Busta Rhymes On Being In A "Beautiful Space" & Bringing Together Generations Of Hip-Hop Artists On 'Extinction Level Event 2'

Busta Rhymes

Photo: Flo Ngala


Busta Rhymes On Being In A "Beautiful Space" & Bringing Together Generations Of Hip-Hop Artists On 'Extinction Level Event 2'

With 'Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God,' Rhymes' first album in 11 years, the world has finally begun to process what his music has been telling us all along

GRAMMYs/Dec 9, 2020 - 05:11 am

There is really no comparing legendary New York rapper Busta Rhymes. With his dizzying flow, mind-blowing lyrics and commanding voice, he's been shaking up hip-hop culture since 1991 when he stole the show on A Tribe Called Quest's iconic posse cut "Scenario."

With Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God, his ninth solo studio album out now, the global consciousness has finally begun to process what his music has been telling us all along: The system is broken and disaster is imminent. While 2020 has brought overwhelming death and suffering worldwide, it has also come with much needed reevaluation of the way things are. Similarly, the 22-track opus (the Deluxe Edition delivers 30 tracks!) is a hard-hitting cinematic firestorm of destruction; a reflection of our chaotic reality, but not without moments of vulnerability, love and celebration. Rhymes not only showcases his seemingly unlimited creative and vocal power, but that of other greats, including Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Kendrick Lamar, and Rick Ross .

The album comes 11 years after 2009's Back On My B.S. partly because it took the rapper a "a long time to figure out the right support system to nurture and nourish the life and the success" of it. Eventually, he found a home for the album at San Francisco's EMPIRE records. But time does not faze Rhymes at all. "You can't put a timeline on greatness," he told 

A few weeks after its critically acclaimed release in October, we caught up with the bad ass New Yorker himself to learn more about the creative process and the long journey behind it as well as the collaborators and the spooky album art. We also asked about his legacy and what he sees as the biggest difference between now and 1998 when he released Extinction Level Event: The Final World Front. Spoiler alert: not a lot has changed.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

You unleashed Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God on October 30. What has the response of fans and critics so far felt like for you?

 Can you tell me what you've been hearing?

I've heard good stuff, that it's hard. For me, it's crazy that it's your first album in 11 years. It feels like you haven't missed a minute, you're just right back in.

Thank you so much. I've been hearing the words classic and masterpiece. For the first time, it's resonating so abundantly in such a short period of time, in just two weeks. This is the third week now and it's just an incredible feeling to hear this as the general consensus. There is just no way to really describe how incredible it is. So, I am floating on all of the plane of energy right now.

This year is crazy and the themes of the album—destruction, plague, chaos—feel very real. I'm really curious about the timeline of the album and what was going through your mind as you were working on it. I'm also wondering what was the spark that first got you back in the studio.

I never left the studio, that's the thing. This has been a narrative of mine since my solo career began, which is why my albums have been called The Coming, When Disaster Strikes, Extinction Level Event: The Final World Front (E.L.E.), Anarchy, Genesis and It Ain't Safe No More. This is just another chapter to the same book of E.L.E., so to speak. I went into this album with the intention of it being an Extinction Level Event 2, but I didn't confirm that probably until about four and a half to five years into the recording of the album once I knew I had the pieces that substantiated and warranted it being called that. I'd never done a sequel album in my entire career.

It was going to be the Extinction Level Event 2 way before COVID-19. I bought the album artwork two and a half to three years prior to the COVID shutdown. I include all 10 pieces of art in the album packaging of the CD booklet, and same with the vinyl. I met the young lady, an artist by the name of Chanelle Rose, through Swizz Beatz and the No Commission movement, which is pro-artists—the mantra is "for the artists by the artist." Swizz curated this initiative and always would introduce me to different incredible artists. When he introduced me to Chanelle Rose's work, it was about four years ago. I fell in love with what I was seeing from her immediately, and I bought the 10-piece collection from her. It took her a year to make it; one piece takes two months because she draws it with a ballpoint pen. It's just incredible what she does, I couldn't believe it.

When I saw these big skeleton figures with these masks on them, obviously, at the time when I purchased the art collection in it, there was no COVID issue. It was speaking to me in a whole 'nother way about what the corrupt politicians should truly look like when you strip the flesh off of them. They're all in masks, and they all have these agendas that have never really benefitted my people. The insensitive evil and wickedness that plays a significant role to the oppression of my people and a lot of other people. That has been the ongoing narrative since the beginning of time, since the United States was born. The masks always deceived the sh*t they're doing to everybody else, that they're protecting themselves from. That's metaphorically what the pictures said to me.

I thought that those were the perfect images for Extinction Level Event 2 and then the irony of it is COVID happened and now everybody's being [told] to wear masks. That felt prophetic. That reassured me all the more to why I needed to really dive into bringing the album home as we were going into the second phase of the recording process. 

Read: "Loops Of Funk Over Hardcore Beats": 30 Years Of A Tribe Called Quest's Debut, 'People's Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm'

That's really such a journey. When did you first start working on the songs for this, and when did you wrap up?

I started in 2009, and I wrapped up sometime in August 2020.

How do you feel like you shifted during the process of making this project?

I think for the first time in this career of mine, I've gotten to a place of comfort where I've been able to feel good enough about sharing things on a personal level and in a vulnerable way that I've never had prior to this album. It took years for me to get to that place and once you find that it's a very fulfilling thing to be able to share. You help remind people that they're not alone in these realities that a lot of us are never and will never be exempt from going through. It also reminds people that it's okay to talk about it. I think a lot of the times, especially as Black men, we don't get the opportunity to really be allowed to share when we're hurting or when we are afraid or when we are in need of help.

I think even more so now than ever, with everything that everybody is going through, we need to make a conscious effort to show people it's okay to say, "I need somebody to help what I'm going through right now." Or "I just need some support. I'm a little insecure about something. I just need someone to listen." I wanted to share a lot of that. I think that comes with maturity, with growth, with being a man, and understanding what it is to be a man as opposed to thinking you're one. A lot of times people think they're grown men and they still have a lot of learning left to do before they can actually walk in that space. They tell you that you were a man legally when you're 18. That's such a lie. 

I'm just in a really beautiful space, still a work in progress. I think we never completely figure it out. While we're learning as we go along, we still also got to be great listeners and that's where I'm at in my life. I'm always willing to learn, and to teach and share, and that's what I'm trying to give through this music and through this album, Extinction Level Event 2: The Wrath of God. We need to have a good balance of informative content, and we also still need to remember what it is to laugh, live, love and learn and have some fun. We need to recharge because being in the battlefield dealing with this crazy sh*t every day, we need to go back home relaxed and refueled so we can get back in to it with the energy and strength that we need to continue to fight the good fight.

Related: Mortal Man: Author Marcus J. Moore Talks 5 Years Of Kendrick Lamar's 'TPAB' & His Forthcoming Book, 'The Butterfly Effect'

On the album, you brought in some of the younger rap and R&B greats, like Kendrick Lamar, Rapsody and Anderson .Paak. What was it like working with them and was it an intentional mentorship sort of decision?

I definitely didn't do it because I was mentoring any of them. I did it because I'm a huge fan of all three of them. They would give me sh*t that I felt like I was hugely inspired by. They're such incredible talents. I mean, when Rapsody and I did ["Best I Can"] together [about a troubled relationship between a father and a mother], she gave me the song with the track and the verse all ready. She created the whole creative direction, which was genius because I'm the one with the kids and she doesn't have any. It was just beautiful to see her look at things from a perspective of being on the outside looking in, but being so close to the situation in real life. That she can actually illustrate a perspective about this reality, that is one that has never been illustrated in this way on a record—since the beginning of hip-hop's birth and conceiving, we always hear about how the fathers are deadbeats.

I grew up without my father, but you never hear about how a woman is apologetic for all of the vindictive things she did to a man that's trying to actually be a damn good father. Through all of the humiliation and disrespect, he actually still sticks it out and makes sure that nothing comes between him and his child. That's important and needs to be heard and it's a reality that a lot of fathers needed to hear and a lot of women needed to hear. It creates a dialogue that I think is needed.

Kendrick Lamar is my favorite MC in the world. Anderson .Paak is one of the most brilliant minds that I've ever met as an MC and as a R&B artist, as a performing artist. All three of them are like super powers to me. I wasn't trying to mentor them because they are so great. If there would be any mentoring that would be needed, it would have to come from them. 

And to have an opportunity to work with them and with my alumni of artists and artists that are elder statesmen to me, like Bell Biv Devoe and Rakim. I wanted to show the world that I got three incredible generations of our culture on one body of work. Look how incredible and amazing we all can sound together, as long as we continue to bridge these gaps. That's what I was trying to do, show the world that we are the timeless greats. You can't put a timeline on greatness.

"You can't put a timeline on greatness."

That's real. What do you see as the biggest differences between 1998 when you dropped Extinction Level Event: The Final World Front and now?

The biggest difference between then and now, to me, is technology. A lot of the sh*t I was talking about then and a lot of the issues that we faced as a people then, none of that has changed now. We're still in the same horrible crisis of a situation as far as Black and brown people are concerned. I think the difference, in a way, now is that it is a little more directly affecting white people in a negative way. Because of this COVID thing and the narrative of it and the shutting down of the entire planet, it has now compromised the comfort level of every nationality and race. 

Unfortunately, the reality is a lot of things that were the same then have probably even gotten worse now. We didn't have social media in 1998. [Now, on social media] you can watch Black people getting killed every two to three days and there's no accountability. The worst part about it is that we didn't have these phones where we could watch this person getting killed on film, on repeat, from an uncensored Instagram post. We only saw it on the news. The kids are seeing this around the clock. It's an unbelievably unfortunate crisis as a result of technology and the systematic fery that has been implemented by design, by the powers that be. So again, this never changed, this is what it's been since the beginning. It's just magnified with how it's being put in our faces and how it is completely shifting the conscious and the subconscious thought processes. It has given birth to generations of valueless perspectives on life, as the generations are born into seeing this sht as a normalized thing. It's horribly unfortunate.

What do you hope your legacy will be?

That's a good question because I got so much left to do. [Laughs.] I don't know, because I have huge plans to do so many things outside of music that will contribute in a major way to the legacy I would love to leave. But as far as music is concerned, I want my legacy to be that I am held in a godly regard when it comes to being an artist; A significant contributor to the culture and a true MC and a profound climate shifter of the culture. And one of the best to ever do this sh*t. If I left out anything, I'll let you fill in the blanks. [Laughs.]

Pull Up On The Best Rap Song Nominees | 2021 GRAMMYs

GRAMMY Museum To Celebrate 50 Years Of Hip-Hop With 'Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit' Opening Oct. 7
The GRAMMY Museum's 'Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit' opens Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023

Image courtesy of the GRAMMY Museum


GRAMMY Museum To Celebrate 50 Years Of Hip-Hop With 'Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit' Opening Oct. 7

The new exhibit honors the 50th anniversary of hip-hop through an expansive and interactive exploration that features artifacts from legendary artists including the Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur, LL Cool J, and more.

GRAMMYs/Sep 7, 2023 - 03:11 pm

The GRAMMY Museum is celebrating the 50th anniversary of hip-hop this fall with the newly announced Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit, an immersive, interactive, 5,000-square foot experience celebrating the multifaceted world of hip-hop and the global impact and influence of the genre and culture. Launching Saturday, Oct. 7, and running through Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2024, the exhibit will feature expansive exhibits exploring hip-hop music, dance, graffiti, fashion, business, activism, and history as well as artifacts from hip-hop pioneers like Tupac Shakur, the Notorious B.I.G., LL Cool J, and many more.

Additionally, the exhibit features a one-of-a-kind Sonic Playground, featuring five interactive stations that invite visitors of all ages to partake in DJing, rapping and sampling, all essential elements comprising hip-hop culture. Additional virtual and in-person education and community engagement programs will be announced at a later date.

Exploring the countless ways hip-hop music and culture has dominated popular culture over the last 50 years, Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit was curated by a team of four co-curators who bring a deep knowledge of hip-hop, academic rigor and creativity to the project. They include:

  • Felicia Angeja Viator, associate professor of history, San Francisco State University, author of ‘To Live And Defy In LA: How Gangsta Rap Changed America,’ and one of the first women DJs in the Bay Area hip-hop scene

  • Adam Bradley, Professor of English and founding director of the Laboratory for Race and Popular Culture (the RAP Lab) at UCLA, and co-editor of ‘The Anthology of Rap’

  • Jason King, Dean, USC Thornton School of Music and former chair of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at NYU

  • Dan Charnas, Associate Arts Professor, NYU Clive Davis Institute of Music, and author of ‘Dilla Time: The Life And Afterlife Of The Hip-Hop Producer Who Reinvented Rhythm’

The co-curators worked in conjunction with GRAMMY Museum Chief Curator and Vice President of Curatorial Affairs Jasen Emmons as well as a 20-member Advisory Board.

Read More: 50 Artists Who Changed Rap: Jay-Z, The Notorious B.I.G., Dr. Dre, Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem & More

Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit is an educational journey through several key themes:

  • Origins: Discover the roots of hip-hop in the Bronx and New York City, where DJs were the original stars, and graffiti and breakdancing were integral to the culture.

  • Innovation: Explore how hip-hop artists have innovatively used technology, from transforming turntables into musical instruments to pioneering sampling techniques.

  • Sounds of Hip-Hop: Experience the diverse sounds of hip-hop in four themed studios, showcasing the evolution of production, the intersection of hip-hop and car culture, the craft of hip-hop lyrics, and the influence of R&B.

  • Fashion: Dive into the world of hip-hop fashion, featuring iconic clothing, jewelry and style.

  • Regionalism: Discover 14 hip-hop scenes across the United States, showcasing the importance of local and regional contributions.

  • Entrepreneurialism: Learn about the transformation of hip-hop from a back-to-school party in the Bronx to a multi-billion-dollar global industry.

  • Media: Discover the role of media in shaping hip-hop's development, from radio stations to pioneering shows like "Yo! MTV Raps."

  • Community: Explore how hip-hop has brought people together over the last 50 years, with an interactive ‘Hip-Hop America’ playlist featuring 200 songs that trace the genre's evolution.

Highlights from Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit include:

  • The Notorious B.I.G.'s iconic 5001 Flavors custom red leather peacoat he wore in Junior M.A.F.I.A.'s music video "Players Anthem"

  • Kurtis Blow's original handwritten lyrics for his 1980 hit single, "The Breaks," the first gold-certified rap song

  • Black suede fedora hat and Adidas Superstars belonging to Darryl "DMC" McDaniels of Run-D.M.C.

  • Tupac Shakur's handwritten essay "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death," circa 1992

  • Two outfits designed by Dapper Dan, Harlem fashion icon: 1) a half-length black leather jacket worn by Melle Mel (Melvin Glover, b. 1961) in performance at the 1985 GRAMMY Awards; and a black-and-yellow leather bucket hat and jacket worn by New York hip-hop artist Busy Bee (David James Parker)

  • Egyptian Lover's gold Roland 808, the beat-making tool

  • LL Cool J's red Kangol bucket hat 

Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit is a key event taking place as the world is celebrating 50 years of hip-hop this year. The origins of hip-hop can be traced back to Aug. 11, 1973, when DJ Kool Herc DJed a birthday party inside the recreation room of an apartment building located on 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the South Bronx, New York City. This history-making date marks the birth of hip-hop and is the reason why we're celebrating hip-hop's 50th anniversary this year. The 50th anniversary of hip-hop means artists, fans, and the music industry at-large are celebrating the momentous milestone via hip-hop concerts, exhibits, tours, documentaries, podcasts, and more around the globe across 2023.

Visit the GRAMMY Museum website for more information regarding advanced ticket reservations for Hip-Hop America: The Mixtape Exhibit.

50 Artists Who Changed Rap: Jay-Z, The Notorious B.I.G., Dr. Dre, Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem & More

5 Takeaways From Quavo's New Album 'Rocket Power'
Quavo performs at the BET Awards in June 2023.

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images


5 Takeaways From Quavo's New Album 'Rocket Power'

Five years after his first solo release, Quavo's 'Rocket Power' explores loss, faith, and memories of the artist's late nephew Takeoff — a poignant tribute that marks a new creative plane for the Georgia-born artist.

GRAMMYs/Aug 18, 2023 - 10:28 pm

Tragedy struck the hip-hop world in November 2022 when Migos star Takeoff was killed during an early morning shootout in Houston. Among the hardest hit by the loss was one-third of the famed trio and his uncle Quavo, who witnessed the shooting and sat by Takeoff's side as he passed outside a nearby bowling alley.

Since Takeoff's death, Quavo has largely stepped away from public view. He first resurfaced with an emotional tribute to his late nephew, "Without You," in January, sporadically releasing four more singles in subsequent months. But on Aug. 18, Quavo delivered his biggest tribute yet: the aptly titled album, Rocket Power, which explores the emotional scars that have formed nearly a year after Takeoff's passing. 

Arriving nearly five years after his debut solo album, 2018's Quavo Huncho, Rocket Power is a welcomed sign of Quavo's artistic maturation. The 32-year-old rapper melds his effortless melodicism and hit-making powers to create a cohesive body of work filled with soul-stirring jams and ear-catching trap bangers. 

To welcome Huncho's newest solo effort, we compiled five early takeaways from the 18-track project Rocket Power

The Album Honors Takeoff's Life From Childhood To The GRAMMY Stage

From the intro "Fueled Up" to the album's closing track, Rocket Power points to the life and legacy of Takeoff, who's featured on songs "Patty Cake" and "Back Where It Begins." On songs like "Hold Me," Quavo details the misery and emotional pain he and others have faced in the months following Takeoff's unexpected death: "I just need you to hold me/ Listen and feel my heart closely." Quavo also points to other instrumental figures in his life, asking them to come to his aid in moments of darkness.

On the title track, "Rocket Power," Quavo acknowledges the gut-wrenching thoughts and vulnerability he's experienced in this time of grief, and the toll it's placed on both him and his family. "Thinking about my nephew while I'm rolling some trees/ Mama said she's crying, and she's crying in her sleep."

While references to Takeoff's passing are sprinkled throughout the project, "Patty Cake" gifts Migos fans a welcomed look back at the two artist's influence and chemistry. And for many, hearing Taekoff's voice on the interlude "Narkedo Speaks" (which is pulled from a Drink Champs interview) reflects the kind of figure he was in rap: "I ain't even have a plan B, I made myself not have a plan B on purpose/Just so I can fulfill my plan A."

Limited Features Magnify Takeoff Tribute

Rocket Power only includes five features, a vast difference from Quavo's debut album, which boasted features on over half of its 19 tracks.

Among the artists featured on the project — which includes Future, Young Thug, Hunxho and BabyDrill — the most significant moments come from the artist the album honors. With Takeoff's presence on "Patty Cake" and "Back Where It Begins," the songs flash to his often understated talents and role as the Migos' lyrical foreman. It also points to how instrumental he was in Quavo's life, as the rapper touches on their past memories growing up in Lawrenceville, Georgia.

With fewer features, Quavo's vision for Rocket Power pierces through more vividly, and the project's more intimate and conceptualized moments reach their apex. While stars like Young Thug and Future elevate tracks like "Focused" and "Back Where It Begins," songs like "11.11" and "Not Done Yet" would lose much of its emotional fuel with another artist's presence.

Rumors Aside, Offset And Quavo's Relationship Appears To Be On The Upswing

It's hard to ignore Offset's absence on Rocket Power. He's not featured nor mentioned throughout much of the album, but "11.11" provided fans with some clarity on the status of their relationship.

Following the 2022 release of Quavo and Takeoff's collaborative album, Only Built For Infinity Links (which was released just weeks before Takeoff's passing), rumors about a falling out between Quavo and Offset emerged. The two first alleviated reports of their feud — including that they fought backstage at the 2023 GRAMMYs —  by reuniting for a performance at the 2023 BET Awards in June.

And nearly two months after their reunion, Quavo further suggests he and Offset are in a better place on "11.11": "5:30 Huncho and Set get up early, and go out and go get that bag together (Set)/ Who the f— gonna put us together, can't nobody put this s— back together/ So stay the f— out of the middle, lil fella/ We always goin' be that/ We fam forever (Migos)."

Quavo Leans Further Into His Faith

Throughout the album, Quavo points to his faith as a source of emotional strength and how it's tethered his family together in the wake of recent tragedy. On "Not Done Yet," the artist raps, "Giving it all I got, don't know what God got for me (God)/ Holding my head up high, I hope y'all really proud of me (High)."

While the "Lost" rapper has never shied away from his faith, Rocket Power is the most Quavo has ever melded it into his music. As much as it's a snapshot of his current mental state, the religious references point to the new creative plane Quavo is currently on.

Quavo Is A Legitimate Solo Star

Following Quavo Huncho, some hip-hop fans questioned Quavo's ability to carry an album as a solo artist. But if there were any doubts, drop them. He's unquestionably a star capable of carrying on his own.

While Quavo is credited for his infectious hooks and street hits, Rocket Power proves he can effectively draw from his life experiences and transfer those emotions to create gut-wrenching records. It also proves he can effectively pair these kinds of records together into a larger conceptual project, and expand his artistry beyond his melodic mastery.

Throughout the album, Quavo firmly commands each of the 18 tracks. He delivers a harmonious (and effective) mix of stadium-level anthems, emotion-fueled sentiments, and hard-hitting trap songs — proving that he'll not only continue the legacy he and Takeoff built together, but continue to evolve creatively on his own.

Hip-Hop Just Rang In 50 Years As A Genre. What Will Its Next 50 Years Look Like?

Hip-Hop Re:Defined: Watch Asha Imuno Personalize Kendrick Lamar's "i" With A Sparkling New Chorus
Asha Imuno

Photo: Courtesy of Asha Imuno


Hip-Hop Re:Defined: Watch Asha Imuno Personalize Kendrick Lamar's "i" With A Sparkling New Chorus

Rap newcomer Asha Imuno offers an upbeat cover of Kendrick Lamar's GRAMMY-winning hit "i," one of the many tracks that inspired the sound for Imuno's upcoming project, 'PINS & NEEDLES.'

GRAMMYs/Aug 16, 2023 - 05:02 pm

Growing up in Compton, California, Kendrick Lamar never thought he would see the day he was happy, confident and, most importantly, hopeful. But his lead single from 2015's To Pimp A Butterfly, "i," proves that reality wasn't so far-fetched — even when confronted with gun violence and police brutality.

In this episode of Hip-Hop Re:Defined, rap newcomer Asha Imuno delivers his rendition of "i," which won Lamar both Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song at the 2015 GRAMMYs. Though the original track's groovy instrumental remains, Imuno adds a personal touch to his cover with a new chorus. 

"And I love myself/ The world is a ghetto with big guns and picket signs/ And I love myself/ But they can do what they want, whenever they want, I don't mind," he sings. "And I love myself/ He said I gotta get up, there's more to life than suicide."

Imuno is a longtime fan of Lamar, and according to a press statement, his upcoming album, PINS & NEEDLES, was heavily inspired by Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly. On June 14, Imuno released the first single from the debut project, "PUSHING BUTTONS."

Press play on the video above to hear Asha Imuno's uplifting cover of Kendrick Lamar's "i," and check back to for more new episodes of Hip-Hop Re:Defined, a limited series celebrating hip-hop's 50th anniversary.

50 Artists Who Changed Rap: Jay-Z, The Notorious B.I.G., Dr. Dre, Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar, Eminem & More

7 Unforgettable Sets From Outside Lands 2023: Foo Fighters' Special Guests, Lana Del Rey's Return & A Superhero DJ Shaq
Janelle Monáe performs at the 2023 Outside Lands Festival

Photo: Steve Jennings/WireImage


7 Unforgettable Sets From Outside Lands 2023: Foo Fighters' Special Guests, Lana Del Rey's Return & A Superhero DJ Shaq

The 15th edition of San Francisco’s foggy summer festival brought the musical heat — and lots of wild surprises.

GRAMMYs/Aug 15, 2023 - 01:57 pm

On Aug. 11-13, Outside Lands returned to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park for the 15th time. The city's premiere multi-day music and food festival attracted approximately 75,000 daily attendees, and promoter Another Planet says that about half of the 225,000 ticket holders live outside the Bay Area. 

Though it takes place in the peak of summer, San Francisco in August is relatively cold and nicknamed "Fogust," which may have shocked any of the out of towners who showed up in shorts and barely-there tops.

The mild weather conditions meant that the true heat was left up to the performers  to generate, and the more than 90 acts happily delivered. Below, we recount seven of the sets that were worth braving the summer cold to witness.

Shaq Takes Day One Championship

Moonlighting as DJ Diesel, NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal apologized for starting his incredibly surprising set a few minutes late.

"Sorry I’m late, I was just hanging with Steph Curry and Draymond Green," he said, name checking the Golden State Warriors’ star players. He laced his banter with basketball metaphors and later brought out Warriors guard Gary Payton II to play Queen’s "We Are The Champions" in the team’s honor.

After dropping jaws by firing up aggressively, atonal EDM beats, he invited the crush of fans to come up on stage and "party with Diesel" one at a time. His set veered from Guns N Roses to Imogen Heap and he has to be the first DJ to call for a "ladies only mosh pit" while playing Aqua’s "Barbie World." 

When he threw a young blonde boy on his shoulders and they both pumped their fists in unison, it was everything — and that’s how a superhero DJs.

Janelle Monáe Celebrates The Fam

With a towering stack of Jamaican sound system-styled speakers, giant beach balls, a towel-waisted band and swimsuited dancers, Janelle Monáe brought the sexy "Black Sugar Beach" and "Lipstick Lover" vibes of her new album The Age of Pleasure to the Lands End main stage, which she last graced in 2018. 

Monáe has since come out as nonbinary and greatly expanded her fanbase; at Outside Lands, she dedicated her performance to "my community, the LGBTQIA+ community," saying, "I love you so much. To be Black, to be queer, to be nonbinary, to evolve and to have family like you is a blessing."

Monáe’s natural charisma has only gotten sharper over time, and her dance moves are more infused with the quick steps of the Godfather of Soul James Brown and Prince. Her almost Rockettes-level line choreography with her dancers has leveled up as well.

This year’s Outside Lands also saw the debut of the LGBTQIA+-centric Dolores’ stage, which was powered all weekend by local party crews such as Hard French, Fake and Gay and Oasis. A highlight was Reparations, an all-Black drag show hosted by the incomparable Nicki Jizz, San Francisco’s serial Drag Queen of the Year (according to local publication 48 Hills) who wore a large penis hat that she claimed was true to her actual size. The most overtly queer-friendly edition of Outside Lands was something beautiful to continue and build on in the future.

Kendrick Lamar Brings The Friday Night Light

Last seen rapping to a small but rapturous crowd on a secondary stage at Outside Lands in 2015, Kendrick Lamar has grown immeasurably as a recording artist and live performer. Lamar commanded the Lands End stage, closing the festival’s first night with quietly assertive control and grace in a performance that felt like a rightful graduation. This veritable elder statesman slot has been previously held by major acts like Radiohead, Neil Young With Crazy Horse and Paul McCartney.

His 2022 album Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers featured prominently in the 21-song set, which included leftfield covers of Pusha T’s "Nosetalgia" and The Weeknd’s "Sidewalks." But Lamar knows that people still want to yell their lungs out to earlier cuts like "Swimming Pools (Drank)," "Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe," "m.A.A.d city," "HUMBLE." and "Alright" and he obliged.

Lana Del Rey Swings Back To Twin Peaks

Flower crowns were all the rage when Lana Del Rey made her Outside Lands debut in 2016 at Twin Peaks, the festival’s second largest stage. A new generation has since discovered the singer’s outsize character and vibe, and as the gates opened on Saturday, giddy groups of teenage girls rushed to park themselves at the edge of that very same stage to catch Del Rey’s big return to Golden Gate Park.

This time, Del Rey’s set included a projection that said "God Bless You San Francisco" and a giant swing woven with flowers that flung her into the air while she sang. Her set spanned her classics, like "Video Games" from 2012’s Born To Die, current hits, such as the title track from this year’s album Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd., and a loving cover of Tammy Wynette’s 1968 country hit "Stand By Your Man." 

Though she’s revered as an almost otherworldly figure and was an angelic vision in white, Del Rey doesn’t act untouchable in 2023 — in fact, she literally came down and touched some of those fans who waited all day for her.

Foo Fighters Come Out Crooning

"We’ve gotta fit 28 years into two f—ing hours!" Dave Grohl explained early in the Foo Fighters' set. It was a towering goal that they tackled with consummate ease, reaching back to hits such as "Times Like These" and "The Pretender" and showing the continuum through to recent songs like "Rescue."

After playing a few choice riffs of "Enter Sandman," it would have been less of a surprise to see a member of two-time Outside Lands headliner (and Bay Area natives) Metallica join them on stage than who actually came out for a cameo. After flying in from Argentina, Michael Bublé initially pretended to be a regular audience member before going onstage to sing his hit "Haven’t Met You Yet." 

The Foo-Bublé connection is fun and surprising: New drummer Josh Freese has also played for the Canadian crooner, and "Haven’t Met You Yet" is part of a medley that the Foo Fighters are doing on tour that is comprised of other bands Freese has supported (including Devo’s "Whip It" and Nine Inch Nails’ "March of the Pigs").

Of course, the late drummer Taylor Hawkins will always be a prominent part of the Foo Fighters and their shows, and they played "Aurora" in his memory. As the park’s Polo Field lit up in violet-colored lights, Grohl’s 17-year-old daughter Violet Grohl also joined to sing three songs with her father, which he said was his absolute favorite thing in the world to do. 

"I’m sure I’m embarrassing her right now!" he said.

Gabriels Tributes Tina Turner

"We’re California boys, but this is our first time in San Francisco," shared Gabriels singer Jacob Lusk before turning the Sutro stage into the Church of Outside Lands, and instructing everyone to share some neighborly love.

The Los Angeles band has some meteoric fans: Elton John invited Lusk, whose early resume includes being a former "American Idol" contestant who was in a gospel group with the late Nate Dogg, to sing with him on stage at this year’s Glastonbury. Lusk’s incredible vocal range flexes from baritone to falsetto on a dime, and he frequently takes a step back from the microphone while singing, as if not to overwhelm it.

In a particularly touching moment, Gabriels performed Tina Turner’s "Private Dancer" while a montage of footage of Turner filled the screen.

Megan Thee Stallion Triumphs Over Tragedy

Fog flooded the park as a super snatched Megan Thee Stallion took to the stage in a hot Barbie pink outfit and long red hair, but she blazed through the haze with ground-sweeping twerking and saucy tracks like "Body," "Her," "WAP" and "Big Ole Freak." It was her first performance since Tory Lanez was sentenced to 10 years for shooting her, and she was feeling noticeably buoyant.

"F— all my haters!" she said in the middle of the set. "None of the s— you was doing or saying broke me." 

She received nothing but love from the crowd, and she was delighted by a big pocket of "boys" that she saw. Meg truly loves her "Hotties," and even stopped in between songs to sign someone’s graduation cap. A recent grad herself, she is proud of her fans who follow suit.

"Real college girl s—!" she exclaimed.

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