By Damien Brooks
“Keep It Cute and Stay Hydrated” was the motto for this year’s Mo Pop festival. They were not kidding; it was fitting with temperatures staying in the 80s.
This year’s festival will go down in Detroit history as one of the best, regardless of the weather. Experiencing so much great music with Detroit as your backdrop, I could not have asked for a better festival. So many amazing artists graced the two stages and shared with us their beautiful talents.
Something I love about this festival, and so many like it, is that they will not hesitate to shine the light on local artistry. Giving a platform to musicians like Charity, Whu Else, and Tiny Jag speaks to the beauty of this city. Like Big Sean said while performing Sunday night, Detroit is the blueprint. The people of this city have produced so much musicality for the industry, and Detroit’s style of musical presentation has always become mainstream.
Whether the Motown sound in the 60s or the techno beats of the 80s, Detroit continuously offers a new way of making music, and these artists are no different. They offer an experience and a sound you cannot find everywhere else the people in attendance would agree.
The weekend highlight would have to be Jhene Aiko and Big Sean. The two performed one after the other on the Grande stage, giving us all a night to remember. Standing in the Hart of the city under the shadow of the Renaissance Center created unmatched energy.
He graced us with music from his 2012 mixtape “Detroit” and the legendary work that is “Finally Famous Vol. 3”. Performing songs like “Higher” and “Supa Dupa Lemonade” – pieces he stated that he only brought out the archive for the people of Detroit. While in the same breath, he informed us that he was working on his 6th studio album and even teasing festival goers with a new song sample.
It was his first hometown performance since his concert at the Filmore in 2017 and his largest show since he performed at Joe Louis in 2015. He was coming off his performance at Lollapalooza in Chicago on Saturday and at Montreal’s Osheaga Festival Friday; his energy was high, and the crowd reciprocated accordingly.
Sean Don would not be himself if he did not break down some words of wisdom and inspiration between songs. He even brought his family on stage – his parents and his brother – as they honored his grandmother, Mildred Virginia Leonard. One of the first Black female captains of World War 2 and one of the only black women working for DPD shortly after that. Ms. Leonard and her battalion were awarded a Congressional Gold Medal earlier this year for their service in World War II. He closed out his dedication to her by performing “One Man Can Change the World,” a song he wrote as a tribute to her for his album “Dark Sky Paradise.”
He also took the time to honor the lady in his life – Jhene Aiko – after they performed two of his songs that she featured, “Beware” and “I Know.” He gushed over her as he thanked her for being a fantastic person and the future mother of his child. Unfortunately, the two did not perform any music from their joint venture, TWENTY88. When the line-up for the festival was released, many people speculated about new music from the duo. However, that was not the case, and we were let down, though we were not surprised.
The two released their original project in 2016 and hinted at a second album but never confirmed or released any music under the alias since its debut. We cannot say if the two will be releasing any new music together soon, but their performance Sunday will keep many fans at bay for a bit longer.
Though Jhene and Big Sean may have been the weekend’s highlight, many other notable acts graced the Eastown and Grande stage – named after concert venues of Detroit’s past. Some fan favorites were Dominic Fike, who gave you an eclectic early 2000s indie rock vibe. As well as, bands like Backseat Lovers and Horsegirl attended the festival after being on tour this summer.
When you were not listening to great music or standing at the front of the stage for an hour as you waited for your favorite artist to go on, the festival had a few things to keep you busy in between. Whether working up a more extensive sweat dancing to the DJs over at the Haute to Death stage or keeping cool in the Mo Arcade tent, Mo Pop kept you moving and entertained.
Even after you worked up an appetite, they had you covered. Island Noodle and Nick Gyros were a favorite at the festival, and you could not turn around without seeing a boat of Pappy Fries or a yellow takeout container with chopsticks sticking out. They also made way for local eateries such as the Detroit favorite Slows BBQ and two of Ferndale’s staples, Treat Dreams and Imperial.
It was the first Mo Pop outing since 2019, and the first time the event was held in Hart Plaza. Along with being Big Sean’s first performance at the festival, these three things added to the euphoric energy that oozed from the concrete below. It was an experience you had to be in attendance for to understand. So, if you did not attend, you missed out on an incredible experience. Be sure to prepare for the next one in advance because you do not want to miss another legendary Mo Pop.