonder Woman"). In June, Lion Babe released the sultry summer mixtape Sun Joint.
Saturday, July 2
Judith Hill has described her music as a "time machine." As a Prince protege, who recorded her appropriately titled 2015 album Back in Time at his Paisley Park, Hill inherits the Purple One's late-era elastic funk, combined with her classically trained piano-driven R&B and soul. He knighted her a "superstar" and backed her on drums, bass, guitar and vocals — she revealed to The New York Times last week how she continues to lean on his lessons.
Alexe Belle and Isis Valentino — an angelic duo for Janelle Monae's otherworldly Wondaland Records — made their debut on the imprint's 2015 EP The Eephus with the slow-motion New Romantic synth-pop single "Going Nowhere."
Sunday, July 3
Chloe x Halle
Teenaged disciples of the church of Beyonce, Atlanta sisters Chloe and Halle Bailey were discovered on YouTube by the queen's camp and signed to her Parkwood Entertainment for their April debut EP Sugar Symphony, a haunting and hypnotic slice of pop future.
Following a string of mixtapes and EPs, the shapeshifting English artist released her debut album A Curious Tale of Trials + Persons in 2015, embodying an array of characters and narratives for her multi-layered raps.
Following her breakout 2015 Essence appearance, Andra Day returns with a debut full-length album, Cheers to the Fall, which earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best R&B and acclaim for her Amy Winehouse-inspired retro soul.
The Detroit rapper's unassuming, icy breakthrough "Try Me" glimpsed 2015's #AndSeeThatsTheThing and her straight-forward confidence and nimble rap-singing is both antisocial and a firm "Back Off."
Robert Glasper Experiment
Following a sold-out Mardi Gras late-night set at Gasa Gasa with DJ Soul Sister's Good Foot Ball, New Orleans (and Essence) welcomes the return of jazz artist Robert Glasper, who has backed Kendrick Lamar on his masterful To Pimp a Butterfly and transformed songs from artists ranging from Joni Mitchell to Radiohead, when not confirming the elasticity of his own wildly versatile outfits. Now Glasper has turned to another vault for inspiration: Miles Davis. Glasper supervised songs on the biopic Miles Ahead, directed by and starring Don Cheadle, and on 2016's Everything's Beautiful, he revisits his archives for remixes featuring Erykah Badu, Bilal, Ledisi, Laura Mvula and Hiatus Kaiyote, among others.