The 2016 Annual Afropunk Music.
People dance at the 2016 Annual Afropunk Music festival in Brooklyn. Eduardo Munoz/AP

In little over a decade, the Annual Afropunk Fest has gone from a donation-only gathering to a $55-per-day festival with notable sponsorship from international brands.

This weekend, a sea of unapologetic blackness will descend upon Fort Greene’s Commodore Barry Park for Brooklyn, N.Y.’s 12th Annual Afropunk Fest. Instagram feeds and Twitter hashtags everywhere will be peppered with twist-outs and bold prints; your favorite vibe curator will inevitably make a thread of the best of the best of the audience’s fabulous crochets and Afrocentric jewelry. For 48 hours, Snapchat stories will be dominated by a time capsule of what the festival organizers have described on their home page as “a day of live music and good vibes.”

It’s clear to anyone with a pulse on black digital media that the zeitgeist is currently led by celebrations of “peak melanin,” “unapologetic blackness” and branded T-shirts to match; it stands to reason that Afropunk is an organic extension of this branch of cultural exultation. However, the Afropunk of 2017 is a far cry from the inaugural gathering of 2005—not to mention the namesake 2003 documentary by James Spooner that was the inception of it all. In little over a decade, the event has gone from a donation-only gathering to a $55-per-day festival with notable sponsorship from international brands such as Toyota, Coors Light and Red Bull.

Transition, of course, is natural. That said, in the wake of this evolution seems to lie the rubble of the original core fan base that Afropunk was conceived to service: a cultural niche that grew out of a film whose original intended title was “The Rock and Roll Nigger Experience.” How does that fan base feel about the current iteration of this space? And what conversations should we be having about the trade-offs between demographic integrity and mainstream appeal?

This is an excerpt from Very Smart Brothas. Read the rest of the piece here.

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