ComplexCon is an extravagant display of popular culture

Artist headliners included Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals (above) and Kid Cudi, among others. (Matt Garfinkel | Daily Trojan)

At the intersection of music, fashion, culture, activism, sports and food is ComplexCon, a hybrid music festival, streetwear marketplace and art showcase in Long Beach Nov. 2 and 3.

The exhibition featured headlining performances from Kid Cudi and Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, celebrity meet and greets, live podcast recordings, panels with cutting-edge industry leaders dubbed ComplexCon(versations), art installations, skateboarding competitions and endless surprises.

Convention-goers flooded the main floor as they stopped by nearly 200 booths littered throughout the 224,000-square-foot Marketplace. This space featured high-end fashion labels selling limited edition releases for top dollar brand “activations” including a crane machine presented by Puma and art galleries showcasing works painted by graffiti artists in real time. 

Celebrities spotted on the floor throughout the weekend included Pharrell Williams, Chance the Rapper, Offset, Lil Yachty, Selena Gomez, Ty Dolla $ign and Usher.

“I had never been to something like that before so it was really cool seeing the Convention Center laid out with a bunch of really unique and individualistic brands,” Mya Davis, a freshman at the Iovine and Young Academy who attended the first day, said. “It was also really surreal seeing a lot of celebrities just roaming the space…it was insane just walking past them and being in the same vicinity.”

One of the standout ComplexCon(versations) on Saturday was titled “The Rise of AfroPop,” featuring some of the most prominent artists bringing the genre to the forefront of pop culture, including Wale, Afro B and Davido. The artists discussed how the landscape of American music has evolved to embrace more international sounds.

“I think Americans are kind of late to the sound,” Afro B said. “‘Fall’ [by Davido] has been out for I think two years before it started to pick up. It’s only this year that ‘Fall’ and ‘Joanna’ [by Afro B] started to pop here. Because we’re singing in English as well so it’s easier for people to connect with what we’re saying … We need more people to be open to playing it on radio.”

Throughout the afternoon, a slew of performers, including Atlanta duo EarthGang, graced the Pigeons and Planes stage. The eccentric Dreamville signees lit up the crowd as they fired prop bills from a money gun and played tracks from their latest release, “Mirrorland,” including “Top Down,” “Bank” and “Up.”

As the first day became night and the curtains rose for Kid Cudi’s headlining performance, a 30-foot-tall foam statue of the artist was revealed, depicted in the cartoon style of Japanese streetwear brand BAPE. Its eyes began to glow red as a single spotlight revealed surprise guest actor Timothée Chalamet sitting in the middle of the stage. 

Rapper Kid Cudi, the headliner of the festival, electrified the crowd with pyrotechnics, an engaging performance complete with confetti and giant self-sculpture and special guest actor Timothée Chalamet. (Photo courtesy of Complex)

The “Call Me By Your Name” star and close friend of Cudi began the show by reciting the narrative portion of “In My Dreams (Cudder Anthem),” originally performed by Common, that opens Cudi’s breakout album “Man on the Moon: The End of Day.”

Pyrotechnics erupted as Cudi and surprise guest Pusha T kicked off the set with “Feel the Love,” the first track from Cudi’s 2018 collab project with Kanye West, “Kids See Ghosts.” 

To commemorate the recent 10-year anniversary of “Man on the Moon,” Cudi spent the night taking the audience on a nostalgic journey through his discography. He passionately performed select cuts from that album, its sequel “Man on the Moon 2: The Legend of Mr. Rager” and “Indicud” in chronological order.

“I wanted to do some old songs, some songs I hadn’t done in a while,” Cudi told the audience. “I thought it was only right.”

Near the end of the night, Cudi shared a special moment with an audience member. He identified 22-year-old Jacob Rios in the front of the crowd, acknowledging his tattoo of the “Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager” album cover and signing his arm. He then dedicated the final track of the night, Steve Aoki’s remix of “Pursuit of Happiness,” to him.

“That just made me feel like my life is complete … This is what I was living for,” Rios told the Daily Trojan. “He said ‘This song is for you,’ and dude, I just melted. I felt so at peace.”

The excitement spilled over to Sunday. Two sets by surprise performers were slated for the afternoon on the Pigeons and Planes stage but the artists were not revealed until immediately before they went on. 21 Savage and DaBaby shocked the crowd as the guests, but Savage made it clear he was let  down by the lower turnout that resulted from the last-minute reveal.

“I feel like I’m performing at a talent show or something,” Savage said before playing “can’t leave without it” from his sophomore album “i am > i was.”

One of Sunday’s best ComplexCon(versations), titled “All Hail the Queens: The Women Changing the Face of Rap,” featured Trina and EVE, artists who have paved the way for other women in hip-hop, and two of today’s most prominent women in hip-hop, Rico Nasty and Kamaiyah. 

The panelists spoke on topics ranging from obstacles they’ve faced in the industry, how they’ve uplifted and empowered one another and what their long-term goals are.

“You just have to be strong. You know what, it doesn’t matter how they perceive you,” Trina said. “It doesn’t matter who like you, who don’t like you, as long as you believe in yourself, that’s all that matters. Women are more dominant in the game now than ever before.”

Back on the main stage, the night was beginning to wrap up. Promptly at 7 p.m., the house lights dimmed as trumpeter Maurice Brown sauntered on stage, sounding off a melody that morphed into the opening notes of “The Bird,” the intro to Anderson .Paak’s critically acclaimed “Malibu.” The rest of the Free Nationals assumed their positions at their respective instruments, including .Paak himself center-stage on a drum set covered in artificial foliage.

Arguably one of the best live performers in the game — thanks in large part to backing from the Free Nats — .Paak never fails to bring the house down. The band brought a whole new life to the already vibrant songs with live instrumentation and engaging visuals. From eye-catching wardrobe to flawless choreography to rapid-fire drum solos, everything about .Paak’s live shows screamed unquestionable starpower.

“I’ll keep it g-real, I’m tired as fuck,” .Paak told the audience half an hour into his hour-long set before temporarily getting offstage to allow Ron Avant, Free Nationals keyboardist, to perform a five-minute medley of a jazz piano riff with vocoder covers of Ginuwine’s “Pony” and Tupac and Dr. Dre’s “California Love.”

When .Paak returned, he performed a combination of tracks from his recent releases, “Oxnard” and “Ventura,” as well as older tracks from “Venice” and “Malibu.” Fan favorites included “Suede” and Kaytranada’s “Glowed Up,” during which he aptly encouraged audience members to illuminate the room with their phone lights.

“I won a Grammy on this, so y’all need to turn up one time,” .Paak said as he launched into an energetic rendition of his single “Bubblin.”

White strips of confetti rained down on the audience as Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals took a bow at the end of their headlining set. With their performance concluded, ComplexCon drew to a fittingly extravagant close.