The Pot of Gold Festival this weekend has the perfect lineup for anyone seeking a crash course in hip-hop. Almost every variation of rap music will be taking the stage at some point, giving fans a meaningful sampling of the variety the genre has to offer. The festival kicks off on Friday with hip-hop veterans Ice Cube and Snoop Dogg, both of whom helped establish the political voice of genre in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Chart-toppers like Post Malone and Young Thug embody the sound of the 2010s, when trap beats helped break the sound into the pop mainstream. Even the latest generation makes an appearance: Viral artists like Ski Mask the Slump God and Lil Pump will rep their set. With all that in mind, here are the seven essential acts you have to see, whether your hip-hop tastes are tried and true or you’re looking for something new to bob your head to.
The OG: Snoop Dogg
Snoop Dogg is one of the most eclectic, important rappers in hip-hop, fo shizzle. He’s a rapper, a reggae artist, and most recently, the producer of a gospel album. He’s the host of a VH1 cooking show — you may have heard of his co-host, Martha Stewart. He starred in the indie movie Mac & Devin Go to High School with fellow stoner rapper Wiz Khalifa. His first album, 1993’s Doggystyle, is essential to hip-hop history. Albums later in his career, like 2003’s R&G, were just as important to the culture. He had all of America “Drop It Like It’s Hot” with Pharrell and invented the “izzle” to drizzle on our conversizzles. His act is timeless, and any concertgoer of any age can appreciate it.
The Master Emcee: Lil Wayne
There was a time Lil Wayne was the undisputed king of rap, and depending on who you ask, the New Orleans native still reigns over the genre. At the height of his career in the early 2000s, Wayne released a string of incredible albums (Tha Carter II and III chief among them) and several mixtapes which were arguably better than his label releases (Dedication 2, Da Drought 3). His effortless lyricism changed every facet of rap and hip-hop as we know it. His sound birthed a wave of artists self-distributing their music, and his very presence in the rap game challenged peers to either step up to his level or step out of his lane. His career has taken a backseat to his health in more recent times, but his latest record, the long-awaited Tha Carter V, still managed to cause an “Uproar.” He’s Weezy F. Baby, and the “F” is for Forever.
The Indie Darling: Jhené Aiko
30-year-old urban contemporary artist Jhené Aiko makes the kind of music that the pretty hippie down the hall listens to. One of the most impressive female acts on the Pot of Gold bill, the singer-songwriter’s talent exceeds her petite 5-foot-2-inch frame. Her music is simultaneously psychedelic and sultry. Aiko’s discography includes 2015’s Grammy-nominated album Souled Out, and her career credits include more than a few notable features. Newcomers should prep for her set by listening to Drake’s “From Time,” on which Aiko carried the hook. Her collaborations with Childish Gambino, Pink Toes, and Bed Peace are essential listening. Her earthy vibe coupled with her ethereal voice speaks to the yogi in all of us while offering a nostalgic nod to ’90s R&B.
The Prince of Pop: Post Malone
This act makes chart topping look like child’s play. While most artists struggle with staying relevant, Post Malone’s career trajectory seems to have carved him a permanent space on the Billboard Hot 100. Post’s gnarly image may seem like a mismatch with his heavenly vocals, but he adds an undeniable heat to every single he touches. He broke out with the soothing “White Iverson” in 2015, and his first album, Stoney, debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard Top 200. Since then, he’s kept his name in the pop charts with radio smash hits like like 2017’s “Congratulations” featuring Quavo, and “Rockstar” with 21 Savage. His winning streak continued into 2018 with “Sunflower,” the latter of which was featured in the award-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Nothing about Post Malone makes sense. He’s a race-transcending, sing-rapping, chart-topping, laid-back workaholic who must be seen to be believed.
The Trap Starz: Lil Baby / Gunna
Dubbed the best duo of 2018 by Rolling Stone, this pair of trap stars is one of hottest new acts coming out of Atlanta. Lil Baby and Gunna are both affiliated with southern powerhouse label Quality Control, which also manages Cardi B and Migos. The two real-life friends looked to one another for support early in their careers. In September 2018 their single “Drip Too Hard” was one of the most streamed hip-hop tracks in America, bested only by “I Love It” by Kanye West and Lil Pump and Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode.” The track’s success encouraged them to push their collaborative album, Drip Harder, which was released in October 2018. Their sound is directly influenced by fellow Atlanta performer Young Thug, whose outlandish ad-libs and unique use of Auto-Tune made him a star. Young Thug will also be present at the festival, but it’s young Gunna and Lil Baby who are taking the music that he created and pushing its limits, bringing new trap to new height.
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The Viral Sensation: Lil Pump
For self-proclaimed hip-hop purists, the takeover of “Generation Lil” represents the clear demarcation of the old methods of creation versus the new. Lil Pump epitomizes this evolution, with a presence and performance that is so boldly different from past generations, his very persona is practically a benchmark. He checks all the boxes: colorful locs, an iced-out smile, and controversial content. In the past, the 18-year-old Pump’s repetitive, drug-laced lyrics earned some warranted scrutiny, but he’s still a viral machine. Best known for his platinum-selling single “Gucci Gang,” released in summer 2017, he’s since worked with hip-hop vets like Kanye West, 2Chainz, Gucci Mane, and former rap enfant terrible Chief Keef, posing as the unofficial liaison for the youngest generation of fans. His high energy and enigmatic appeal have earned him a dedicated following. He speaks directly to the youth and the changing demographics of fans, and his set at Pot of Gold is here to show the rest of hip-hop where the sound is going.
The New Kid: Saint Jhn
Saint Jhn is not as much of a wild card as one might think. He’s been working behind the scenes for years, writing for established acts like Usher and Jidenna. His impromptu pop-up on the popular Joe Budden Podcast was as informative as it was unexpected. Now, he’s transitioned into amplifying his own sound with a big name behind him. He’s managed by Kareem “Biggs” Burke, the man partially responsible for the birth of Roc A Fella Records. The last time Biggs put his full weight behind a new act was in the early 2000s, when he took to promoting a young Kanye West. Where West’s sonic creations were more upbeat, teetering on the fringes of pop, Saint Jhn’s sound is darkly alternative. His music isn’t quite rap, but it isn’t quite anything else either. His influences are atypical: His 2018 single “Roses” was crafted as a score to the Hungarian film Werkmeister Harmonies. The video for his 2018 track “3Below” contrasts his love of high fashion with the harsh backdrop of his native Brooklyn. With his limited resume, he’s one of the acts with the most to prove, but his sound and his career thus far have portrayed an artist who is very capable of living up to the hype.
Pot of Gold Music Festival 2019. With Lil Wayne, Cardi B, more. Friday, March 15, to Sunday, March 17, at Steele Indian School Park, 300 East Indian School Road; potofgoldaz.com. General admission tickets are $109 to $288 via potofgoldaz.com.