by Spencer KM Brown
She held her heels together, the left one tapping the beat just moments before the song began. SunQueen Kelcey pulled the strap of her blood-orange Les Paul over her neatly groomed afro, adjusted the glasses on her nose, let her fingers pluck the strings and nodded to the house band behind her tonight. As she began, her voice suddenly lifted arms into the air and opened lips, the crowd singing along to the chorus lines of “Thick girls do it better.”
Greensboro musician Kelcey Ledbetter, who performs under the full title of SunQueen Kelcey, challenges the idea of genre; giving off a badass rocker’s vibe with her guitar in hand while her voice revives the mellow sounds of Motown and classic R&B. SunQueen Kelcey moves about the stage with a full, beautiful smile, promoting peace and racial equality in her set in an almost punk-rock attitude.
Ledbetter is one of 23 performers who took the stage on Feb. 11 at the Blind Tiger in Greensboro, stunning crowds for the fourth annual Black 2 Hip-Hop festival. Performances included spoken-word poetry, stage artists, painters and a fashion show. The front of the stage was lined with artwork by local black artists, as well as tables on the sides of the venue with handmade jewelry and clothing. And while artists and musicians from the Triad were well represented, others came from surrounding cities and states to take part in the festival.
Nige Hood & the Folk Rap Band brought an element to the room that blended hip-hop with ’60s funk and jam-band sounds, but with a frontman whose stage presence calls to mind Lenny Kravitz mixed with James Brown.
Nige Hood, a self-dubbed “folk rap genius,” hails from Charlotte. Having performed for a few years as a solo act, Hood has recently brought a four-piece band into his live shows, culminating in a style that blends more mainstream hip-hop traditions with funk and folk sounds from the Peace & Love Generation. The charismatic frontman belted out smooth melodies with a flare of funk and eloquent, tightly-spouted verses with a Nas-like flow.
Festival-goers posed for pictures and showcased traditional bodypainting; flowers stuck out from braided hair; couples danced and cheered as those on stage gave meaningful and uplifting words of cultural and racial empowerment. This is the central idea behind the festival, said Black 2 Hip Hop founder, Torey “Viva” Evans.
“This festival is focused on bringing people of the Triad together. Artists, musicians, poets, dancers — we want to come together and share the voices and talents of black artists in the Triad and surrounding cities, because all lives matter, all artists matter,” Evans said. “Black 2 Hip Hop is about coming together to celebrate our culture, to celebrate artists of color and to bring empowerment to artists who might otherwise never be heard.” This year the festival broadcasted live and went out nationally over radio and podcast.
The festival will remain an annual event during Black History Month, and Evans says that in coming years, he plans to expand the festival’s local reach and will work with historically black colleges throughout the country to bring Black 2 Hip Hop to the national stage, celebrating not only artists of color but all people who have been pushed to the fringes of society.
With the list of performers being so large, most acts were only allotted two or three songs each, leaving the crowd craving more and chanting encores for local favorites such as SunQueen Kelcey, Allie Capo, and Debbie the Artist, which underscored the strength of this empowering and relevant festival.
Artists mingled among fans as their performances ended; posing for pictures and signing a CD or T-shirt. Smells from the food trucks poured in through the open doors and attendees lined up along the bar for another round, even five hours into the festival, holding off from reaching for car keys or having a cigarette as the lights dimmed, awaiting the last acts of the night.