Who should you see at the Roots Picnic?

Let’s start with the obvious: The Roots. The Philadelphia hip-hop band doesn’t tour like they used to and there hasn’t been a Roots Picnic since 2019.

So Black Thought, Questlove, and crew are primed to play for their hometown fans as they celebrate their 35th anniversary as a band and they’re backing up Mary J. Blige in a set that is bound to be a master class in musical biography and a chance to hear the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul in a one-of-a-kind setting.

What else? What follows are a dozen recommendations — six per day — from the music and culture fest which takes place on the expanded campus of the Mann Center for the Performing Arts.

The Picnic will kick off Saturday afternoon, with gates opening at 1 p.m. Two-day passes are available at rootspicnic.com. The full schedule is here.

» READ MORE: Roots Picnic is back at the Mann this weekend and it’s bigger than ever

Philly singer-songwriter Aquil Dawud — the son of Fatin Dantzler and Aja Graydon of Philly duo Kindred the Family Soul — is the first act to perform on Saturday. And the Picnic will come to a close Sunday night with Summer Walker, the Atlanta R&B singer who has scored a steady stream of hits from her first two albums, Over It and Still Over It.

Here’s who to see in-between.


Serpentwithfeet. This a homecoming of sorts for Josiah Wise, who records as Serpentwithfeet. The Baltimore-born, now New York-based multidisciplinary artist lived in Philadelphia for six years and studied to be an opera singer at University of the Arts before finding a groove as a songwriter with his 2018 album Soil. Last year, he became the face of Orbitz’ LBGTQ “Travel As You Are” ad campaign with his cover of Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me.” 2:40 p.m., Toyota Soundstage.

Tye Tribbett. Camden-raised singer and bandleader is the son of a preacher and a DJ, and he first made his name leading the choir G.A., which stands for Gospel Anointed. In 2014, he won two Grammys for his album Greater Than. Along with Kirk Franklin, he gives the Picnic its strongest gospel presence ever. 3:20 p.m., Mann Stage.

Robert Glasper & Bilal. Robert Glasper is a jazz pianist at heart, but his music resists classification, mixing in soul & hip-hop. His 2013 album Black Radio won a best R&B album Grammy. He’s backing up Bilal, the supremely gifted Philadelphia soul singer whose tastes are just as wide-ranging as Glasper’s. 4:15 p.m., Toyota Soundstage.

Mickey Guyton. This represents a breakthrough for the Picnic, the first country artist booked in 13 years. Guyton broke out with her powerful autobiographical song “Black Like Me,” which was released in the weeks after the death of George Floyd, and she has since sung the national anthem at the Super Bowl and become the mainstream face of Black country and Americana. 5 p.m., Toyota Soundstage.

Black Thought Live Mixtape: J. Period feat. Rick Ross & Benny the Butcher. Not to be missed. When The Roots play their headlining set with Mary J. Blige, Black Thought will mostly lay back, supporting the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul. But at the Live Mixtape, he’s likely to cut loose, showing off the freestyle mastery he’s famous for as he stands toe-to-toe with both Benny the Butcher (of Buffalo crew Griselda) and the artist who isn’t Bruce Springsteen but is also known as “The Boss.” 6 p.m., Toyota Soundstage.

Jazmine Sullivan. To the extent that there was critical consensus on the 2021 album of the year, it was Jazmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales, the album by the Strawberry Mansion-raised powerhouse singer that plays like a full-of-real-life stories Black feminist manifesto. Expect her to own this crowd. 7:30 p.m., Toyota Soundstage.


DJ Jazzy Jeff with Rakim. Who needs the Fresh Prince when you’ve got The God Rakim (as the rapper born William Griffin Jr. bills himself these days) This should be fascinating: two halves of iconic hip-hip duos from the 1980s in Philly’s Jeff Townes, who’s a hugely respected DJ aside from his work with Will Smith, and the rhyming partner in Eric B. & Rakim, who revolutionized rap with his rhythmic sophistication. 3:20 p.m., Toyota Soundstage.

‘Jemele Hill is Unbothered’ feat. Dawn Staley. A high point from the Podcast Stage, located on the hill above the TD Pavilion, with Hill, the former ESPN anchor (and Philadelphia Inquirer intern) known for speaking her mind. She’ll be interviewing North Philly basketball legend and University of South Carolina two-time NCAA championship-winning coach Dawn Staley. 2:30 p.m., Skyline Podcast Stage.

Tierra Whack. Back in 2018, Tierra Whack played a Roots Picnic side stage when the festival was still at the Festival Pier on Penn’s Landing, and Whack World, her attention-grabbing 15 songs in 15 minutes album had just come out. The North Philly rapper and entertainer has been one of the most consistently intriguing figures in hip-hop since, and was most recently heard from when she released a series of EPs called Rap?, Pop?, and R&B last December. 5 p.m., Toyota Soundstage.

Soulquarians feat. MusiQ Soulchild, SWV, and Keyshia Cole. For those not in the know, Soulquarians usually refers to the loose aggregation of musicians including Questlove, Erykah Badu, Common, Bilal, bassist Pino Palladino, and others who played on D’Angelo’s 2000 album Voodoo. This set will feature Questlove on drums, Philly’s Adam Blackstone on bass, and who knows who else, backing up ‘90s hip-hop and R&B singers. 6:15 p.m., Toyota Soundstage.

Wizkid. The Picnic goes global with Wizkid, the Nigerian pop star whose 2020 album Made in Lagos became a slow-building blockbuster thanks to “Essence,” its world-conquering hit carried by the seductive vocal of fellow Nigerian artist Tems and then further boosted when Justin Bieber jumped on a remix. 7:40 p.m., Toyota Soundstage.

Kamasi Washington. The Los Angeles saxophonist and bandleader became the rare jazz artist to reach a broad audience and play rock clubs with The Epic, his suitably titled 2015 triple LP. Since then, he’s pursued his maximalist vision on releases like Heaven and Earth, and ventured into politically charged, smooth R&B territory with Dinner Party, his supergroup with Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin, 9th Wonder, and singer Phoelix. 7:30 p.m., Mann Stage.