Hip-Hop Stars Talk Racial Injustice At Outside Lands Fest As One Act Gets Arrested

Photo: C. Flanigan/Getty Images.
You know you’re killing it when the crowd gets so worked up they raise a fan in a wheelchair overhead and bounces him along to your songs. Such was the case with Kendrick Lamar’s closing set on August 8 at the Outside Lands music festival in San Francisco, where the audience was so feeling his impassioned hip-hop set that even the folks a football field’s length away from the stage knew the choruses to every song, and yes, people picked up a wheelchair-bound man near the front of the stage and bounced him along to Lamar’s epic summer anthem, “Alright.” (Little tip: parts of that video were shot in San Francisco). “This is the livest crowd,” Lamar said as he pointed to the hoisted fan, who was beaming just as big as the Compton rapper.

Lamar’s performance was among the most energized of the weekend. Thousands of fans crammed around the stage to see him, and when things got too packed, they hoisted themselves up on top of a fenced-in restroom and started dancing on the roof. Nothing could dampen the Lamar-sparked electricity in the park, especially with a sea of chanters shouting along during “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe.” Lamar talked up the support he’s always gotten in the Bay Area, a region that’s been with him from the beginning. And fans showed their steadfast loyalty, cheering for oldies like “A.D.H.D.” from Section.80, as well as hits like “Swimming Pool” and “King Kunta.”

With lyrics and background imagery referencing the friction between cops and the African American community, Lamar was one of a handful of artists bringing up issues of racial injustice. D’Angelo was another absolute captivator, together with his ten-piece backing band The Vanguard, and he also brought the subject of racial profiling into his Friday evening set.

The king of soul, came back on the scene after nearly a decade away, and proved that his absence from the spotlight has only made him stronger. His sultry mix of funk, soul, and R&B is a force to be reckoned with live, and he howled and yelled “Good God” like the Godfather of soul; the tunes he sang were authentic D’Angelo, pulling from Voodoo and Brown Sugar as much as his latest critically acclaimed album, Black Messiah. He got fists pumping to “The Charade,” a banging, politically-charged song that he introduced by dedicating it to “all the victims, for all the senseless police brutality.”

Even Dan Deacon, Baltimore’s king of spastic electronic jams, added a serious civic undertone to his Sunday afternoon show. After starting his set with a silly request for fans to “blow out your anxieties to the people going to other stages,” and commanding a dance party between a dude with a beer can on a stick and one with a flower on a stick, he finished on a more somber and moving note. Deacon asked the crowd to close their eyes, picture someone they loved but could never see again, then picture someone they loved who was still in their lives, and then finally picture the face of someone who’d been “killed by someone with the power of authority.” His point: that too many people have had their loved ones removed from their lives forever due to senseless acts of police violence.

Questions around non-violent, yet still controversial, police actions became too real when a local performer slotted to play on Saturday, bluesy roots rocker Fantastic Negrito, was arrested and held for hours for the alleged crime of hawking an Outside Lands artist credential, a charge he flatly denies. The talented Negrito has otherwise been on the upswing, moving from BART train station busker to NPR darling, and his Outside Lands gig was a big deal for both him and his fans. But Negrito, whose real name is Xavier Dphrepaulezz, tells Refinery29 that when he showed up to perform, he was swarmed by ten S.F.P.D. officers who charged him with illegally selling an Outside Lands credential. “Apparently an intern in my office sold a wristband to someone without my knowledge,” he says. When the police swarmed, Dphrepaulezz’s intern, who was with him, confessed to having been behind the sale. “He confessed to it right on the spot, yet they still detained me for three hours,” Dphrepaulezz says.

Dphrepaulezz says the police were well aware of the fact that he was a performer slotted to go on stage. “They said they’d seen me on TV,” he says. “They saw the itinerary. It didn’t matter.” He doesn’t understand why the police won’t accept that he wasn’t involved in the credential sale, especially after his intern’s admission. “I'm being trashed by some news, accused like a criminal and I am innocent,” he says. “I lost an amazing opportunity. So much hard work went into building this one shot at Outside Lands and it's gone.” Dphrepaulezz says he forgives his intern, and adds that he feels terrible that his fans got burned by a situation that was out of his hands.

When compared to more egregious acts, like gate-crashing the festival, it hardly seems like one kid’s attempt to sell a VIP wristband is worth the cancellation of an anticipated artist’s big break, especially when the musician in question is innocent. Fantastic Negrito fans took to Twitter to share their outrage at Dphrepaulezz’s treatment by the S.F.P.D., as did the local press. The East Bay Express’ Sam Lefebvre wrote in a piece about the incident, “It’s noteworthy that ticket scalpers were plentiful outside the festival gates, often advertising their wares within earshot of apparently indifferent police officers.”

When asked about the arrest, Outside Lands officials responded with a statement that the company’s first and foremost concern is with the safety of attendees, artists, and staff. “We continuously look to protect and maintain the integrity of our credentialing system, and are so sorry that the artist was not able to perform due to this unfortunate breach.”

Hopefully Fantastic Negrito will get another shot to bring the masses under his spell in the future. In the meantime, he’s moving on to shows in Los Angeles, Dallas, and at the Voodoo Fest in New Orleans Oct. 31-Nov. 1.

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