The 50 Years Of Hip Hop Celebration Continues At Blue Note Jazz Festival Napa Valley

Despite turning a half century old this year, Hip Hop music is showing no signs of slowing down. If anything, it’s expanding faster than DJ Kool Herc was spinning records in the Bronx on August 11, 1973. Now 50 years later, the genre is much more than a Spotify category to click on; it’s part of the American tapestry. Blue Note Jazz Festival Napa, in partnership with Dave Chapelle and producer Robert Glasper, decided to follow an unlikely thread leading them to Napa Valley. The region known for wine may not seem like the ideal northern California city for a festival focused on Black artists. However, true to form, Hip Hop runs on creativity, innovation, and breaking barriers in an atypical fashion. So, perhaps it is indeed the right location.

The 2nd annual 3-day Blue Note Jazz Festival was held at Silverado Resort and Spa to a culturally and generationally diverse crowd. Decades of Rap, Hip Hop, and R&B music was represented with artists like the “God MC” Rakim, George Clinton, Lalah Hathaway, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Chance the Rapper, and many others. While there were many attractions over the weekend to be marveled by, I came for three main reasons: The wine, Nas, and Mary J. Blige!

There was a familiar energy in the air, which my grandmother would describe as “black joy.” I walked through the turnstiles and placed my VIP wristband under the scanner. “Before I Let You Go” by Frankie Beverly and Maze was being played in the distance so I hurried past the wine garden toward the music in case the electric slide had broken out. When I arrived near the main stage the music stopped as Chapelle was walking out to give his special first day blessing to the crowd, getting everyone primed for the “cookout.”

During performance breaks concert goers flocked over to the Wine Garden led by Dwayne Wade, Blue Note Jazz Festival’s Director of Culture and Vibes. The NBA Hall of Famer added his brand Wade Cellars to a mix of local and diverse businesses including Pur Noire Urban WineriesHighway VodkaPhillip Ashley Chocolates, Napa Valley’s own McBride Sisters Wine CompanyThe Duckhorn Portfolio, and Theopolis Vineyards out of Mendocino County. I sampled much of what was offered, but saved Mary J. Blige’s Sun Goddess Wines for the end to toast the Queen of Hip Hop and R&B closing out Day 1.

At 8:30 pm the sun had set and my glass filled with Sun Goddess wine rose to the sky as Mary J. Blige walked out on stage. She showed the awaiting fans real love as she stopped sharply mid-stage in her classic thigh-high boots and asked, “Napa, I want to know where all the real Mary J. Blige fans are?” Some artists’ vocals, after years of performances, start to fade but the Queen’s are aging like fine wine. Songs like, “No More Drama” and “Not Gon’ Cry” are perfectly arranged for her to show off her lasting pipes. After one of Mary’s songs, I overheard someone yelling “You still got it,” so I cupped my hands around my mouth and yelled back, “She never lost it!”

The next night was all Nas. The “Half-man, Half-amazing” artist’s flow was as nasty as ever backed by The Soul Rebels, an eight-piece New Orleans-based brass ensemble. Songs like “If I Ruled the World,” “Nas is Like,” and “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” had extra flavor on them thanks to the fusion of jazz, funk, rock, and Hip Hop the Soul Rebels are known for. This fusion was even more evident on Nas’s 1994 “The World is Yours,” which usually begins with a piano intro, but on this night had the addition of saxophone, trumpet, sousaphone, and trombone lasting a full melodic minute before Nas dropped the first line.

The weekend ended with Dave Chapelle saying thank you to Blue Note and showing appreciation for gathering some his closest friends and “greatest artists of all time.”

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