For the first time in Art of Cool Fest history, tbe Durham Performing Arts Center will be used as one of its official venues, and who better to christen it for the festival than one of the patron saints of hip-hop: three-time Grammy Award-winning Chicago emcee Common? It's been twenty-five years since his debut LP, Can I Borrow a Dollar, gave us the same Windy City rap wit that would become a through line connecting his next ten albums. But in between the beats and rhymes, Common evolved into both a social justice warrior and an accomplished actor, advancing his star power far beyond what anyone could have imagined. Fortunately, the music never suffered as a result, as evidenced by last year's Black America Again. There, producers Robert Glasper and Karriem Riggins gave Common the palette to speak to sociopolitical matters and talk the same shit we fell in love with on albums like Resurrection and Like Water For Chocolate. Yeah, he's a super-celebrity now, but he's not above breaking out into a windmill during his set. —Eric Tullis
SATURDAY, DURHAM PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, 9:15 P.M.
Oakland-born soul singer Goapele Mohlabane's signature sound is a captivating melange of pulsing R&B and jazz-inflected phrasing, placing the one-time Berklee College of Music attendee squarely in the storied tradition of neo-soul giants like Sade and Erykah Badu. A decade and half into a recording career that began with 2001's fully formed Closer, Goapele's steady commercial climb has brought her to the brink of a mass audience, with the attendant high-profile bookings and big-ticket collaborations—at Art of Cool, she joins the Revive Big Band on a journey through the history of black American music. Goapele is an outspoken champion for human rights whose political activism is a birthright; as the daughter of an exiled political opponent of South African apartheid, she's worked tirelessly for causes within the Bay Area community and beyond. —Elizabeth Bracy
SATURDAY, CAROLINA THEATRE, 9 P.M.
Though it might seem novel to hear Drake rap over a balmy deep-house instrumental, ample evidence suggests he wouldn't bat an eye at the style if savvy trendsetters like Goldlink didn't make it seem appealing first. On this year's brilliant At What Cost, the buzzy D.C. rapper continues to masterfully marry the soft, sunny sounds of recent postmodern dance and R&B (Kaytranada and The Internet glide in for features) with his signature brand of hard-hitting, go-go-inspired street rap. When so many artists are grafting their rhymes to limp house-inspired "vibe" beats, Goldlink's engaging creativity is a breath of fresh air. —David Ford Smith
FRIDAY, MOTORCO, 11:30 P.M.
As one of North Carolina's freshest rising emcees, Rapsody has crossed paths with Kendrick Lamar, Dr. Dre, and Talib Kweli, increasing her name recognition alongside some noteworthy cosigns. But on her latest LP, last year's Crown, Rapsody is the only name deserving your complete attention, even amid a few notable guests. Part of Rapsody's appeal is her ability to remain true to her rural North Carolina roots, spinning tracks that are deeply personal yet widely accessible. "Gonna Miss You" is slick and satisfying, while "2 AM" and "Crown" go down smooth and easy. Rapsody appears as confident and fierce as ever, royally ready to command the stage. —Elizabeth Byrum
SATURDAY, DURHAM PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, 8:15 P.M.
That's Doctor Lonnie Smith to you. The jazz organist isn't a Ph.D. proper, but he's earned the nickname on account of his virtuosic improvisational abilities, the sort of improvisational prowess that leads to collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie, Ron Carter, and Etta James. Dr. Smith's been in (and has heavily influenced) the jazz game since the late fifties, and as the 2017 recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship, his legendary status as a musician is pretty much objectively affirmed. Like Goapele, Smith appears in conjunction with the Revive Big Band Saturday night, offering an opportunity to witness a jazz master who is funky, catchy, and incessantly innovative in equal measure. —Noah Rawlings
SATURDAY, CAROLINA THEATRE, 9 P.M.
The story of St. Beauty is that two young women, Isis Valentino and Alex Belle, met while working together at a vintage shop in Atlanta. They gradually found themselves collaborating on music, eventually earning an enthusiastic endorsement from the Janelle Monáe-led Wondaland collective. Songs like "Going Nowhere," the duo's first single, and the newer "Borders" are slinky, mid-tempo numbers that toe the line between being easygoing, laid-back tunes and sultry slow jams. The duo performs on the later end of the evening at The Pinhook, which ought to be the perfect hour to take them in. —Allison Hussey
FRIDAY, THE PINHOOK, 11:15 P.M.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Jazzed Up."