The second day of the 2022 Essence Festival of Culture in New Orleans was immensely gratifying to those in person and the millions watching Hulu from home. Billed as “it’s the Black joy for me,” the Caesar Superdome served as the hub and headquarters for where smiles, laughs, and great vibes came to converge together for the 4th of July weekend.
BET.com was on hand to experience the experience, witnessing how 80,000-plus attendees jam-packed the multi-purpose stadium located in the Central Business District of N’Awlins and enjoying the siren sounds of Summer Walker, Jazmine Sullivan, Patti LaBelle, headliner Janet Jackson, and more.
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Before all the girls came out to deliver melodious goodness to our souls, DJ D-Nice opened the doors to Club Quarantine and treated us to some much-needed nostalgia as Dru Hill, Stephanie Mills, and El DeBarge took us through different points in our lives with songs like “Tell Me,” “Something In The Way (You Make Me Feel),” and “All This Love” putting us in our feels. It was a small appetizer when placed against the rollout of entree-inspired acts that had yet to grace the stage.
Summer Walker followed afterward, adorning her newly announced pregnant person on a stage full of green shrubbery, a fully stocked band, and a host of awkward, yet peaceful energy. The 26-year-old glowed beautifully, as her outfit would’ve made Rihanna smile with exuberant joy. “I know she’s with child,” said Jasmyn Warner, a longtime fan from Pensacola, Florida, exclusively to BET.com. “But I am only here to see her because I’ve never seen Summer live, and I love ‘Girls Need Love.’”
When the aforementioned song came on, backed with “No Love,” phones in the crowd all lit up and began recording the self-proclaimed “Awkward Kween,” and you could feel the atmosphere change.
A brief intermission featuring Ally Love and Loni Love (no relation) gave us time to settle in and stretch before Jazmine Sullivan came out to share with us her Heaux Tales. The Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter arrived in raucous applause as she went right into “Bodies (Intro),” before segueing into “Holding You Down (Going In Circles),” which had this writer doing a pretty mean two-step on the left side of the stage. A few songs later, she’d up the freaky vibes way past 10, covering D’Angelo’s scintillating classic, “Send It On,” before transitioning into “On It,” which features her and Ari Lennox being in full command of their sexual prowess. This marks the fourth time seeing the Philly native live, but the first time she didn’t perform “Let It Burn,” a personal favorite of mine.
Patti LaBelle, a venerable tour de force on- and off-stage, ushered in the “legends and icons” portion of the Essence Festival of Culture. As we know her to need no introduction, Auntie Patti sounded incredible with her mic being clear and without any issues. She hit all the marks from “Love, Need and Want You” to “The Right Kinda Lover,” which sent funky chills up and down my spine, and “If Only You Knew,” a classic that found her sage-ing the stage with her signature scent.
Auntie Patti wanted to give us such a good time that she even hit the C-walk over Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode,” which quickly found its way to Twitter and Instagram, and reminded young artists that you should always discover new ways to command a stage.
Bringing it home was Janet Damita Jo Jackson, and she did it in epic fashion.
Opening up with “Feedback,” I was hoping for “Control” b/w “Nasty,” with the tenth and youngest of Katherine and Joe Jackson, asking the Essence audience to give her a beat and hitting us with the mega-bangers right out the gate. Instead, Ms. Jackson showed that she wasn’t coming to play around and pulled out songs like “If,” “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” with ease, a fierce outfit, live vocals, and an energy level that made me miss the gym.
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Janet had no plans on letting up or taking her foot off the gas, as she even did a rare cut from her discography. The Luther Vandross-featured “The Best Things In Life Are Free,” which appeared on the Mo’ Money soundtrack, was a song I had never seen her perform live, and damn near jumped on my seat once the beat dropped. And while this is not my first time seeing Damita Jo get busy on stage, she exploded with excitement and I felt knowingly kept me up way past my bedtime [laughs]. She offered her own vintage version of sexy time with “Funny How Time Flies,” “Let’s Wait Awhile,” and “I Get So Lonely,” opening us up to get closer to one another, while “State of the World,” “The Knowledge,” and “Alright,” which featured Heavy D, provided a message in the music that was much-needed.
All in all, Janet Jackson and all the girls made sure that we laughed, loved, and left the Caesars Superdome in awe.
Kevin L. Clark is a screenwriter and entertainment director for BET Digital, who covers the intersection of music, film, pop culture, and social justice. Follow him on @IAmKevitoClark.