The Billboard Hot 100 Music Festival was, if nothing else, an interesting amalgam of the old and the new. Nowhere else would you see a more eclectic collection of pop, Hip Hop, and rock, spread out over the course of three stages and two days, than at this festival, which took place at the Northwell Health at Jones Beach Amphitheater in Long Island, NY.
In between sets featuring actress-turned-rapper Bella Thorne — who smooched a girl onstage as she played her single “Bitch I’m Bella Thorne,” which got the younger white girls rapping along — and Dr. Phil favorite Bhad Bhabie (known as Danielle Bregoli in a past life) were solid performances by the likes of French Montana, Rich The Kid, Future, and Machine Gun Kelly.
Of greater note, however, were some interesting sets featuring the new wave of Hip Hop that some oldheads might dismiss as “trendy” and a passing fad, while neglecting to remember that the generation before them spoke of the beloved, classic Hip Hop in those same, dismissive tones.
For their part, Shoreline Mafia — a Los Angeles-based four-piece recently signed to Atlantic Records — acknowledges that they owe a debt to both the groundbreaking, classic West Coast Hip Hop that came before them, and the new technology of Soundcloud, the popular music-sharing platform that earned them their largest, most loyal fanbase, and their biggest fame to date.
“The way we’re going to keep it going is by changing the sound of the West Coast,” said Rob Vicious. “People expect us to make some ‘West Coast’ sounding music — but that’s not the case here. This shit right here is so raw and so uncut, we’re gonna show you how it is around here.”
“Niggas put off this image of superstardom,” added Fenix, speaking of their devoted fanbase. “And that’s not what it is. At the end of the day, we’re just like you — just like everybody else.”
— B. R. Giacomazzo (@bg_writes_stuff) August 19, 2018
For London-based Hip Hop artist Bexey, however, the trajectory to fame was a little different. The 22-year-old, who went by Zehtroid Vzn before embodying his current moniker, first came into the modern Hip Hop zeitgeist thanks to his association with Lil Peep. The infamous video that Bexey shared on the last night of the late rapper’s life wasn’t discussed at the Billboard Hot 100 festival, with the rapper shying away from the question while preferring to juxtapose his brutal, devil-may-give-a-fuck onstage presence with a subdued, pensive approach to the fragility of life.
He spoke fondly of the concert’s locale — “I’ve never been to this part of New York before. It’s beautiful, man. I’m looking at the ocean when I sing,” he mused in a clipped, working-class British accent — before launching into a mission statement that was both fragile and savage in equal measure.
“All I want people to know is, fuck me,” he said. “If you want to go be an astronaut, go be an astronaut. If you want to be a scientist, go do it. Because we’re only here once. You don’t wanna be stuck in no job diggin’ hole or fuckin’ being a mechanic, because your parents want you to — and meanwhile, you hate it. Fuck that. Go do what you love. Go do that shit.”
The Knocks, meanwhile, come from a very different school of music, and found a great deal of respect on the indie circuit and in various DJ sets before finding mainstream fame of their own.
The New York-based duo consisting of Ben Ruttner and James Patterson have been slogging it out on the independent circuit for more than a decade. In 2010, after securing hits for the likes of Katy Perry, Flo Rida, and Elle Goulding, the duo was named one of the 20 hottest producers in music by NME.
For them, then, fame in the form of the newfound notoriety gleaned from this festival is more of a nice by-product of their hard work, rather than the ultimate goal.
“It’s not that we’re not receiving resistance [from the younger crowd],” said Ruttner. “But it’s more that we’re not catering to them. That’s just not the rap that I’m trying to do. That’s not to say that it’s not dope — but that’s just not my vibe.”
Patterson echoed Ruttner’s more cautious approach to fame, but added that he admired Kanye West as both a producer and as a businessman, and hoped he could model The Knocks career after ‘Ye’s.
“He’s constantly reinventing himself,” said Patterson. “He was one of the first producers-turned-artists — one of the first who was producing and rapping at the same time. He’s also one of the most influential voices in fusion today.”
The duo, who cite a range of influences from rock to classical jazz in addition to the usual Hip Hop oevure, credit their longevity with a common thread credo of staying true to oneself — a sentiment previously echoed by Shoreline Mafia and Bexey, even though the three Hip Hop styles could not be more different.
And The Knocks even say that though the “new rap” is not their “vibe” of music, it’s a subgenre that they can respect.
“I’m digging the vibe of these new rappers,” said Ruttner. “They’re weirdos, you know? I’m down with that, because The Knocks, to me, have always been about the fusion of differences. I mean, look at us: he’s white, I’m black. He’s a rock guy, I’m a Hip Hop guy. But we don’t try to force it. It’s all about fusion…and fun.”
“Fusion and fun” can also be used to describe the Billboard Hot 100 festival, too, which was a perfect mix of rock, pop, Hip Hop, and electronica. The kids danced late into the night, each night, and came back fresh-faced and ready for more the next day…which, really, is what music is all about, no matter the genre.
Peep more photos of the Billboard Hot 100 Festival down below.