After seeing Sexyy Red’s live set at the Roots Picnic, I kinda sorta understand now

OPINION: I can’t say I’ve been a fan of Sexyy Red’s music, but experiencing the love she gets from the people at her live show gave me some new perspective.

In this image released on October 10, 2023, Sexyy Red performs onstage during the BET Hip-Hop Awards 2023 on October 03, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

I remember the first time I heard a go-go tape. Go-go, for those who are unaware, is the musical genre indigenous to the Washington, D.C., area spearheaded by Chuck Brown. The most famous go-go song (in terms of outside-of-D.C. recognition) is probably E.U.’s “Da Butt” from the soundtrack to Spike Lee’s “School Daze”; rapper Wale has been a champion of go-go through his own music and stage shows. The internet has definitely made go-go more popular and accessible; when I was introduced to go-go, I heard it on a cassette tape that sounded as if it was recorded by a tape recorder set off to the side of the stage. That tape belonged to a friend of mine from D.C. who was selling tapes to college student transplants in Atlanta. The sound quality was terrible on that tape and most of the tapes I’d heard but they sold like hotcakes to the folks searching for a little bit of home while in college. 

I was always surprised by how moved the D.C. folks were by go-go because, at that point, my only relationship with it was on those horrible tapes. But everybody would say the same thing, “go-go is to be experienced live to truly understand it.” For Morehouse’s homecoming in October 1997, the Backyard Band did a show at the Tabernacle, and me and all the homies, from D.C. and from elsewhere, went to the show, and they were right; the experience entirely changed my relationship to go-go. 

Coincidentally, that first go-go show I attended in Atlanta was 27 years ago and this past weekend, I watched that same Backyard Band (with lineup variations obviously) in Philadelphia put on a great set at the Roots Picnic with Amerie and Scarface as guests. At this point in my life, I love go-go as if I was born and raised in D.C., and my participation in the stands at the Roots Picnic ensured that anybody and everybody paying attention knew I was from D.C. 

My experience with go-go more or less mirrors another experience I had at the Roots Picnic (hands down my favorite musical festival) that I just didn’t expect at all: I think I get the Sexyy Red experience now. Am I a fan? Let me think on that, but let me tell you something: I really enjoyed watching the thousands and thousands of fans enjoy some Sexyy Red. In fact, her set was so popular and well-received (there was NO empty space anywhere for her performance; we were packed in like sardines) that I felt like she should have been on the Roots Picnic’s main stage with the likes of Lil Wayne, Jill Scott and Nas. I mean that sincerely.

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Look, I realize that Sexyy Red makes music that isn’t quite for me and that there are others who feel similarly. She came out to a song called “Bow Bow Bow (F My Baby Dad),” and I was truly baffled as to what was happening because I never heard the song and the graphic on the stage was animated booty-cheeks clapping. I also know she’s a Trump supporter; onstage she had a HUGE inflated pink “Make America Sexxy Again” hat, which as a state prop was hilarious. But yeah, publicly supporting Trump definitely makes me side-eye her. But as a performer, you’d have thought Cardi B or Nicki Minaj was on stage. She had the entire crowd — men and women — singing her lyrics, gyrating and getting their entire lives for her whole 45 minutes on stage. She has tapped into something that is fun, whimsical, ridiculous, obnoxious and unserious that just …works. 

And I had fun. I truly enjoyed her set. While I was walking around the festival, I decided that I’d check her out because why not? At this point in my life, there was almost no chance I was going to end up at a Sexyy Red show, but at the Roots Picnic, I figured why not? And I’m glad that I did. Every conversation I’ve ever heard about Sexyy Red tends to trend towards negativity as people of my generation do about, well, everything that’s new. The ongoing conversations about hip-hop having lost its way have been happening for decades now. Sexyy Red showed up with “Poundtown” and a segment of the music population thought the end of times was here; hip-hop hadn’t lost its way, hip-hop was over. Meanwhile, Sexyy Red is living her best life enjoying her moment, and I love that for her.

I’ve gotten to the point where I know some of this music just isn’t for me. I’m older and clearly not the target audience for Sexyy Red and artists like her. But that’s just fine because her fans show up at festivals and get their entire life and that energy is palpable. Sexyy has a legion of fans and they were present and accounted for at the Roots Picnic, and the sheer joy I saw as folks rapped along to her songs made me realize she has hit an authentic chord with her fans — I borrowed that joy and smiled the whole way through her show. I didn’t expect to have that much fun at a Sexyy Red set but here we are. 

For what it’s worth, I tried listening to the actual songs in my car after the show and that live show energy really does something for a listening experience. You are not likely to hear Sexyy Red bumping from my car if you run up on me at a stop light. And that’s OK because we’ll always have Philadelphia. 

Bow bow bow. 

Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio and host of the award-winning podcast, “Dear Culture” on theGrio Black Podcast Network. He writes very Black things, drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest) but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said “Unknown” (Blackest).