Can Art of Cool, with headliners Run-DMC and Jill Scott, be a ‘unicorn of festivals’?

Run-DMC, with Joseph “Run” Simmons, left, and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels in 2015, is one of the headline acts at the 2019 Art of Cool. Run-DMC was founded in New York in 1981 by Simmons, McDaniels and Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell.
Run-DMC, with Joseph “Run” Simmons, left, and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels in 2015, is one of the headline acts at the 2019 Art of Cool. Run-DMC was founded in New York in 1981 by Simmons, McDaniels and Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell. Lexington Herald-Leader

When festival producers Sulaiman and Lesleigh Mausi bought the rights to the Art of Cool festival in 2018, the goal was to expand on the Durham based hip-hop/R&B/jazz event and to create some buzz.

That goal was accomplished immediately when the husband-and-wife team booked hip-hop act Little Brother, who had a surprise reunion at Art of Cool last September at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

“It was incredible,” Little Brother rapper Phonte told The News & Observer last month. “There were so many people out in the crowd who were so enthusiastic about seeing us again. The way we were received was amazing.”

It had been nearly a decade since Little Brother performed together and publications from around the world wrote about the unexpected performance.

“When Little Brother performed at the Art of Cool, it was something special,” Sulaiman Mausi tells The N&O, calling from his Durham office.

“But that’s what we wanted when we bought Art of Cool,” Mausi said. “We want special. We want the artists to perform in appropriate-sized venues. We want to make a splash in every way. What we did last year with Little Brother was extraordinary and we’re looking at something extraordinary happening this year as well.”

Art of Cool is set to descend on Durham Sept. 27-29 with more than 20 hip-hop, R&B and jazz acts performing at six different venues across the city. Headlining acts will preform at Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

Former UNC and NBA player Rasheed Wallace (also known as current Durham Jordan High School coach) is the guest host.

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Ari Lennox.jpg
Ari Lennox is scheduled to perform at Durham’s Art of Cool Festival at Durham Bulls Athletic Park. Regina Pyne

Headline acts

The Run-DMC reunion is the high-profile event Saturday night, which has helped raise the cool quotient of this year’s lineup. The hip-hop icons have rarely performed after DJ Jam Master Jay was slain in 2002.

“It’s huge for us since Run-DMC haven’t performed in North Carolina in 30 years” Mausi says. “It’s hard to get them, but they agreed to do our event. It’s amazing Run-DMC is coming to Durham, but we want the extraordinary at our festival. We want the Art of Cool to be the unicorn of festivals.”

There are a number of other major players slated for the Durham Bulls Athletic Park, including Raleigh resident Big Daddy Kane, who will perform Saturday night before Run-DMC with Symphony, rappers Kool G Rap, Craig G and Masta Ace.

DMC’s rock band will perform Friday at Motorco Music Hall.

Vocalist Jill Scott will headline the R&B side of the coin Friday. Emerging R&B singer Ari Lennox, who is part of J. Cole’s Dreamville roster, will perform songs from her album, “Shea Butter Baby.”

Little Brother reunited earlier this month at Raleigh’s Hopscotch Music Festival, but 9th Wonder, one of the group’s founding members, will appear Friday at the Durham Armory.

Black Violin combines classical music with hip-hop. Colin Brennan

Black Violin brings new music

Black Violin, which combines classical music and hip-hop, will preview tracks from its forthcoming album, “Take The Stairs,” which drops in November.

“We went in a bit of a different direction,” viola player Wilner Baptiste says while calling from his South Florida home. “You’ll have to hear the new stuff to fully get it.”

Baptiste stresses that the message is uplifting.

“We want to infiltrate the world with hope and love,” Baptiste says. “We can do that with music and words. I’m influenced by Curtis Mayfield and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They had an impact on these new songs.”

The fresh material is the most accessible that the adventurous tandem has delivered to date. Hooks and strong melodies abound.

“It’s funny it worked out that way because it wasn’t intentional,” Baptiste says. “We actually have songs on this album that could be hits. They sound radio ready. We’ll see what happens.”

Baptiste and his partner Kevin Sylvester are excited about Art of Cool. “The lineup looks amazing,” Baptiste said. “We love the festival shows. We’re thrilled to be part of this one.”

Jill Scott Essence Fest 2018
Jill Scott, seen at the 2018 Essence Festival, is one of the headline acts at the 2019 Art of Cool concert in Durham. Amy Harris Invision/AP

Festival growth

Mausi, who grew up in Detroit, has strong Durham ties. His grandfather, Nathan Garrett opened his own CPA accounting firm in Durham in 1962, which made him the first African-American to set up such a company in North Carolina.

“I guess running businesses runs in the family,” Mausi says.

Since the family moved to North Carolina, he has embraced Durham. His company, the DOME Group, has an office in Durham. He and family live in Rolesville.

“It’s slower there and it just suits us,” Mausi says. “But I love Durham. I feel comfortable there and I have a deep connection to Durham.”

Art of Cool will continue to evolve. Mausi said he has been studying the mega Austin music festival South By Southwest.

“I’ve been looking at South By Southwest from afar,” Mausi said. “I’ve yet to go there but I’ve been tuned in with what is happening there. I’m a student of the music business. What I aim to do is use Durham’s business sources and create the best music festival that we can create.”


What: Art of Cool

When: Sept. 27-29

Where: Six Durham venues: Durham Bulls Athletic Park, the Durham Armory, Motorco Music Hall, Carolina Theatre, The Pinhook and The Masonic Lodge. Sunday brunch is 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Durham Convention Center featuring The Hamiltones.

Cost: $75 for one-day general admission, $140 for two-day general admission. The pass allows admission to all venues. VIP passes available. Sunday brunch is $60.

Info: 919-672-0060 or aocfestival.com

Durham Bulls Athletic Park schedule

Friday, Sept. 27

6 p.m. DJ Bro-Rabb

6:45 p.m. Yoland Rabun

7:50 p.m. Black Violin

8:45 p.m. Ari Lennox

9:45 p.m. Jill Scott

Saturday, Sept. 28

7 p.m. DJ Skillz

8 p.m. Whodini

8:45 p.m. Big Daddy Kane featuring The Symphony

9:35 p.m. Run-DMC

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