Bonnaroo s 2023 Hip-Hop Lineup is a Perfect Masterclass in the Art of Curation

If I had to use one word to summarize the present state of popular culture, it would be “abundance.” With everything moving at break neck pace and global trends hitting your feed within an instant of their debut – there’s always one more thing to think about, one more object to desire and one more post designed to serve up some FOMO. For better or worse we live in a reactionary world that favors trading vision for data faster than degens can trade a pumping shit coin. So maybe that’s why I feel compelled to celebrate Bonnaroo’s Hip-Hop lineup despite it featuring just 12 of the 134 artists at the festival (not including Outeroo).

There’s three key variables elevating Bonnaroo’s Rap Roster.

  1. Point of View – More than any genre today, Hip-Hop’s pop culture “success” is largely driven by viral, hyped singles. Despite this, Bonnaroo didn’t pad their lineup stats with hits and high view counts to make up for the genre’s limited roster spots. They dug deep and curated an assortment of artists that offer diverse super-powers that each compliment one another to create a body of work that shows range like the avengers.
  2. Creative Diversity – I’m going to flag this right now because it’s unmistakable given their current impact – this Hip-Hop roster should feature some ladies. To me, this is the largest flaw in the lineup’s composition. With that said, the range of artistry and creative expression present in this lineup is impressive. For some it may honestly be too much, but given the current scale of the genre it feels appropriate.
  3. Details & Context – There’s subtleties and nuance in this lineup that are easy to miss but feel carefully considered. From Keem warming the mainstage on Friday for his Cousin’s 36th birthday party at Midnight to providing Big Freedia and Lil Nas X the platform to stand against Tennessee’s drag ban and giving the GOATs of Tennessee Hip-Hop their long awaited just due, the details are the x-factor that pay homage to the festival’s storied +20 year legacy.

Here are the Hip-Hop Sets that Should be on Everyone’s Schedule.

Lil Nas X

lil nas.webp

Photo by Mike Ferdinande

As a music fan, Lil Nas X isn’t an artist that you’re going to catch me vibing in the car to, but I certainly respect him. Not only has Lil Nas displayed he mastery in brand creation, the kid is a natural born showman. If his Hang Out set last month is anything to go by, we can expect that Bonnaroo’s will be one of those festival sets that you’ll want to have been in attendance for.

Two important things to keep on eye on with this set.

  1. Lil Nas is an unapologetic champion of the LGBTQ community, known for trolling bigots and the intolerant with fervor – see the MSCHF sneaker collab he did a couple years back that forced Nike to settle in court. With the Trans Ban being a widely talked about issue in the state of Tennessee and beyond, my bet is that this it too good of an opportunity for the pop icon to turn down during prime-time Saturday night on the Main Stage.
  2. I’d take out a prop bet on this next one – Lil Nas X will invite Billy Ray Cyrus to join his set for Old Town Road. With Manchester being only an hour drive form Billy’s home in Thompson Station, TN, I can’t see them not taking advantage of the opportunity to pay homage to the country music fan base that helped propel Lil Nas X to the top of the charts. If it comes to fruition – which I’m banking on – it’ll be another classic Bonnaroo moment that further builds the festival’s lore.

Destroy Lonely


Photo: Israel Riqueros

I’m not here to debate what constitutes “good” Hip-Hop or entertain opinions from old heads that haven’t listened to the genre deeply since Lil Wayne was making mixtapes with DJ Drama. Whether you like it or not, the trap/punk rap sub genre of Hip-Hop has galvanized the youth and Destroy Lonely is next up in the class. Flanked by the likes of Playboi Carti, Yeat and the late Juice WRLD, Lonely has captivated a teenage fanbase through a dark mysterious allure that brings the chaos of the world to the forefront, embracing the out of place and misunderstood ethos of his generation. His music is often offbeat, chaotic like his world-view and hard for the traditional Hip-Hop head to digest – it’s jarring. And that’s exactly what we need in music right now, people willing to break from the algorithm and explore new sounds, whether they’re my preference or not, only new ideas are the only way to carry culture forward.

Beyond getting a glimpse into the sonic realm driving today’s youth culture, Destroy Lonely’s 2AM set on Friday is the detail that sticks out to me. With Subtronics and Diesel also on stage during this time period, I’m anticipating that Destroy Lonely’s competitive juices will turn the artist’s staple mosh pits up a notch and force his already high energy shows to find a whole new gear. Hot take – I think this opportunity fuels his fire to have a breakout set that stands atop the weekend’s most notable.




JID is a modern rapper whose total body of work and essence compliments Bonnaroo and its legacy perfectly. I really think you could put him on the lineup every single year and it would just work. During a time when a lot of Hip-Hop artists build their career on brand and controversy, JID bucks the trend by prioritizing his craft, pairing slick southern bars with great beat selection to carve out his own lane amongst J. Cole’s incredibly talented Dreamville artist roster. Bonnaroo fans will also love the fact that he typically performs with a live band at festivals.

JID’s 2022 release, The Forever Story was in my top three releases of the year and still holds up today, revealing layers of depth with each listen. But, despite the conviction I have in the ATL born lyricist, his 1AM Saturday night set is in my opinion, the absolute roughest scheduling conflict of any artist on the lineup. He’s directly competing with festival favorite, My Morning Jacket’s 2-hour late night set, Louis the Child’s debut Bonnaroo set and Korn’s only US festival set this Summer following the reinvigorated hysteria surrounding Woodstock ‘99. JID’s set places him in a situation similar to being an 8th seed in the NBA Playoffs – the question is, will he rise to the occasion like the Miami Heat?

Three 6 Mafia



Just over 23 years ago, I made the decision – like most kids at the time – to have the conversation with my parent about why they had to let me buy the Mashall Mathers LP. Although just 12 years old at the time, I successfully crafted my case and won, adding the legendary album to my collection along with one other. The accompanying album was Three Six Mafia’s, “When the Smoke Clears.”

Pair that unconventional decision with four years of college in Knoxville Tennessee during the peak of the Memphis group’s reign which featured a Grammy for “Stay Fly” in 2006, and you have Triple Six’s 7:45PM Friday set firmly slotted into my top three for the festival overall. Do Three 6 fit the bill for Bonnaroo brand alignment? On the surface – not at all. That’s maybe why it’s taken so long for the group to get their just due on The Farm. But man, if there’s an untapped element of Tennessee’s musical DNA that deserve its moment under the Manchester moon, it’s Three 6 Mafia.

Just make sure you’re ready for war if they open with ‘Tear the Club Up’.

Kendrick Lamar (+ Baby Keem)


Photo: Christopher Polk / Getty Images for NARAS

It’s pretty wild to think about Kendrick first appearing on the Bonnaroo lineup back in 2012, listed below acts like Danny Brown and Umphrey’s McGee. No disrespect to either artists, but it’s a testament to the ascension and legend that Kung Fu Kenny’s managed to craft over the last decade. A lot has happened for the Compton iconoclast during this time and in many ways, his 11PM main stage set on Friday night is symbolic of this growth and sure to produce one of the all around top performances of the festival.

Kendrick’s upcoming set will be built around his latest album ‘Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers’ which is an ode to growth itself and marks his last release under the TDE, the label and outfit that’s ridden shotgun throughout the entirety of his career to this point. Equally intriguing is the emergence of cousin, Baby Keem who takes over the main stage at 8:45PM, essentially opening for Kendrick and making the evening on the main stage a family affair (hence why I’ve coupled them together in the top slot). Expect interplay between the two on ‘Range Brothers,’ ‘Family Ties’ and maybe even the debut of ‘Hillbillies’ on The Farm.


Photo: Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

If all of this isn’t enough to intrigue you, Kendrick turns 36 years old at midnight during his main stage performance! Between his storied past at the festival and the overt theme of growth underpinning this performance, you can make a case for Bonnaroo ‘23 being one big birthday party for K-Dot, and we should all be so lucky to be able to celebrate this moment with him.

-Chuck Energy

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