By Mystery Girl
Jay-Z, Gorillaz, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Future, Erykah Badu, LL Cool J, Nas- just a few of the iconic names that graced the stages of The Meadows Music and Arts Festival in Queens, New York. If that statement alone doesn’t get you excited as a music fan, I don’t know what will. Bringing music legends to Citi Field for a second year, the festival transformed the stadium’s parking lot into a 4-stage celebration from Friday, September 15 to Sunday, September 17.
With a lineup of acts representing music generations past and present, there was something for everyone at the 3-day festival; from artists like Migos and 21 Savage representing today’s new wave of music to timeless veteran headliners like Jay-Z, Gorillaz, and Red Hot Chili Peppers giving 90s babies like myself a weekend full of music nostalgia. The Meadows was what I call a ‘bucket list festival’, checking off some big time names on the ‘must see live before I die’ roster.
Jay-Z jumped from Hip Hop classics like “Run This Town” and “Izzo” to newer records off his powerful 4:44 album, before giving a compelling “Numb/Encore” tribute performance in honor of the late Chester Bennington (Linkin Park). Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Josh Klinghoffer shredded guitar while bass god Flea effortlessly destroyed riffs. Damon Albarn gave an artistically captivating performance digitally joined by his animated Gorillaz band glaring on the screen behind him and a group of live musicians and backup singers. And let’s not forget the names left off the bill, with a handful of surprise cameos from guest artists. Future brought out Nicki Minaj; LL Cool J was joined by D.M.C., Q-Tip, and The Furious Five’s Melle Mel and Scorpio; Jay-Z brought out Damien Marley; and Damon Albarn brought out Pusha T, D.R.A.M., De La Sol, Yasiin Bey, and Jehnny Beth, to name a few.
As I navigated through three days of performances and one on one interviews, I noticed a commonality between the artists I spoke with. A strong entrepreneurial spirit was the standout trait amongst my Meadows interviewees, whose varied backstories and journeys into the industry share a common theme of self-determination. It comes as no surprise, considering that today’s music industry has been experiencing a notable push for more artist independence and control. Look at Chance The Rapper, who took home three Grammy wins this year despite refusing to sign to a label; or Meadows headliner Jay-Z, who took his career beyond rapping to founding the first artist-owned streaming service in the world, putting more power back in the artists’ hands.
There’s an obvious shift in the way artists are handling their music careers today, taking a more DIY approach: a sentiment that echoed throughout my conversations with performing artists at The Meadows. Take a look below to find out more about those passionate and driven creatives I spoke with while at the festival.
Chance The Rapper isn’t the only artist to win a Grammy without label support. Xavier Amin Dphrepaulezz, aka Fantastic Negrito, did it this year as well; snagging the award for his self-produced album The Last Days of Oakland released under his collective Blackball Universe. “I won the Grammy without a record label and I recorded my album without a studio; I just did it in an old funky room,” the artist said. Fantastic Negrito’s story is an interesting one to say the least. He’s been through it all; from being signed to a major record label under a million dollar deal, to falling into a coma after a near fatal car accident, to quitting music completely. He describes his music as “black roots music for everyone” and his show as “Church without the religion.” Fantastic Negrito is as authentic as they come, and a living example of overcoming adversity. Check out my interview with the artist to find out more about his incredible journey.
Tennessee rapper Mike Floss is another artist making moves without a big fancy deal. In my interview with Floss, he discusses how he was recognized by TIDAL when the streaming platform featured him and his “Dopeboy Dreaming” record in a commercial during the Billboard Music Awards. Floss states, “For an artist that has no record deal, no major backing…for me to be able to achieve things like that strictly off the strength of the music…I think it’s like a true Cinderella story…you can really build something off quality.” Raised in Nashville, Floss shares what it's like being a rap artist in a state where Hip Hop culture is lacking and his hopes to change that. The lyricist also discusses how his dad Rod McGaha, a successful Jazz musician, has influenced his approach to music and what to expect on his latest album Tennessee Daydreams.
Dylan St. John
New York artist and songwriter Dylan St. John didn't let his lack of a label stop him from doing music. Instead, he forged his own lane and started independent record label “Billboard Bound Entertainment” (BBE) as a platform for his music. An artist who marches to the beat of his own drum, Dylan St. John explains why he left college to pursue music and why his projects crossover into multiple genres.
Dams of the West
You may be familiar with Chris Tomson as the drummer of band Vampire Weekend, but the musician took on a different role as front man of Dams of the West, a new band he created. Tomson says he produced debut album Youngish Americans before putting the actual live band together for touring. He explains why he wanted the band to consist of all women, what it’s like jumping between drummer and lead singer, and more in this interview with him and his Dams of the West band mates.
Public Access T.V.
Public Access T.V. lead singer John Eatherly dropped out of high school to pursue music and ended up in New York where he eventually formed the group. When the band’s first track “Monaco” put them on the radar, the guys decided to perform shows under fake band names to practice playing live. In my interview with Public Access T.V., guitarist Xan says they were prompted to do the secret shows after a major label invested money into the group without them having played a show yet.
Toronto-based band Arkells talks about their album Morning Report, rock music, meeting Drake's dad, and Canada in my interview with members Mike and Max after their Meadows set.
Winning a Grammy without a label or studio, dropping out of high school to pursue music, starting an independent record label, performing under an alias to practice- these stories demonstrate an unwavering determination, innovativeness, and independence that has led these artists to where they are today. In the words of Fantastic Negrito, “You feel like you need all this stuff. You need your soul;” sound advice to aspiring artists in an ever-changing industry.