NEW ORLEANS — There are few places where running into a couple "Basketball Wives," a "Cosby" kid, two Destiny's Child alums, an "America's Next Top Model" breakout, a notable CNN anchor and even a "Desperate Housewife" would seem (oddly) normal. If you guessed all that elbow-rubbing went down at the 2012 Essence Music Festival, then claps for you.
The four-day fest celebrating music, sisterhood and simply doing the most bowed for its 18th year with a star-studded guest list (the cameos mentioned up top are just a sampling) that was exceeded only by the performance lineup. A mix of vintage acts and budding stars, this year's edition of the EMF was sold on D'Angelo's comeback set, but it was a pint-size comic who nearly pulled a robbery and walked off with the show.
If you didn't make it to N.O. this weekend, we've got a few of the moments you missed — and they'll have you snatching up all-access passes next summer.
Is That a "Deerbra" in the Road?
Lasers, smoke, flames, blinking LED "hearts": Kevin Hart dipped into the rap bag of stage tricks for his EMF debut. But wait, we know you're thinking, "What's a comedian doing performing at the Superdome, sharing a bill with music royals Mary J. Blige, Aretha Franklin and Chaka Khan?" Well, after a series of seam-splitting comedy specials and knocking out some bow-wielding kids at the box office, the "Think Like a Man" star told the crowd he'd not only earned his spot but the Jay/ Kanye treatment too.
Emerging from below stage level to the sound of Meek Mill's rumbling "Ima Boss," as (random) bursts of fire shot up into the air, Hart proceeded to underline exactly why fans were making hasty exits from other sets at the McDonald's, Ford and Verizon super lounges to get ready for his set. While we can't explain exactly why a "deerbra" (the deer/zebra hybrid that made Hart late for work in one bit) had people squealing in the aisles — you had to be there — we can co-sign that the "Soul Plane" star is officially a boss. Get this man some fire, please.
Fantasia Puts Her Foot in It
One of the best compliments you can pay a cook is telling her she put her foot in it. Fantasia does the same with her stage show, tossing her shoes and abandoning all vanity as she wails and pushes her cords to the limit. It was no different here: From her hit "Bittersweet" to gospel tracks, Tasia never lost a step on the main stage.
The 28-year-old may not have racked up the record sales of fellow "American Idol" champs, but not even Kelly Clarkson can match this Southern girl for sheer emotion and personal drama. The North Carolina crooner, whose life story was adapted for a Lifetime movie, has survived everything from a suicide attempt to a relationship scandal that lit up the blogs for months. And on Sunday night, she took us with her, reliving every heart-wrenching moment with every note.
The '90s Are Back. Word.
Last year, boy-band legends New Edition hit Essence for a full, six-strong reunion that saw Ronnie, Bobby, Ricky and crew dusting off the fancy '80s-era footwork. For EMF '12, organizers pressed fast-forward and landed fans firmly in the '90s for a Dru Hill reunion. Sisqo was still rocking the platinum-blond 'do and the foursome still sounded super smooth.
But if you needed further proof that nostalgia for the "Martin" decade is at an all-time high, onetime Bad Boy crooner Carl Thomas packed the ladies in for powerful renditions of Emotional smashes like "I Wish" and "Summer Rain."
Trey Songz 'Ain't Got Nothin' On' Denzel
A weekend of great shows could only be made better by bashes turned up enough to keep you angling for wristband access. Among the best was a Hennessy-sponsored get-together celebrating Kevin Hart's B'day at the Saint Hotel. There, past a Braxton sister and the cast of VH1's "Single Ladies" sat Oscar winner Denzel Washington bopping his head to old soul classics, after DJ D-Nice had moved on from Maybach and G.O.O.D. Music cuts. Sure, certified heartthrob and EMF performer Trey Songz was there, too, but most in attendance agreed that we couldn't take our eyes off the "Training Day" star.
Brown Sugar and Alligator Pie
Although critics are still divided over D'Angelo's performance, we're just trying to hold onto to the memory of him singing his sizzling 2000 hit "(Untitled) How Does It Feel." D doesn't flaunt the abs anymore and the well-groomed cornrows are gone, too, but the singer's ability to strike chords and buried emotions remains intact, even after a years-long hiatus. And nothing could compare to being in the Bayou listening to him perform a handful of songs from his classic debut, Brown Sugar, an album that still goes down as easy as alligator pie.
Share your favorite moments from the Essence Music Fest in the comments!