By Dave Pehling
OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Marking the first Bay Area music fest for Coachella producer Goldenvoice, the inaugural two-day Blurry Vision Festival brings headlining artists SZA and Migos to Oakland’s Middle Harbor Park this weekend.
The organization behind several of Southern California’s biggest music celebrations — Goldenvoice puts together massive annual country festival Stagecoach and the just cancelled FYF Fest in Los Angeles in addition to Coachella — the promoter’s initial venture in the Bay Area will be held at the same location as 2015’s electronic, reggae and hip-hop focused Bay Area Vibes Festival.
Saturday’s headliner SZA (pronounced “SIZ-uh,” a nod to Wu-Tang Clan founder and producer RZA) is a creative hip-hop influenced alternative-soul singer who got her start back in 2012 with the first of two self-produced EP See.SZA.Run. Mixing minimalist R&B beats with synth-pop and other electronic styles, SZA quickly earned praise from critics, some likening the singer’s style to a collision of R&B queen Beyonce and Iceland’s experimental electronic pop maverick Bjork.
Teaming with Top Dawg Entertainment (the independent label home of Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q and Ab-soul) for her third EP Z in 2014. Her proper debut album Ctrl was supposed to be released late the following year, but SZA experienced creative anxiety over song selection — she reportedly recorded 150-200 tunes — meticulously reworking the track list for over a year before label executives took her hard drive from her and demanded a final version that was issued in the summer of 2017.
An immediate critical and commercial success powered by singles “Drew Barrymore,” “Love Galore,” “The Weekend” and “Broken Clocks,” the album would earn SZA five Grammy nominations including Best New Artist and Best Urban Contemporary Album in addition to ending up on numerous “best of” lists at the end of the year. Though SZA was shut out at the Grammys in late January, she has continued to dazzle fans with her contributions to the Black Panther soundtrack (the Kendrick Lamar collaboration “All the Stars”) and remains one of the most adventurous new singers in modern R&B.
Other highlights on the Saturday schedule include sets from BROCKHAMPTON, the sprawling, irreverent alternative hip-hop/soul crew led by Kevin Abstract that calls itself “the Internet’s first boy band” and has amassed a huge following with their surreal YouTube videos; Toronto-based modern R&B duo Majid Jordan, who have made a name as featured collaborators with Drake (“Hold On, We’re Going Home,” “My Love”); rising Top Dawg Entertainment rapper Isaiah Rashad, who is currently working on a follow-up to his acclaimed 2016 debut The Sun’s Tirade; Roy Wood$, another Canadian disciple of Drake who scored a big hit with his song “Drama;” and Joji, a onetime comedic YouTube personality known as FilthyFrank who produced the comedy-rap album Pink Season under the moniker Pink Guy but has moved on to more serious music with a mix of contemporary R&B and trip-hop. Local MC Caleon Fox, another artist who first got attention for his comedic musical efforts on YouTube (the hip-hop parodies “No Swag No Swag” and “The Durag Song”) before turning to more serious hip hop with his upcoming EP release If Only You Knew, will open the live entertainment at 1:40 p.m. after warm-up DJ set from the Another Party Fam crew.
On Sunday, the bill will be topped by one of the biggest hip-hop acts to emerge in the past decade, prolific Atlanta-based “trap” trio Migos. Founded by three family members in 2009 — Quavo is the uncle of Takeoff and the cousin of third member Offset — the threesome originally operated under the name Polo Club. By 2011, they had adopted the moniker Migos for their debut mixtape Juug Season. By the time they released their third mixtape Y.R.N. (Young Rich N—-s) two years later, the group hit the Billboard charts with their first smash single, “Versace.”
The tune would end up being remixed by Drake, while the mixtape put the trio on the map with critics raving about their triplet-heavy lyrical flow, hedonistic party-hearty attitude and unique take on Dirty South beats that would later become known as trap. Migos continued to build on its popularity, putting out several more popular mixtapes before finally issuing its proper debut album Young Rich Nation in the summer of 2015.
The group suffered a setback that year after an incident at Georgia Southern University where the trio and a dozen people in their entourage were taken into custody for a variety of drug and weapons charges. While Quavo and Takeoff were freed on bail, Offset would remain in custody for eight months, a stint lengthened by charges of battery and inciting a riot resulting from a fight with another inmate.
Though Offset’s incarceration derailed tour plans in 2015, the group came back bigger than ever the following year, scoring another massive hit with “Bad and Boujee” ahead of their second album, 2017’s Culture. The effort topped both the Billboard 200 and Top R&B/Hip-Hop Album charts, landed on numerous year-end lists for best albums. Another hit collaboration — this time with pop darling Katy Perry on the song “Bon Appétit,” further solidified the underground trio’s emergence into the mainstream. Even if the sequel album Culture II didn’t garner the same level of acclaim earlier this year despite the powerhouse single “MotorSport” featuring Nicki Minaj and Offset’s fiancée Cardi B, Migos is still one of the biggest hip-hop acts on the planet today.
Rounding out the line-up on Sunday are anticipated appearances by NxWorries, a collaborative project between renowned celebrated R&B singer/rapper Anderson .Paak and producer Knxwledge; up-and-coming downtempo/neo-soul chanteuse Alina Baraz, who was a featured artist at Coachella this year; fiery Oakland native rapper and local festival favorite Kamaiyah, who was credited with keeping the 2016 Treasure Island Music Festival going as inclement weather and flight delays threatened to derail the fest; eclectic Seattle-based producer, DJ and beatmaker Sango, who released his latest collection In the Comfort Of earlier this year; and talented St. Louis future-funk rapper Smino.
Festival attendees will be able to get to Middle Harbor Park via free shuttles that will be leaving regularly from the area of the West Oakland BART station (it should be noted there will no public parking available at the event site). For more information on Blurry Vision including tickets and complete daily schedules, visit the festival’s official website.
Blurry Vision Festival
Saturday-Sunday, May 12-13, 12 p.m. $99-$185
Middle Harbor Park