Music review of Yardfest at Howard University

Fans and students flocked to the popular music festival at Howard University on Oct. 29 to catch big names and breakout performers.
By Chris Richards
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 30, 2010

Designer fragrances were whipping in the October wind while coeds sporting Crocs and pajama pants danced the two-step to a throbbing hip-hop beat.

Howard University students -- some primped for a night in the club, others freshly rolled off their futons -- had gathered on the campus quad for Friday's Yardfest, one of the most anticipated events of Howard's annual homecoming festivities. The sprawling six-hour concert lineup offered more than 60 performances from rappers and R&B singers of old school, new school and completely unknown stripes.

Fans braved the autumn chill to see Washington rap hero Wale, R&B songbird Dondria, eye-patched icon Slick Rick, throwback hero Doug E. Fresh and a headlining set from Rick Ross.

But hours before the marquee names got anywhere near a microphone, Mariah Williams and her fellow Howard sophomores Jaquanda Capers, Sherita Dabney and Tiara Bryant had staked out a front-row spot. Dressed in layers with snacks packed in their purses, they had arrived at 11 a.m. and planned to stay put until the very last note.

"I used the bathroom several times prior," said Williams, clinging to the stage barricade. "There's no leaving."

That's because they didn't want to miss any future superstars. Over the years, Yardfest has earned an almost mythic reputation as a showcase for emerging hip-hop talents on the way to household name status. Jay-Z, Kanye West and the late Notorious B.I.G. all performed at Yardfest early in their careers. The Howard quad has also hosted performances from OutKast, Diddy and Erykah Badu. Perhaps trying to tap into the magic, local rap star Wale shot his breakout video for "Nike Boots" at Yardfest in 2008.

And while Wale paid tribute to Howard's homecoming on screen, Notorious B.I.G. immortalized the weekend in rhyme. "Ain't no telling where I may be/May see me in D.C. at Howard homecoming," he declared on "Kick in the Door" in 1997. Ludacris followed suit with "Pimpin' All Over the World" in 2005. "Jump in the car and just ride for hours," he rapped. "Making sure I don't miss the homecoming at Howard."

This year's Yardfest aimed to transport fans all over the world. Merging with the university's annual International Showcase, the day had been officially dubbed "International Yard Festival," the stage decked out with flags like a model United Nations. But outside of performances from Jamaican reggae stars Mr. Vegas and Shaggy, this bill was almost entirely a North American affair.

The sleepy crowd first snapped to life around 3:30, thanks to an act from Georgia. Travis Porter -- actually a trio of rappers from Atlanta -- stomped across the stage, barking over a plush, thundering beat: "Make it rain!" They yanked a few dollars from their jeans and tossed them into a windy gust that carried the bills 50 yards into the crowd. While the out-of-towners tried to buy the crowd's affection, hometown artists focused on networking backstage.

"There's a lot of good producers, a lot of good musicians out here," said local rapper Black Cobain before his performance with Fat Trel. "We're gonna shake some hands, pass out some CDs." At his feet: two large cardboard boxes, each overflowing with copies of his new mix tape, "Now."

Washington newcomer Lola Monroe had apparently already made her connections, sharing the stage with acclaimed Miami rapper Trina. The crowd was receptive to the duo but quickly turned when Trina departed. "Small yesterday's big tomorrows," Monroe rapped a cappella, bracing for a difficult right now. Audience members formed L-shapes with their hands -- as in "leave" -- and shooed her off the stage.

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