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Pharrell, 21 Savage, Chloe x Halle, and a Whole Lot of Go-Go: The 12 Best Things We Saw at Something in the Water 2022

Pharrell’s Something in the Water music festival returned for the second time ever this weekend, bringing three days of music to Washington, D.C. for Juneteenth weekend. The location was new: Pharrell moved his festival to D.C. after criticizing the “toxic energy” of the local government in his hometown of Virginia Beach, Virginia, where the first SITW was held in 2019, and where his younger cousin was killed by police in 2021. On June 17-19, the super-producer and his many talented friends from across the worlds of rap, pop, R&B, Afrobeats, gospel, and go-go aimed to turn the page and bring a positive, healing feeling back to the fans. Here are the 12 best performances we saw.  

Go-Go-ing Nuts with Backyard Band

For 30 years, the members of D.C.’s Backyard Band have concocted high-energy covers and original music in the region’s treasured go-go tradition, but it feels like they’re aging in reverse. This incredibly organized outfit of a dozen bandmates still retained a playful aura as they lit up the Sun Stage, the festival’s biggest, for a mid-afternoon set on Saturday. People danced to lead vocalist Tiffany “Sweetthang” White’s stomping and stirring renditions of Adele’s “Hello” and Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” D.C. just wants to have good-ass go-go, and Backyard surely know how to provide. — M.C.

Chloe x Halle performing at Pharrell’s Something in the Water music festival on June 18, 2022 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Dee Dwyer for Rolling Stone

Dee Dwyer for Rolling Stone

Chloe x Halle Make D.C. the City of Sisterly Love

Though Chloe Bailey is exploring an often-buzzy solo singing career while her sister Halle prepares for her big-screen Disney debut, this pair of Beyoncé protegées are still in sync. Giving a rousing performance of songs from their best album, 2020’s Ungodly Hour, including “Tipsy,” “Baby Girl,” and “Forgive Me,” they showed their distinct personalities on Saturday, with Halle meeting Chloe’s sexy thrusts, squats, and whines with subtle struts and dips. In a pause, they told the crowd they were so committed to getting to D.C. that they drove to the festival after facing flight cancellations. After the show, they hugged backstage, an embrace that looked as genuine as their talent. — M.C.

JID Is a Star and a Gentleman  

As the sun dimmed its intense light on Saturday, JID proved to onlookers that he’s a rare kind of star. In admiration of the sea of diversity and melanated fans who jumped and bopped their heads in the audience, he gave a compliment from the stage: “Y’all beautiful as Fuck.”  Not only is JID a phenomenal lyricist, he also showed the ways he’s a music scholar and historian, taking the crowd on a journey of his process creating “EdEddnEddy,” which samples A Tribe Called Quest’s 1991 hit “Scenario.” JID shows his intention in all he does, from the black Million Man March t-shirt he was wearing that read “I was there” on its back, to warning the crowd that partaking in a mosh pit on concrete is “wild” — and reminding them that there were women in their area, who they should be mindful of. JID’s music is Black in essence, but all forms of life were waving their hands in the air, and while white boys were mindful not to repeat the N-word as JID rapped, the star welcomed his base as one community: “Y’all my niggas. White niggas, that’s cool.” — M.J. 

June 18, 2022  Rae Sremmurd  at Pharrell's Something in the Water music festival in Washington, D.C. Photo by Dee Dwyer for Rolling Stone

Rae Sremmurd played the second night of Pharrell’s Something in the Water music festival in Washington, D.C. Photo by Dee Dwyer for Rolling Stone

Dee Dwyer for Rolling Stone

Rae Sremmurd’s High Energy Makes the Crowd Run 

Folks ran towards the stage, impatient with slow walkers, as Rae Sremmurd sang their hit song “No Type” on Saturday evening. The duo was hyped up on stage, and the fans were in awe, dancing to songs that made the years of 2015 and 2016 epic. Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi performed with high energy, revitalizing the fans who’d been standing in the sun for an hour. Ironically and poetically, fans reenacted some lyrics in real time: When Rae Sremmurd began the song “Come Get Her,” a man with long gray locs could be seen shooting his shot with a woman walking by, only for his advances to be met with a strong and loud “no.” Ego bruised, the man seemed to contemplate whether he should go get her and her number, but his friend convinced him to maintain his pride and enjoy the “Black Beatles.” — M.J.

Lil Uzi Vert Gives a Big Show on the Biggest Stage

During a surprise appearance during Lil Uzi Vert’s Saturday set to perform their collaboration “Neon Guts,” Pharrell called the Philly rapper his “brother” and an “amazing alien,” the type of talent Something in the Water was created to showcase. A god of rage, Uzi conducted a rowdy crowd into pure bliss with songs like “Sauce It Up,” “New Patek,” and “XO Tour Llif3.” Uzi built an incredible relationship with the audience, dipping into the pit to turn up with them, signing a fan’s graduation cap, and taking their phones to record video. “2003, gah-damn!” he exclaimed when he got wind of a fan’s birthday from the ID in their phone case. Some of the fans flailing their bodies against one another at Uzi’s set have been following the moody king since grade school. — M.C.

June 18, 2022 Noreaga performing with Pharrell Something in the Water music festival in Washington, D.C. Photo by Dee Dwyer for Rolling Stone

Noreaga was among the guests at Pharrell’s headlining set for Something in the Water. Photo by Dee Dwyer for Rolling Stone

Dee Dwyer for Rolling Stone

Pharrell and Phriends Bring All the Music Heads to the Yard

The crowd was outrageous and jammed to capacity to see the iconic producer and Something In The Water creator, Pharrell, headline on Saturday. At first, Pharrell wasn’t performing on an actual stage: He was on a ladder of a viewing screen overlooking the media lounge in the center of the festival, in front of the main stage, before moving to the main and center stage known as the “Sun.” From there, he performed classic hits like “Frontin’,” making the crowd scream out in nostalgia, as well as bringing out guests like a reunited Clipse, Justin Timberlake, and Noreaga. Pharrell’s show articulated why the producer is timeless: Like the man himself, his music has aged like fine wine. Festivalgoers with little room to spare took up space dancing, seemingly reflecting on the days of the early 2000s. This is the love that Pharrell wanted, and this is what he saw when he gazed out to the faces in the audience. “They thought it would be a different type of energy [in D.C.],” Pharrell announced. “But all I see is love.” — M.J.

There’s Life in the Water at the Pop-Up Church

The presence of God was stationed on Sunday at a baseball field in West Potomac Park, where the national memorial to Martin Luther King Jr. resides. The outdoor service, which put one in mind of an old-school tent revival, took place in what Reverend Thomas Bowen, director of religious affairs for the D.C. mayor’s office, declared as “God’s original cathedral.” Around noon, gatherers congregated to the free event, receiving free bibles, fans, and t-shirts that read “pop-up church” with Something In The Water’s logo. The service, which lasted until 6 p.m., ran like a traditional service within a Black church, with a praise and worship performance from Aaron Moses, who is a part of the Maverick City gospel collective. A woman with braids and a pink dashiki danced in the aisle, waving a white cloth towards heaven, as if she was calling on the Holy Spirit by hand, a very typical African praise that felt fitting for this Juneteenth Sunday. Pharrell’s uncle, Bishop Ezekiel Williams, who is the founder of the pop-up church that had its first run in 2019, stood at the podium and read aloud John 4:13, a scripture about Jesus giving water to a woman in need. His message: “There is Something in the Water, there is life in the water.” Kierra Sheard then had the crowd on its feet singing her rendition of “God in Me” that flowed into a remix of Beyonce’s “Party.” The music could be heard all the way up to the Washington monument, which overlooks the National Museum of African American History and Culture. — M.J.

Rappers, Take Notes: Earthgang Gives a Hell of a Show

With nary a vocal track, Earthgang rappers Olu and WowGr8’s pristine vocals boomed through the Mall on Sunday as the duo never missed a beat and barely took a breath. This type of rap performance is rare — the way Earthgang combined dexterous raps, crispy segues, fan engagement, a live band, and new breakdowns of beloved songs (go-go drumming in “Stuck to You”; a slowed-down, a capella version of “Down Bad”) was a rap fan’s jackpot. WowGr8, a new dad, even elected to spend his Father’s Day giving the Sun stage his all. Everything about Earthgang was exceptional. Many, many of their peers could stand to pay attention. — M.C.

June 19, 2022 Teyana Taylor performing with her daughter Junie at Pharrell's Something in the Water music festival in Washington, D.C. Photo by Dee Dwyer for Rolling Stone

Teyana Taylor performs with her young daughter Junie on June 19. Photo by Dee Dwyer for Rolling Stone

Dee Dwyer for Rolling Stone

Teyana Taylor Turns Up and Vogues Down with Daughter Junie

A figurative daughter of Janet Jackson and a literal mentee of Pharrell Williams, Teyana Taylor earned her mainstage set on Sunday with impeccable choreography, one of the few performers at the fest to dance her ass off. Her moves were sensual and exact as she led a pack of backup dancers in matching, fire-engine red getups. She toned down the sex for a brief performance of “Come Back to Me” with the real star, her school-aged daughter Junie. “Make some motherfu… — I mean, make some noise!” Teyana said as her baby exited the stage. She then jumped back into sexpot mode to vogue to “Work This Pussy,” from her Kanye-produced masterpiece KTSE, before closing with emotional renditions of “Hold On” and “Gonna Love Me” from the same album. — M.C.

Davido Reimagines His Afrobeats Hits With Divine Live Arrangements

Davido is definitely on Afrobeat’s Mount Rushmore, and he proved it with an exhilarating set of hits like “Fall” and “If” (of course) on Sunday that spanned his career of more than a decade. His band of trumpet, sax, two drummers, guitar, bass, and two keyboardists each playing two keyboards themselves made songs like “Aye” and “Assurance” even more lush and layered than the originals. Together, they breathed new life into his early EDM banger “Dami Duro” and lulled the crowd to their next set with an emotional rendition of his new gospel-inspired track “Stand Strong,” with Kanye’s Sunday Service Choir. — M.C.

June 19, 2022 21 Savage performing at Pharrell's Something in the Water music festival in Washington, D.C. Photo by Dee Dwyer for Rolling Stone

21 Savage’s performance was a highlight of the festival’s final day. Photo by Dee Dwyer for Rolling Stone

Dee Dwyer for Rolling Stone

21 Savage’s Set Reminds Us That This Is America

To put it frankly, the American government has put 21 Savage, the incredible Atlanta rapper with a soft heart but a gift for menace, through hell. In 2019, Savage was detained, seemingly arbitrarily, by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for being an undocumented U.K. citizen, though he was raised in Georgia for most of his life. Now, his good friend Young Thug and members of Thug’s Young Stoner Life records are being held without bond in a Fulton County jail off an indictment that relies heavily on their rap lyrics — lyrics not dissimilar to 21 Savage’s own. As a Sun stage co-headliner on the festival’s third day, he performed with the U.S. Capitol building looming in the background of his set, a stark reminder of the surveillance and encroachment the rapper has faced at the hands of its legal institutions. The show was still fun as hell, but definitely eerie as well. — M.C.

Pharrell, 21 Savage, and Tyler the Creator Debut “Cash In Cash Out” Onstage

“Cash In Cash Out” is easily one of the best songs released this year, and with its three stars all present at today’s festival, the anticipation for a debut performance was high. Finally, during Tyler the Creator’s phenomenal set to close out Sunday, the trio united for its first performance ever.  “[There are] songs that are fucking smangers,” Tyler told GQ weeks before the fest, when asked if they would perform “Cash In Cash Out.” “But sometimes some things don’t work live and I still haven’t figured out why. We’ll see. This might be awesome live or fucking terrible. I don’t think it’s any middle ground.” For the record, it was awesome. — M.C.

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