Images by Cedric Nzaka (@everydaypeoplestories)
On February 2nd, the city of Johannesburg may have been calm in the morning, but by the afternoon it was full of spirit and drip. The energy change can be attributed to Riky Rick’s first annual Cotton Fest. In the surrounding areas of the Old Train Station in Newtown, festival-goers could be spotted by their streetwear style and energy. A hip-hop music festival to the magnitude of Cotton Fest is the embodiment of “a moment” in South Africa’s hip-hop history. Riky Rick left no stone unturned in ensuring the merriment of everyone at the venue. Legends Barber and Vaseline teamed up with a stall where folks received complimentary haircuts. Nearby, Castle Light set up a lounge where people could smoke hookah, play video games, and relax between their favorite musical acts. True to his word in the Cotton Fest Essentials, everything a person could need was present.
There were two stages, simply labeled Stage 1 and Stage 2. It’s difficult to say what criterion had to be met in order for an artist to be placed on either stage. However to the uninformed guest, one could assume that musicians with more experimental and cult followings were on Stage 2 versus more “mainstream” artists who performed on Stage 1. To say one performance was better than the next would be an injustice to the musicality, stage presence, and spirit of each act. Imagine the average movie depiction of an underground nightclub in New York, that is the best way to describe Stage 2. For Cape Town party goers, the only comparison one could make is to Waiting Room on Trap Tuesdays. Mosh pits galore, well-executed stage lights, and the spirit of trap was overwhelming in the most brilliant way. Some of the acts on Stage 2 included Off Boyz, 2Lee Stark and Ano, Nokana Mojapelo, Frank Casino, and Una Rams.
Stage 1 was a totally different vibe, yet still pleasing. With seating available by the bar, guests could stay refreshed between sets. In addition, an artist was commissioned to produce artworks on the spot, including a portrait of King Kotini. Beyond this, as anticipated there was no VIP per se. Nevertheless, there were two balcony style setups, on both sides of the stage, where those with backstage access stood to watch the show. Granted, this didn’t seem to create a shift in energy; which often happens with VIP sections at events. Artists like AKA, Nasty C, Nadia Nakai, and many more performed on this stage including Riky. The crowd jumped for every set, excitedly ready to partake in what was a monumental moment for South African hip-hop. One artist who was not listed on the lineup was Mzambiya, a kwaito child music sensation. He performed throwback kwaito tracks, that obviously still bang! While it’s hard to say definitively that he was the “Surprise Act,” his performance was unexpected, which is as close to “surprise” as we’re getting.
Throughout every artist’s set, there was a moment each person took to give thanks to Riky for his vision and initiative with Cotton Fest. Just as young as South Africa’s democracy is the music industry that we know today is equally developing. There was no listed headlining act, but it is safe to suggest that Riky Rick’s set was the most dynamic on account of him being the founder of Cotton Fest.
Riky descended a staircase onto the stage to open his set with “I Can’t Believe It.” With a mask over his face, he brought the same energy present in his music video. The rapper started on a high and maintained that energy throughout. Moving from side to side of the stage, inviting co-collaborators to perform their shared hits, and interacting with the crowd is only a light description of what happened during Riky’s Cotton Fest set. Between the pyrotechnics, stage lights, sound, and the energy, hearing Riky’s music after his set will never be the same. What was likely the most memorable moment from Cotton Fest was the embrace A-Reece and King Kotini shared on stage. Arriving with the Wrecking Crew to the stage, A-Reece and Riky performed together, and when the track closed shared a hug as Reece became overcome with emotion.
To describe Cotton Fest as anything less than historic would be a disservice to the musical acts, Riky Rick, and more importantly the festival goers who breathed life into a once non-existent concept. Cotton Fest was the intersection of many thoughts and industries, though mainly fashion, hip-hop, and the ideologies prevalent throughout the two respective communities. Every artist put on a show and every guest played their part in being part of it. Riky Rick did something for hip-hop at Cotton Fest. On stage, he took a moment to note that ten years ago, such a feat wasn’t possible. More so, that the kind of respect for hip-hop music and culture present at the festival didn’t exist back then either. In close, Cotton Fest was not only an epoch-making event for Riky Rick, but the hip-hop music industry at large too.