The Essence Festival of Culture, better known as Essence Fest, has described itself as “the party with a purpose” since its inception in 1994. Rooted in Black women across spectrums of culture, politics, beauty, and love, it’s become a rite of passage to attend and experience the five-day New Orleans event.
This year, the festival coincides with the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, and clearly, Essence’s mission is to celebrate the women who’ve made invaluable contributions to the genre.
“We are always excited to work with Essence, but this year is even more special as we celebrate hip-hop’s 50th anniversary,” legendary rap trio Salt-N-Pepa said. “Essence Festival of Culture has always put Black women at the forefront, so it was no surprise to us when they made the decision to make this year’s festival all about the ladies.”
With all-women headliners Ms. Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, and Megan Thee Stallion, as well as a curated set by Angie Martinez and Spinderella serving as one of the guest DJs for the event, Essence intends to hold space and nurture a sense of community this weekend.
“We’re moving forward,” New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said. “And with moving forward, we know the future is female.” It’s a theme that will be reiterated throughout the week, from the performances to the panels scheduled for Friday through Sunday.
The legendary lineup not only blurs the generational dividers that have long stood within hip-hop, but makes a clear statement on collective unity and overcoming adversity.
The three headliners have all dealt with some level of criticism and ridicule against their body image, personal relationships, mental health, and physical well-being. Ms. Lauryn Hill famously faced criticism for choosing motherhood over industry success, and Missy Elliott has often spoke about how her weight and skin tone impacted her career from the very beginning. Dropping out of the limelight in the early 2000s due to her struggles with Graves’ Disease (an immune disorder that can impact weight) and rumors of her sexuality, Missy has dealt with so much from the industry for decades.
Megan Thee Stallion, the third and final headliner of Essence Fest, is a more recent survivor of scrutiny in hip-hop.
Criticism for embracing her femininity in a mostly masculine-led genre, and facing constant mockery and skepticism regarding her being shot by Tory Lanez (even as he’s been convicted), led Megan to retreat from the spotlight and focus on her recovery.
All three women, changemakers in their respective subsets of hip-hop, made their returns to the world stage this year, signifying the strength and unity that emerge when Black women take ownership over their lives. Ms. Lauryn Hill has performed at festivals to celebrate the 25th anniversary of her iconic album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Missy Elliott gave a career-defining performance at the Lovers and Friends Festival following her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And Megan Thee Stallion’s Sunday evening Essence Fest set will be her first major performance since her withdrawal from the concert circuit.
In addition to the three iconic headliners, the event will include performances by Trina, Eve, Mia X, Jill Scott, Salt-N-Pepa, Monica, and more, further emphasizing the theme of female empowerment.
“Being a part of a female-led line-up at Essence Fest further shows the influence and strength we have as women in the genre,” rapper Remy Ma, who will be taking the stage during Angie Martinez’s 50 Years of Women in Hip-Hop set, said. “I’m so honored to celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, and share a space with some of the greatest legends that have paved the way for me.”