Published  March 2018

While their grandparents eagerly await Jazz Fest later this spring, Generation BUKU gets first crack at festival season. Now in its seventh year, The BUKU Music + Art Project, overlooking the abandoned Market Street power plant in the Lower Garden District, promises an eclectic, electric, and downright cryptic (for some) lineup as ever. Here are our favorites, for ears of all ages—well, those 18+ anyway.



What started as a podcast (before evolving into a college radio show), Soulection is now a full-on brand, label and—in a way—its own micro-genre (just google “Soulection type beat”). From their start in 2011, founders Joe Kay and Power have transformed Soulection into the independent label for the SoundCloud generation. With an emphasis on producers and DJs instead of rappers and vocalists, the collective has slowly ushered in a shift of what is viable amongst independent labels, with a sound indebted to the likes of Madlib, J Dilla, and various beatmakers from the ‘90s and early 2000s. More recently, you can even hear Soulection’s influence on local collectives like Solange’s Saint Heron and the Pink Room Project (who also have a showcase at BUKU this year). While the roster for BUKU only includes collective members Sango (who worked with recent chart-topper GoldLink), ESTA., and The Whooligan, their-back-to back sets will be full of Soulection’s signature sound of masterfully done R&B and hip-hop edits and remixes. —Brandon Lattimore


If you just feel underwhelmed by Lil Stank, SeizzzuR, or any of the other things that make youthful noise, I have the perfect alternative for your curmudgeonly ears: Bonobo. Now all the kids might call this boring, but Simon Green—a.k.a. Bonobo—is just what they need when they have popped too many zannies. His genre is downtempo, and all of Bonobo’s music is very pleasant. But who would consider pleasant a compliment when all you want to do is GET LIT?  Well, perhaps you are chaperoning your niece and her friends, but you want to listen to something enjoyable while they get turnt? All you need to do is roll your old pinner joint in a dollar bill, grab an adult beverage, and enjoy all of the jazz and world music influences that appeal to a person of your age. Bonobo has six albums out on the Ninja Tune label, which old hip/trip-hop heads will recognize for labelmates Amon Tobin, Blockhead, and Kid Koala. All of these albums could be made into one hell of a driving playlist for your sensible sedan. And while Bonobo does employ a  symphony of musicians at select shows, this will be a DJ set. Good luck out there, fun uncles and cool aunts. —Edward Pellegrini


Solána Imani Rowe took an unusual route to pop stardom. Raised in a strict Muslim household in Maplewood, New Jersey, she devoted her early years to gymnastics and was ranked fifth in the U.S. by her sophomore year of high school. When she dropped the leotard, it wasn’t to pick up the mic but to pursue boys, according to a 2017 interview with Nylon. Her music career began in earnest when she dropped out of Essex County College and self-released her first EP, See.SZA.Run, in 2012. Her distinctive style—which blends neo-soul, chillwave, and cloud rap—earned her a 2013 deal with Top Dog Entertainment, where she remains the only female artist alongside Kendrick Lamar and his Black Hippy crew. She stuck with the PBR&B aesthetic through her second EP, S, and streamlined it on Z, her first studio release. Its lead single, “Child’s Play” (which featured Acid Rap-era Chance the Rapper and poached XXYYXX’s “About You” for its instrumental), brought hip-hop heads and festival folk onboard and helped Z chart seventh among U.S. independent albums. But it was last year’s Ctrl that truly launched her career into the stratosphere, garnering Grammy nominations galore and a #3 spot on the Billboard 200. Ctrl is a deviation, not only from SZA’s single-letter album-naming strategy, but also from the stoner vibes that characterized her earlier work. Here, she ditches the hazy synth pillows of the past for equally lush, but much more straight-ahead R&B production. Her lyrical content has also evolved in the three-year gap between her last two projects. She’s gone from fragmented musings on Brussels sprouts and Jadakiss to heartbreaking introspection. Ctrl deals with the desire for empowerment and autonomy, but also with debilitating insecurity and relationship woes, making it a radio-worthy millennial anthem as well as a feminist opus. SZA will touch down at BUKU at the peak of her career thus far, but she’s only getting started. —Raphael Helfand



Bragging about how early I was on Ski Mask the Slump God is one of my favorite activities. I found his SoundCloud through the South Florida-based Brain Bakery Mag in the summer of 2016. He had just dropped his first mixtape, Drowned in Designer, which features tracks like “Where’s the Blow!” that flew under the radar for almost a year (a century in SoundCloud years) before racking up tens of millions of streams in 2017. For the next few months, Ski Mask was less a rapper than a brilliantly-named curator of playlists comprising tracks from his weirdo Floridian peers. The music he did put out was funny but mostly unlistenable. (If you don’t believe me, I dare you to make it past the Vanessa Carlton-sampling intro of his Slaps for my Drop-Top Mini-Van mixtape.) Since then, he’s turned it around. He gained traction riding the coattails of XXXTentacion, forming the more lyrical half of the duo while X played the role of angsty-teen-turned-genre-rebel. But as the domestic abuse allegations against X swam into public focus, Ski Mask wisely distanced himself. This past summer, he made his solo move into the mainstream, crossing over with “BabyWipe” and subsequently dropping hit after hit, including the Timbaland-produced “With Vengeance” (featuring Offset) and the instant classic “Catch Me Outside.” Part of Ski Mask’s appeal is definitely flavor-of-the-moment, but that’s not all it is. He’s by far the best lyricist from the 2017 crop of SoundCloud rappers; and while that’s not saying much, it’s impressive that he’s been able to capture the untamed rage of the South Florida scene while still writing solid bars. His themes are standard—drugs, sex, violence—but his warp speed flow, unorthodox wordplay, and bizarre sense of humor make them feel fresh. In his short career as a live performer, he’s proven capable of hyping up massive crowds and performing pants-less stage-dives. —Raphael Helfand


Swedish quartet Little Dragon is a seasoned addition to BUKU’s lineup this year. What began as periodic high school jam sessions 20 years ago has evolved into five albums, world tours, and a Grammy nomination for Best Dance/Electronic Album (2014’s Nabuma Rubberband). While the band is known for its signature ambient (“High”), electro-pop (“Ritual Union”), and downtempo sound (“Twice”), it’s the band’s collaborative efforts that showcase real range. On “Bullets,” lead singer Yukimi Nagano’s vocals meld perfectly with Kaytranada’s quick dance tempo. From Gorillaz and SBTRKT to De La Soul, their work with peers has garnered them the most mainstream attention. Should any festival-goers want downtime to relax and recover between intense acts and partying, Little Dragon can provide the perfect respite. Nagano’s performance can range from passionate crooning to fast and fiery force, all while maintaining pristine control over her dreamy voice. The band members are always her perfect backdrop and Little Dragon is a deft mix of sweet, synth, and surprise. —Jamilla Webb


In an alternate universe where Kendrick Lamar didn’t exist, Isaiah Rashad would be the shining light guiding the Top Dawg Entertainment roster. While the label has mostly focused on artists in the Los Angeles area, Rashad is the label’s lone Southern artist. With only a hint of a drawl, what really sets Rashad apart from the rest of his labelmates is a sense of world weariness and relatability. After dropping his mixtape Cilvia Demo in 2014, which spread thru word of mouth amongst rap fans, he went on several tours while starting to record his first album—2016’s The Sun’s Tirade. During that time, Rashad’s depression and anxiety flared up, which led to him self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. Rashad himself publicly admits that TDE almost dropped him from the label completely before he was done with the album. This level of honesty gives standout songs like “Stuck in the Mud” (featuring labelmate and fellow BUKU performer SZA) and “Dressed Like Rapper” a level of complexity that feels earned instead of forced. This makes the more upbeat songs like “Don’t Matter” and “R.I.P. Kevin Miller”—both of which will surely be played during his set on Saturday—cathartic as hell. —Brandon Lattimore

Photo: Gabby Garcia-Steib


New York rapper Princess Nokia (Destiny Frasqueri) has everybody and their mom falling in love. With her blatant commitment to serving fiery tracks dedicated to promoting her sect of intersectional feminism, it’s hard not to be enamored. Nokia has been dropping impressively consistent singles since she first arrived on the scene in 2010 under the pseudonym Wavy Spice, but her transformation into Princess Nokia wasn’t fully realized until 2013. In 2017 she released an extended version of her mixtape 1992 to a well-deserved flood of praise. Nokia’s sound plays with tried and true hip-hop elements like delicate jazz-like beats layered with a ceaseless, assertive flow. Numbers like “G.O.A.T.” and “Brujas” experiment with a haunting cadence and lyrics of radical self-possession (“I’m that Black-a-Rican bruja straight out from the Yoruba / And my ancestors Nigerian, my grandmas was brujas”) that are totally unique to Nokia. Though she has been open with the fact that she considers Princess Nokia an “alter ego,” her undying promotion of queer positivity, feminist politics, and contributions to fighting white supremacy are real and commendable. She’s even been quoted as saying, “At my shows, girls can take up space the way men do.” Let’s make sure that happens at BUKU. —Maeve Holler


From receiving co-signs from Diddy and Nas to collaborating with the likes of Just Blaze, Jay-Z, and Chance the Rapper, New Orleans native Jay Electronica is possibly the best rapper you’ve never heard. Over the past decade plus, he’s dropped a sporadic series of singles and mixtapes that has garnered a cult of devoted (and thirsty) followers. I’m not thirsty per se, just a little parched while eagerly awaiting his Act II: Patience of Nobility album that may never see the light of day. Some of his favored releases include “Dear Moleskine,” “Exhibit C,” and the mixtape Act I: Eternal Sunshine. His lyrics paint pictures that will carry you across movie scores and through prayers in a mosque, from the depths of depression, to literal school—complete with the need to reference Wikipedia and Webster’s dictionary in order to comprehend his offerings. His unpredictability is a double-edged sword: on one hand, he fans the flame of frustration due to his lack of new material. On the other hand, he pierces the heart and piques the interest of many with his unorthodox ways. Four years ago, I had the pleasure of seeing him perform at The Howlin’ Wolf as an opening act for Common. Surrounded by a legion of Nation of Islam security guards, Jay dove into the middle of the audience and performed 75% of his set amidst the crowd. The energy and execution were unmatched. He performed a medley of fan favorites and the crowd shouted every lyric right along with him. —Jamilla Webb


AF THE NAYSAYER (Amahl Abdul-Khaliq) does just about everything. The New Orleans-based transplant, who hails from Los Angeles, is an electronic hip-hop beatmaker/producer, the founder of Dolo Jazz Suite, an instructor at Upbeat Academy, and acts as the NOLA ambassador for the Red Bull Music Academy. Additionally, AF has toured with an impressive array of artists including Durazzo, Prism House, Glitch Mob, Quantic, and more. With all of this under his belt, he crafts some seriously magical jazz-infused, dance-worthy tunes. His latest EP, Armed Wing Battle Unit, is an incredibly succinct six-track trek through layers of timeless and deftly arranged instrumentals. This unparalleled work has inevitably led AF to be considered one of the most beloved artists currently performing in the city. —Maeve Holler


Unless you were living in a cave or North Korea last summer, you probably heard “XO Tour Llif3” just about every time you turned on the radio. It was the most streamed track of Summer 2017 on Spotify, and its music video has pulled in 178 million views on YouTube to date. But it’s almost an afterthought on Lil Uzi Vert’s debut studio album Luv is Rage 2, released last August. The dark refrain of “XO Tour Llif3” (“All my friends are dead”) makes it an unlikely chart-topper, especially considering the overwhelmingly positive tone of the rest of the album. “Neon Guts” (featuring Pharrell) is straight ear candy, and even “The Way Life Goes”—an unsubtle breakup track—features a sunny, major-key beat. Uzi’s exuberant, tuneful brand of trap music is exactly the kind old heads despise, and his cartoon character appearance (5’4’’, covered in tats and piercings, hairstyles that range from hardcore punk to Dragonball Z) makes him an easy target for their contempt. There’s no easier way to tell what folks think of the current state of hip-hop than gauging their reactions to Uzi’s performance in the 2016 XXL Freshman Cypher, where he wore a red leather handbag and ad-libbed as much as he rapped. Those who swear by “golden age” hip-hop cringe, while kids who grew up in the trap era point to his style as long-awaited innovation in a previously stagnant genre. Regardless of your position, it’s impossible to deny Uzi’s charisma, his ubiquity, and the form and amplitude of his stage dives. —Raphael Helfand


Noname (Fatimah Nyeema Warner) represents the baffling and sometimes indefinite cross-section between poetry and hip-hop. After her debut album Telefone was released as a free download on Bandcamp in 2016, Noname received an unexpected legion of critical acclaim from publications like Rolling Stone and Stereogum; and in 2017, she was chosen to perform an NPR Tiny Desk Concert. In other words, she totally blew up, and this spike in popularity can only be attributed to the undeniable success of her work. Noname presents listeners with an exciting and distinctive variety of rap that experiments with intimate mysticism, elements of urgent social critique, and spoken word. The fact that she has collaborated with artists like Chance the Rapper, Smino, and Thundercat—among many others—is indicative of a truly magnetic nature. Watch out for performances of hard-hitting fan favorites like “Reality Check” and “Casket Pretty,” and you’ll probably become one of her disciples, too. —Maeve Holler

The BUKU Music + Art Project will take place on Friday, March 9 and Saturday March 10 at 1400 Port of New Orleans Place. For more info, check out thebukuproject.com.

photos JOSH BRASTED; feature photo LITTLE DRAGON

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