Murphy's law took a real shine to Hopscotch last year, especially on the hip-hop front.
Big Boi, half of the subsequently reunited Outkast and one of rap's most idiosyncratic dudes, had to cancel his anticipated headlining set, along with a series of scheduled dates, after a leg injury sidelined him. Shortly before flying out to open for Odd Future's resident sad sack Earl Sweatshirt at the Lincoln Theatre, outsized outer boro New Yorker Action Bronson sneezed his back out and, well, backed out.
Such medical mishaps weren't the only things keeping rappers out of Hopscotch. Even before the cancellations, the festival's hip-hop offerings seemed anemic, more like a cynical concession or afterthought compared to the thoughtful curation of its rock subgenre variants. Big Boi wasn't even replaced by another rapper, his slot instead filled by DJ/producer A-Trak and Holy Ghost!, the latter a Killers-esque synthpop group. While Queensbridge veteran Big Daddy Kane subbed in for the fallen Bronsolino, it ran counter to the purported aims of a music festival committed to pushing new and emerging artists.
With so few remaining hip-hop artists left on the multi-venue bill, Hopscotch came off as somewhat out of touch compared to larger scale, more inclusive players like Coachella or Lollapalooza. You were far more likely to stumble onto a (well-attended) noise set than a rap show. Even local hip-hop was severely underrepresented, with Raleigh's Cesar Comanche, the oh-so-mysterious DJ Paypal and Durham duo Toon & The Real Laww fending for themselves.
This time around, however, Hopscotch appears penitent or at least mindful, stacking its lineup with a remarkable selection of indie spitters, throwback heroes and a few quirkier curveballs. You can almost hear the organizers' cries of mea culpa with the near tripling of hip-hop artists over last year. For starters, the festival looked right in its own backyard, tapping Raleigh's Madison Jay, turntablist SPCLGST and Justus League alum Joe Scudda. With Congolese heritage and a deep connection to French hip-hop, Charlotte teen Well$ distills his diversity in a most American way, while Vice Records' Deniro Farrar will bring his own perspective on the Queen City.
The rapping talent from outside North Carolina shows the wondrous, radical diversity of contemporary hip-hop. "I definitely try to make my show look and feel a little different than what people might expect," says Open Mike Eagle, the Los Angeles rapper whose new album, Dark Comedy, is destined for multiple 2014 best-of lists. "I do my whole show next to an [Adventure Time] Ice King toy among other talismans." Sub Pop art terrorists Clipping., one of the acts Eagle's most excited to see, share the same bill. Elsewhere, Stockholm denizen Mapei shows off her singing and rapping double threat.
The vets on deck aren't to be dismissed, either. Though the odds of De La Soul not playing "Me Myself And I" are approximately nil, their Thursday headlining set—with the deserving Toon & The Real Laww returning to open—comes fairly fresh off the recent rediscovery and self-released mixtape of the trio dropping verses over J Dilla beats. Brooklyn 40-something Ka, your favorite rap critic's favorite rapper, will no doubt bring new material from his recent 1200 B.C. EP, which follows last year's unique and revelatory The Night's Gambit.
The porous line between hip-hop and EDM means more crossover opportunities. Perhaps the savviest Hopscotch booking of 2014, Lunice serves as one half of TNGHT, not to mention one of Kanye West's many collaborators on last year's mangled masterpiece Yeezus. There's no indication that the Montreal native plans on bringing guests, but he's clearly got friends in high places. Holygrailers, the pseudonym for Raleigh beatmaker Nikhil Shah, doesn't have a ton of material yet, but his style will charm those who enjoy a woozier wobble. Even indie R&B mope How To Dress Well has the potential to move a room. The game done changed, and Hopscotch has changed with it.
Gary Suarez is based in New York City. He has written for The Quietus, Noisey and MySpace, for which he reviewed Hopscotch 2013.