In 2019, Pharrell Williams launched Something in the Water, a three-day festival celebrating the impact his hometown of Virginia Beach and the surrounding area has had on music, arts and American life. While the pandemic curtailed plans to make it an annual event, Something in the Water is returning this month — but not to Virginia Beach, after the superstar musician decried the city’s “toxic energy” after police killed his cousin.
Instead, Williams and company are coming to downtown D.C., taking over a swath of Independence Avenue SW with some of the most notable names in hip-hop, R&B and beyond over Juneteenth weekend.
True to the festival’s Virginia roots, drug-rap don Pusha T and jam rockers nonpareil Dave Matthews Band will represent the V in the DMV, while Backyard Band, Rare Essence and Sound of the City will keep the District’s go-go tradition alive. The festival also features turn-of-the-millennium favorites such as Usher, the hitmaking pair Ashanti and Ja Rule, and leaders of the new school Lil Uzi Vert and Tyler, the Creator.
At the top of the bill are the organizer himself and a cast of “phriends” that includes Q-Tip, N.O.R.E., SZA, longtime collaborator Justin Timberlake and Clipse, the long-awaited reunion of Pusha T and his brother No Malice. The lineup also offers revelers plenty of chances to experience some of the brightest young things that contemporary music has to offer. Here are six acts concertgoers shouldn’t miss.
For much of the 2010s, music festivals were synonymous with the oontz-oontz of electronic dance music. Calvin Harris has been a reliable presence for EDM’s entire rise, deftly adapting to the genre’s ebbs and flows. The Scottish DJ-producer-singer-songwriter has a deep catalogue of crowd-pleasing hits that should get the Something in the Water crowd dancing, from singalong hits featuring Rihanna and Dua Lipa to his own disco-house concoctions like “Feel So Close” and “Summer.” Expect to hear material from his forthcoming “Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 2,” the second collection of true-to-their-title songs that sees the DJ calling in the biggest names in pop music for a summer-ready soundtrack. June 19 at 8:50 p.m.
Denzel Curry, 27, has the expansive discography of a grizzled rap veteran beyond his years. But the South Florida star had an early start, releasing his first mix tape at just 16 as part of influential rap crew Raider Klan. In the years since, Curry has been on a stylistic zigzag, adeptly delivering goth-tinged mosh-pit starters, syllable-heavy psychedelia, breathless songwriting showcases and Biscayne Bay bangers. On this year’s “Melt My Eyez See Your Future,” Curry shed his previous alter egos and drew inspiration from westerns and samurai flicks as a means for self-exploration. Considering how swiftly he moves through sounds, it’s no surprise his lyrical approach is so well-suited for music more indebted to the jazzy boom-bap beats of hip-hop’s golden age. As he raps on “Walkin’”: “I started in a nightmare so pinch me, I’m dreamin’ / I’m killin’ off my demons ’cause my soul’s worth redeemin.’ ” June 19 at 4:50 p.m.
A few years ago, Dreamer Isioma went viral the new-fashioned way — on TikTok — with “Sensitive,” a percolating trash-talker that quickly established the Chicago-based singer-songwriter as an exciting new voice. On their debut album, “Goodnight Dreamer,” the first-generation Nigerian American talent continued to flip rap cliches into new forms and functions, sneering and shrugging vocals on songs that turn pop music’s past into its present. In concert, the frantic and concussive “Crying in the Club” could inspire ecstatic catharsis, while the funkadelic “HUH?” speaks truth to power and asks tough questions while burning the house down: “You dance to the music but you ain’t about the movement / What the hell is you doing?” June 17 at 4:05 p.m.
There are few musicians who have made a bigger mark during the latest crossover of urbano — that umbrella term for reggaeton, dance hall and Latin trap — than Ozuna. The Puerto Rican vocalist broke through on massive posse cut “Te Boté” alongside fellow stars Bad Bunny and Nicky Jam, and has since racked up handfuls of appearances that have notched more than a billion views on YouTube. With a lithe, versatile voice, Ozuna is as comfortable on DJ Snake’s moombahton smash “Taki Taki” as he is duetting with Latin pop star — and his favorite singer — Romeo Santos. June 17 at 7 p.m.
Singer-songwriter Raveena is at her best when juxtaposing elements of her identity and influences, creating something uniquely and wholly her own. The Indian American talent provided a glimpse of a musical secret garden with her mellow debut, “Lucid,” but returned earlier this year with a concept album that has an even clearer third-eye vision. “Asha’s Awakening” revolves around the journey of a Punjabi space princess, giving a 10,000-foot — or 10,000-year — view of the human experience through a collision of sonic palettes, rhythms and cultures. For the album, Ravenna cites influences ranging from jazz legend Alice Coltrane and Indian singer Asha Puthli to globe-trotting pop experimenters Timbaland, Missy Elliott and M.I.A., and the result keeps hands clapping, feet stomping, hips rolling and brains ticking. “I think it’s really fun putting people in uncomfortable positions to receive new sides of you,” she has said. “The human experience is so vast.” June 19 at 4:20 p.m.
Sabrina Claudio emerged a few years back as part of a wave of silky-smooth purveyors of quiet storm R&B. The Cuban-Puerto Rican singer was all breathy coos and come-ons, with gentle touches of melisma and falsetto, on her syrupy debut, “About Time.” This year she returned with “Based on a Feeling,” an album penned during the isolation of the pandemic that is sonically deeper, fuller and richer yet still focused on “Subtle Things” and “Basic Needs,” as two song titles proclaim. During a long, hot weekend, her music could envelop concertgoers and provide a chance to reflect. June 18 at 4:40 p.m.
If you go
Something in the Water
Independence Avenue, between Third and Ninth streets SW. somethinginthewater.com.
Dates: June 17-19. Gates open at 2 p.m. June 17-18 and at noon June 19.
Price: $399.50 for a three-day pass.