College Town’s weekend playlist, vol. 30: Art of Cool Festival

College Town’s weekend playlist, vol. 30: Art of Cool Festival

The Art of Cool Festival returns to Durham, offering a "New School Discount" for people under 25. Still not sure? Maybe this playlist can convince you.

Above, Common is one of the artists playing during the Art of Cool. Photo  by Taylor Jewell for Invision/AP. 

With the goal of preserving and promoting jazz-influenced music, the Art of Cool project will host its forth-annual festival April 28-30 in Durham. The festival features up-and-coming local artists as well as legendary acts at multiple venues across the city.

If you’re interested in going to the festival, organizers are offering a “New School Discount” for attendees under 25 years old for less than half the price of a standard ticket. If you’re still not sure this festival is for you, maybe this playlist can convince you.

Check out just a few of the artists performing at Art of Cool below, or click here for the entire playlist.

Common, April 29 at DPAC

If you don’t know about Common, there is plenty of information about the legendary hip-hop artist online. But if you want to learn about his success — well, there’s an entirely separate Wikipedia page for that. His accomplishments include three Grammy wins out of 19 nominations and 4 BET awards spanning from 2000 to 2016.


R.LOM.R, April 29 at Motorco Music Hall

Growing up, R.LOM.R struggled with his identity. But through music, he was able to create his own. The unique name (pronounced ar-luhm-ar) is a combination of both his first and middle name. But his music also features some notable combinations. The up-and-coming R&B artist pushes the boundaries of the genre by combining powerful beats with his sensitive and soulful voice. And it is working; “Frustrated” has earned over 4 million plays.


JMSN, April 28 at Pinhook

Take one look at JMSN’s (pronounced Jameson’s) low-budget music video for “Bout It,” and you can’t help but see an artist caught somewhere between Justin Timberlake and Jesus. I’m not sure he would agree, but his influences are interesting. Drawing on bits of Fiona Apple, Radiohead and Prince, JMSN has transformed a lot of the years. But the changes have helped him discover his true identity — the self-described “safeguardian of soul.”


George Clinton, April 29 at Carolina Theatre

Dr. Funkenstien. The Prime Minister of Funk. The King of Interplanetary Funksmanship. Whatever you want to call him, George Clinton is undoubtedly one of the funkiest artists this planet has ever seen. Funkadelic and Parliament, the brain children of the Kannapolis-born Clinton, were so influential that they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 20 years ago and defined a new genre of music: P-Funk. The style has been adopted in the music of various West-Coast rappers, including Dr. Dre.


GoldLink, April 28 at Motorco Music Hall

No matter the message, GoldLink always finds a way to make his music fun. His style is most closely related to hip-hop, but the young Washington D.C. rapper has a sound all of his own, drawing on musical influences from hip-hop artists before him to classic house. GoldLink has released multiple mixtapes, but his debut album premiered last week, which features artists such as Wale and Kaytranada.


NAO, April 29 at Motorco Music Hall

With a helium-infused voice that channels classic soul, NAO brings a bit of cheeriness to the British R&B genre that is often recognized by its grime and dreaminess. But don’t let the merry music fool you; her songs focus on addressing complicated issues such as failed relationships, all while delivering a fresh and futuristic take on funk. But NAO doesn’t simply blend these genres; she bends them to create her own.


Rakim, April 28 at the Durham Armory  

There’s no better way to describe Rakim than by his nickname: “The God MC.” Since Rakim and his collaborator Eric B. released their single “Eric B. is President” in 1986, the New-York duo has continuously etched their place in music history as arguably the greatest ever to contribute to the industry. “Paid in Full” is often regarded as one of the best rap albums of all time, and their music has influenced artists such as Nas and ASAP Rocky, who was named Rakim after the rapper.


Will Wildfire, April 28 at Pinhook

North Carolina is not necessarily known for its hip hop. Chapel Hill’s college rock and backwoods Americana are some of the state’s most popular genres. But with the commercial success of Fayetteville’s J. Cole, many people have started talking about the hip-hop talent coming out of N.C. Will Wildfire was at that forefront of the discussion in 2015 when Noisey described him as perhaps the world’s next “soul-rock bad boy.” It has been two years since the article was written, and Wildifre hasn’t completely gained complete national attention. But he continues to grind just like his days as a student at UNC-Chapel Hill.


SkyBlew, April 28 at Motorco Music Hall

Don’t call SkyBlew a rapper; he doesn’t believe that is his role. Instead, he describes his work as “painting the sky blew.” This role is so important, he has adapted it as his name. But for purposes of helping you understand this Chapel Hill musician, we will place him in the category of nerd rap, alongside musicians such as Childish Gambino. Whether he is rapping about anime, video games, or quirky TV shows, his message is always the same: stay positive.


Just Blaze, April 29 at the Durham Armory

Now don’t get your hopes up; Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco will not be coming through Durham for the AOC festival. But the Durham Armory will be blessed with one of the next best things. You probably know this DJ and producer from his famous tagline, “Just Blaaaaaazzzeee,” at the beginning of songs like Drake’s “Lord Knows.” He has also produced tracks for rappers such as Eminem, Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg, meaning that his slot at the Durham Armory could be jam-packed full with some of your favorite hits.


Sputnik, April 29 at Pinhook

I hate to get your hopes up again; Snarky Puppy will not play this year’s festival either. But the extremely talented drummer of the improvisational Grammy Award-winning fusion band will provide a performance at Pinhook with his newest project Sputnik. Robert Searight (also known as Sput) is more than just a drummer; he is a producer and keyboard player whose group God’s Property won a Grammy back in the day with Kirk Franklin. He more recently contributed to Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy Award-winning album “To Pimp A Butterfly.” And with all of these accomplishments considered, Sput and his band are more than worthy of closing out an action-packed Saturday with a late-night (or more precisely, early morning) performance.


Kooley High, April 28 at Pinhook

 I will be completely honest with you, I had never heard of Kooley High until I checked out the AOC lineup. But after hearing their old school sound and their references to the Triangle, I decided the North Carolina group is definitely worthy of a spot on this list. Their songs are packed full of samples and soul, and the music is likely to get better. The quintet is currently working on a new project with Grammy Award-winning producer and North Carolina native 9th Wonder, who has worked with artists such as Big Boi, Jay-Z, Drake, Kendrick Lamar and Erykah Badu.


For more information about the Art of Cool Festival, visit

Ryan Wilusz

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