There was no creative license in the name The Smokers Club Fest. With marijuana now legal in California, music festivals can promise truth in advertising and throughout the second day of the hip-hop-heavy fest at Queen Mary Park in Long Beach, the aroma of Cali's finest chronic drifted through the crowd like bass blasting through speakers.
Even those who don't smoke would agree there was no shortage of dope on Sunday, April 29, the second of the festival's two days (Wiz Khalifa, 2 Chainz and ScHoolboy Q were among the artists who performed on Saturday). The only clouds in the sky were lingering puffs of exhaled blunts and Long Beach's Queen Mary Park proved to be an outstanding location, both logistically and scenically (I won't soon forget the gorgeous pink moon rising over the bay during Isaiah Rashad's set).
With a hugely successful launch, here's a look at the five best moments from the first edition of Smokers Club Fest in Long Beach.
Juicy J brings bandz, makes 'em dance
Southern rap legend Juicy J has assembled a unique career, one which stretches from his '90s classics in 36 Mafia to winning an Oscar in the '00s to steady features on songs by everyone from Katy Perry to A$AP Mob to Rae Sremmurd. His Smokers Club set featured something from all of these eras, but the highlight was his 2012 strip club anthem "Bandz A Make Her Dance." Juicy J was fully committed to the song's theme; he actually pulled a fresh-faced 18-year-old from the crowd to receive a lap dance from a stripper. It was a funny and surprisingly sweet moment from the most tenured rap veteran of the weekend.
Earl Sweatshirt goes outside, appears to like sh*t
Odd Future icon Earl Sweatshirt was booked for a 4:20 performance, arguably the most coveted timeslot of the weekend. But even though Earl acknowledged the smokers at the top of his set, his dusty, dark music isn't exactly 420-friendly (if anything, songs like "Grief" are what you feel like when you've eaten too many edibles). But even if he didn't play any new music from his upcoming album, Earl seemed like he was in a different headspace than he was when touring behind his last record, the brilliant but downcast I Don't Like Sh*t, I Don't Go Outside. Maybe we were distracted by his new long hair, but there seemed to be a more carefree vibe to Earl's performance. Regardless, Earl's conversational flow and deep lyricism remain marvelous and killer versions of songs like "Huey" and "Faucet" might as well have been a flyer for his next headlining tour.
Rapsody was rapturous
Calling back to the classic "smooth beats and dope lyrics" school from which she descends, Rapsody spent a surprising amount of her set rapping over beats from the likes of Biggie and A Tribe Called Quest. But her flow and perspective are wholly original and watching her command the stage, it's not hard to see why she scored a surprise Best Rap Album Grammy nomination last year for Laila's Wisdom. In a weekend that featured a lot of younger acts who fall squarely into SoundCloud Rap, it was refreshing to see a performer who emulated the hip-hop legends, in both substance and style.
Flatbush Zombies are all energy
The Brooklyn trio Flatbush Zombies have long occupied a distinct lane, one which melds horrorcore intensity with technical wizardry (and more than a little self-deprecating humor). The newly-released Vacation in Hell is their best album yet and the group seems to be hitting a new gear in their live performances; the Zombies had more intensity than any artist of the day. It helps that they seem to feed off each other (maybe they really are zombies) but each of the rappers (Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice and Erick Arc Elliott) would be a beast on their own. Together, they are truly a monster.
Kid Cudi rises like the full moon
To these ears, Kid Cudi makes some of the stoniest music this side of the Grateful Dead. Sure, "Marijuana" is a 4:20-long song about weed, but beyond the topic itself, there’s something about Kudi’s voice and delivery that’s deeply narcotizing, no say nothing of his melodic yet woozy beats. The cumulative effect is less a light puff from a joint than a deep pull from the bong.
Even after a long day on their feet, the crowd was hype for Cudi, no doubt hoping he might bring out Kanye West as a surprise guest ahead of their forthcoming album. That didn't happen but the performance was fantastic nonetheless, as Cudi played a set that leaned on best known songs like "Just What I Am" and "Pursuit of Happiness." It was a strong ending to the night and a fitting finale: Literally and figuratively, Smokers Club was a big hit.
Check out a slideshow of the best photos from the festival above and click here to listen to a playlist featuring some of the best weed songs from the artists who performed.