Gov Ball Had An Opportunity To Make A Statement, Instead, They Played It Safe


At a time when Brooklyn artists are being vilified by seemingly every mechanism of New York City, Governors Ball had a unique opportunity to legitimize the city’s drill scene as something worthy of mainstream respect. They didn’t take it.

Instead, the festival used rap to trot out a lineup of safe names from Jack Harlow to Shaquille O’Neal to a nearing 40-year-old Kid Cudi. As for the hometown love they did show, it came in the form of J. Cole, a rapper whose New York connection tracks similarly to much of the crowd: He came here for college.

The silence shown for local rappers such as Fivio Foreign, Bizzy Banks, 22Gz, and more fuels the narrative echoed by Mayor Eric Adams as well as his overfunded police force: Drill music is dangerous. Back in February, Adams remarked that he wants drill rappers scrubbed from social media in a similar fashion to former President Donald Trump’s removal from Twitter.

“We pulled Trump off Twitter because of what he was spewing. Yet we are allowing music, displaying of guns, violence, we’re allowing it to stay on these sites,” the mayor said at the time.

J. Cole, Gov Ball
J. Cole at 2022 Gov Ball – Photo by @timstype

When I asked an attendee about the absence of drill artists from the Gov Ball lineup, he was under the impression that the music had been made illegal.

It isn’t only local institutions of government either looking to distance themselves from the sound. Hot 97’s DJ Drewski recently announced that he will no longer be playing diss records on his radio shows in an effort to curb ongoing violence in the city. Several other DJs have followed suit.

Yet these boycotts work similarly to sanctions abroad: They further hinder the economic reality that causes these issues in the first place, rather than resolve a root cause. Rap music is merely reflective of the reality faced by the artists. Changing the music won’t change the reality, changing the reality will change the music.

If Eric Adams is interested in bringing actual change, he can focus on affordable housing and tell his police to stop tearing down homeless encampments, not foisting blame onto the victims of his city. Music provides a legal pathway to a better life– bulldozing that road won’t help anyone.

“It’s not the music that’s killin’ people, it’s the music that’s helpin’ n****s get out the hood,” Brooklyn drill artist Fivio Foreign recently told TMZ when asked about the controversy.

Rather than providing a platform to help these artists struggling to make ends meet in the city it calls its home, Gov Ball had us listen to J. Cole croon about finding “beauty in the struggle” and viewing “ugliness in the success.” All these years later, the lyrics to “Love Yourz” still sound just as out of touch for Americans struggling to make rent and losing loved ones to gun violence as they did in 2014. If I’m stuck in a sand pit, don’t teach me to love it, toss me a damn ladder.

But even while seemingly taking the city’s side on the issue of violent music, Gov Ball still wasn’t able to carry on without legal trouble. Rapper Roddy Ricch was a no-show at his 6:30 PM set on Saturday after being held up by the NYPD at a security checkpoint when a pistol with nine rounds of ammunition was found in his vehicle. Cops hit Roddy with four charges including criminal possession of a weapon, possession of a large capacity ammo feeding device, and unlawful possession of that device. The Queens District Attorney’s office dropped the charges within a day.

As a further slap in the face, the arrest comes less than a month after a man upstate legally purchased an AR-15 and military-grade body armor before marching into a supermarket to murder Black people. It couldn’t be clearer where the NYPD’s efforts against gun violence are focused.

Jack Harlow, Gov Ball

Jack Harlow at 2022 Gov Ball – Photo by @timstype

If you want to argue that Gov Ball, being not explicitly branded as a rap festival like Rolling Loud, does not bear responsibility here, let me point out that there were over 15 hip-hop artists at the festival, two of which were headliners, while the remainder were given top-billing over many indie acts.

Additionally, there was constant downtime throughout the weekend where it felt like fitting in more artists should’ve been easy. On Sunday, the Bardcadi Stage was left vacant from the conclusion of Japanese Breakfast’s set at 6:45 PM through the start of Kaytranada’s set at 8:00 PM. On the same night, the GovBallNYC stage and the GoPuff stage both had hour-long gaps of silence as well.

Drill artists weren’t left entirely out to dry over the weekend; they just had to take their talents to New Jersey for Summer Jam. The one-day event not only welcomed performances by several artists from the scene, as well as the just-released Roddy Ricch, but also played a video message from Young Thug. The YSL rapper is currently awaiting trial in a highly controversial RICO case. In the clip, Thug directed attendees to the Protect Black Art petition, which seeks to take New York’s Rap Music on Trial bill nationwide.

At a time when rap lyrics are being used in court as evidence against Black artists, and New York state senators like Brad Hoylman and Jamaal Bailey are working to put forth legislation to change that, a show of solidarity from the city’s biggest music festival could’ve had an impact. Instead, they played it safe.


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