You’ve heard of legacy acts, but how about a vestigial act? That’s the best way to describe nothing,nowhere, the solo/band project of emo rapper/singer Joe Mulherin. The New England native’s snarling, overly earnest output is this year’s singular connection to PoG’s past sonic diversity. As such, the set, attended sparsely by a nonetheless enthusiastic crowd, was an outlier, and that alone made it enjoyable. Mulherin's emo rap is very much a singular product, kind of like third wave Taking Back Sunday mixed with generic SoundCloud rap. It's music aimed exclusively at a generation that grew up respecting the bombast of rap as well as painfully honest, slightly stunted rock. But Mulherin recognizes that dynamic, riding the line perfectly to provide a solid distillation of this assaultive hybrid. Plus, he’s got a song referencing Bernie Sanders and Danny Phantom, so extra kudos. Chris Coplan
Gunna is a curiosity. He’s had a couple hits, both on his own and with his good friend-turned-labelmate Lil Baby, but I felt I needed to get a better grasp on how he moves in the hip-hop space. Taking in his set at the Camelback stage, I felt his music music closely resembles that of his peers in the East Atlanta trap scene. He, too, raps about the ice on his neck, past professions, and whatever’s in his cup. He kept the energy up with songs like "Pedestrian" off of Drip Season 3, and bringing up Lil Baby for the first of two performances of "Drip Too Hard" (Baby would play the song again during his own set) kept the vibe alive. But mostly, I felt I was watching someone with untapped potential. Gunna's a new act who currently has a pretty good track record, and his set convinced me to keep an eye on him. Alma Schofield
To paraphrase Portlandia, the Dream of the '90s was alive on the Camelback stage for Tinashe’s set. The R&B singer rolled up in a highlighter-colored vest and baggy pants that would have had her look right at home in a TLC music video. Accompanied by a pair of backup dancers dressed in black, the trio pulled off intricate choreography while a live drummer hit the skins and gave the recorded backing music some extra oomph.
Watching Tinashe live, you can’t help but wonder why she hasn’t blown up already. While the singer has landed a few hits, she isn’t a household name yet. But she deserves to be: She’s bursting with energy and intensity live, dropping jams like “Party Favors” and “Joyride” on the audience like she was dropping a gauntlet on the festival. Be this good, work this hard, make it look this easy — this is what she was really saying onstage with every song and every dance move. Ashley Naftule
As a self proclaimed hip-hop purist, I’ll admit, sometimes I’m skeptical of “Generation Lil.” My initial impression of Lil Baby was that he was the trap rapper du jour, but his set was so impressive, I’ll admit, I might be a convert. Songs like "Close Friends," "Drip Harder," and "Cash" were accompanied by dancers and effects that kept the crowd moving. Lil Baby’s swagger and high energy on stage was matched only by the fans, making the set the most genuinely lit of the day. His confidence was infectious, carrying through even during an encore performance of "Drip Too Hard," his hit single with Gunna (Baby of course made an appearance at Gunna's set earlier in the day). He’s a confident trap rapper who is nothing like some of his lean-obsessed "Lil" peers. His set brought the heat, and I’m looking forward to more. AS
Unless you’ve never checked Twitter, you’ll likely know Doja Cat as the L.A.-based singer/rapper behind the viral hit “Mooo!” (sample lyric: "Bitch I'm a cow / Bitch I'm a cow / I'm not a cat / I don't say meow"). Not that such a one-dimensional shtick was the focus in this, her second festival gig ever. Doja, aka Amala Dlamini, is already a seasoned performer, and there were early comparisons to Cardi B (who dropped out of PoG) and Nicki Minaj. Not only are those lazy and hackneyed, they’re deeply inaccurate. Doja is an internet meme come to life, all sequined jumpsuits, boundless twerking, and sex-positive anthems, a dynamo who could just as easily be a neon-colored pop star or a house music empress. Sure, she eventually delivered on the sizable crowd’s request for “Mooo!” as the finale. But when she did, it wasn’t as some rookie clinging to fleeting fame, but a star playing the crowd to perfection. No beef, all cheese, folks. CC
I overheard the word “fairy” during Jhené Aiko’s set, and I’ve never heard her described more accurately. Since being introduced to the ethereal vocals of the indie R&B crooner on her first project Souled Out and following her transition from lonely heartbreak kid to dreamy flower child, I’d been struggling to find the right words for her vibe. “Fairy” is an almost too perfect description of the petite singer. She decorated the Camelback stage with props made to look like crystals, and entered with a cup of tea and a bucket of flowers in hand. She smiled shyly when the crowd sang her "Happy Birthday" and incorporated psychedelic imagery into her set. Hip-hop’s favorite hippie set the tone before she even sang a note.
The down-tempo set coincided with the sun going down, which set a relaxed tone after a fast-paced day. Jhené performed all her best hits, inviting fans to join in and discover that "New Balance" is just as riveting live as it is on record. There’s a million ways Jhené Aiko could have spent her 31st birthday. I for one, am very glad she spent it in Phoenix. AS
There’s a cobalt blue Lil Wayne tee in my dresser full of holes from years of enthusiastic wearing, but it's been collecting dust as of late. Between Tunechi going to jail and the wait for Tha Carter V (which finally dropped last year), there weren't many opportunities to wear it — at least, not until Saturday's headlining slot from the man himself. Like Ice Cube and Snoop, Wayne brought the nostalgia, delivering everything from "A Milli" to "Go DJ" with the raucous fury of a full band. Even the handful of new album tracks were well received (either of their own merit or the proximity to Wayne's huge catalog). In a way, I'm thankful this was the Weezy I'd finally seen live. A man who has emerged from the chaos and built a new identity for himself as a rock star (take that, Rebirth!), a band leader and showman, and someone with the grace to appreciate the limelight. Forget wearing the shirt — I’m flying it up a flagpole. CC
How do you follow a smoking baby and an angelic harp? That was the predicament Kodak Black faced as the closer on the Camelback stage. He had the unenviable task of following both Jhene Aiko’s spellbinding set on the Central stage and Lil Baby’s pyrotechnic showmanship. Kodak also had to face the lingering sense of being a consolation prize —the talented Florida rapper was one of several acts that were brought in to replace Cardi B.
Without Aiko’s harp or Lil Baby’s wild stage show in his corner, Kodak had to rely on sheer stage presence. He stalked across the stage, spitting rhymes into the mic with his distinctive drawl, while an expectant energy coursed through the crowd. Was Kodak going to comment on his beef with Lil Wayne or bring up his boasts about punching out Sticky Fingaz? Was Weezy going to bum rush the stage? Were we about to witness the escalation of an ongoing feud?
No, what we got instead was a passable, hip-hop set with no frills, save for some nifty lighting and a projection screen that would flash images like a row of neon red crosses for Kodak to rap in front of. The “Tunnel Vision” rapper wasn’t able to top the acts that came before him, but he did what he was supposed to do, act as a palate cleanser and a breather before Weezy F. Baby put Saturday’s show to bed. Still, it was hard watching him and not feeling a little cheated that we weren't getting to hear Cardi's bird calls instead. AN