Stones Throw Records were throwing a party for their 20th anniversary in Sycamore Grove Park In Highland Park, an unfamiliar (to me) corner of east LA, but the place was already packed when I arrived just on time for DāM-FunK. The Superfest had started hours ago with a long line-up of artists, the whole show was completely free, and the surprise was the headliner, hip hop Chicago artist Common. Now, Common performed for Obama Home States Inaugural Ball in 2009 and was re-invited to the White House, Common won an Academy Award for Best Original Song with John Legend in 2015, Common is really mainstream for a small indie fest, and he had just released his 11th studio album ‘Black America Again’ a day before the event, so I guess it was a great coup for Stones Throw.
The indie label, founded by DJ Peanut Butter Wolf in 1996, focuses on hip hop records and is the home of Aloe Blacc, 7 Days of Funk, a collaboration between DāM-FunK and Snoop Dogg, and many other rappers but also blue-eyed soul artist Mayer Hawthorne, but the label has also re-issued some of J Dilla’s collaboration with Madlib, not that I know all these artists, but I saw a guy wearing a ‘J Dilla changed my life’ shirt, so I figured out this guy must have been important.
DāM-FunK played a music funky-to-the-core, with more synths than should be allowed on stage and even one he was carrying on a strap like a guitar. The result was gut-resonating, heavy hand-clapping and keys wobbling while the vocals in reverb could go falsetto,… it was as if Stevie Wonder, Prince and Earth, Wind and Fire had a party or even a competition in the park. He gave away a few white vinyl, Nite Jewel came on stage and brought even more soul to the music, while an old man in the crowd behind me had the time of his life with the help of some substance,… or not.
‘How many J Dilla fans are there?’ asked Peanut Butter Wolf who DJ-ed with J Rocc before Common’s grand entrance. Now, a DJ set can be the most boring thing to watch, but a series of rappers (M.E.D. and Madlib) showed up on stage, while Gaslamp Killer was watching in the back of the stage. It was hip hop heaven for people around me, PB Wolf threw some shirts in the air for the crowd to catch, and the set actually became a mix of rap and funk with harsh beats making my whole body vibrate.
Finally, Common took the stage, he was a bit late but it’s normal because he is a superstar, but he was quite nice with his crowd, as he got very close and allowed people to do a real body search, he even took the time to sign a few things at the end.
Common’s scene and crowd could not be more foreign to me, I am aware of him but I have never really listened to his music as I tend to pass on a lot of hip hop, but during events like this one, I truly realize how important this type of music is for many people.
Common’s set was high energy with some spoken words/poetry, but this tall and fit guy is not your average rapper, first he looks like a model, and he looks as if he had freshly showered from his yoga session or gym workout. There is something elegant and chic about him – well, he is also an actor – and for all these reasons I was not seeing him in the same category than your average rapper, despite his fluid delivery, the fast rhythm and the easy rhymes. He recited his new song ‘Black America Again’ with no beats and of course it was question of politics and social injustice all set long, bringing up white America guilt and #blacklivesmatter with fists in the air all set long. ‘The color of my skin, they comparing it to sin/The darker it gets, the less fairer it has been’ he rhymed during the title track…and for some reason, I was having a hard time to imagine Common, a walking ad for a man Cologne, suffering from his good looks. But what do I know? I am just a privileged Caucasian.
Is this new album title for real, or did he steal it from the Trump Campaign? In an interview, he called this new work a ‘call to action’, but never a instant during the set, I felt unwelcome though, Common made sure everyone was included, and a few lines made me laugh ‘You put a nigga in Star Wars, may be you need two, And then, may be we’ll believe you).’ The whole thing was safe and almost harmless, sure, a few people in the back got a bit excited, but I have seen Kendrick Lamar at the FYF fest, and it may not be fair to make a comparison.
Common has developed a social consciousness and wants to become relevant for it, while I was hearing girls screaming ‘I Love you’, as they were trying to touch him when he was getting very close to the crowd. And isn’t it what Common is about? A handsome and romantic rapper, singing syrupy love-inspired rap as if it was just another form of R&B? But this time, Common is playing it authentic, he is from Chicago and has seen the violence and injustice, he covers Kanye West and the Roots, he wants to be Kendrick Lamar but he is the ‘2Pac Deepak Chopra/on a plane drinking wine with Oprah’, as he raps in ‘Red Wine’, a song he didn’t perform last night, but it’s an expression that tells me more than I need to know… Tupac and Deepak Chopra? Which that brings the question, is Common able to make the distinction between a real artist and a con artist?
Black America Again
Get Em High (Kanye West Cover)
Nag Champa (Afrodisiac for the World)
Act Too (Love of my Life)
I Used to Love H.E.R. (The Roots cover)
contracts its world in Nashisms
let’s take what we are offered
It’s the music, stupid
a restless and fearless freak show
Eminem and Calvin couldn’t move Bey
summer’s entertainment is rewarded
compares the end of a romance to the end of life
House pure and simple