Chicago closed the summer festival season with a bang and not the kind many outside of the city have come to expect. While many have lauded the violence, murder, police brutality and negative stereotypes most of the media has placed upon the city, for the second time in three years Common showed with his second annual AAHH! Fest, that is definitely not the case and that when the city comes together for something as positive and diverse like this, it’s one of the greatest cities to be to enjoy yourself and have a great time.
Hosted by the Chicago natives own Common Ground Foundation, as well as fellow Chicago native Kanye West’s Dondas House Inc., the festival thrown at Union Park on Chicago’s west side was one that was part of a historic weekend for Chicago music and in particular Chicago Hip-Hop. It all started on Saturday with community day for AAHH! Fest with performances from the likes of Tink and Taylor Bennett, while fellow Chicago native Malik Yusef held down hosting duties for the all ages day, which focused more on helping the youth in the community with career zones, health and wellness centers and the arts. Rising Hip-Hop superstar and fellow Chicago native Chance the Rapper making a surprise performance to perform his latest smash hit single, No Problems featuring Lil’ Wayne and 2 Chainz, as well as Sunday Candy and Blessings.
Speaking of Chance, he held his own inaugural Magnificent Coloring Day festival at the Chicago White Sox U.S. Cellular Field on Chicago’s south side to a sold-out crowd on Saturday. Common actually ended up returning the favor by showing up to his fellow south side Chicago natives event for a rousing performance of his inspiring Oscar-Award winning record, Glory, alongside John Legend.
After a years hiatius, Sunday Sept. 25th was all about AAHH! Fest’s main stage though, as Common and company once again brought another great lineup of homegrown talent like Sir the Baptist, Jeremih and Vic Mensa, as well as upcoming Los Angeles group The Internet. Not to mention the legendary emcees or soul acts like The Roots, Common himself, Bilal, Ice Cube and surprise guest R. Kelly.
Vic fit as much as could be fit in a short 20-minute set. With his politically charged set actually being one of the better of the afternoon and night, as he continued to stun audiences like he has throughout his other festival performances this past summer with his bold, heavy and theatrical performance of his Laquan McDonald response penned track, 16 Shots. Mensa once again showing why he’s one of Chicago Hip-Hop’s fastest rising stars, who is willing to take on big issues without fear of appearing vulnerable in the process.
Fellow Chicago native and Def Jam crooner Jeremih, who was up before Vic put together a pretty amazing set of his own that covered most of his hits from Down on Me to his very first hit single Birthday Sex to Don’t Tell ‘Em and even some of the hits he was featured on like Natalie La Rose’s, Somebody and fellow Chicago native Dreezy’s Body, with Natalie and Dreezy even making an appearance and it being the first time the two Chicago natives were set to perform the latter record live, but it was when the set was unfortunately cut short. Obviously mostly catered to the ladies there was some mic problems throughout the set, which ended up cutting Jeremih’s set short. With his set being the only one with any such problems that had some fans booing before being settled down again.
There was a live DJ battle next to show the different forms of DJing there is and to serve as a partial commeration to legendary Chicago DJ, Timbuck2, who played at the inaugural AAHH! Fest a couple years ago, but sadly passed just last year after a short bout with kidney cancer.
The rest of the night at Union Park was filled with performances from Hip-Hop heavyweights The Roots, Common himself, Ice Cube, soul falsetto crooner Bilal and a surprise appearance from Chicago native, as well as music legend R. Kelly.
Common made sure his hometown was not only represented with the performers, but with his host, comedian/actor and writer Deon Cole as well. Cole keeping the audience very engaged with his very hilarious jokes in between sets before the main performers of the night. Even joking about that he told Common despite him telling him, “No, he couldn’t do it,” he was going to bring twerkers out for a twerk contest. To which after several seconds of waiting, nobody came out and the Black-ish, as well as Barbershop: The Next Cut star joked that Common told him the women found God and where now good girls, who would no longer come out twerking. After the very hilarious stand-up from Cole and great introduction he gave Common himself came out for one of the more rousing and riveting performances of the whole festival.
No matter who’s headlining or on the bill, most everybody from Chicago usually comes to AAHH! Fest to see Common and you could definitely feel that when the wave of elation came across Union Park, as he hit the stage with a blaze of passionate energy for his performance of his ode to the corners he grew up on Chicago’s South Side with “The Corner.” This time invoking the names of African American shooting victims from McDonald to Philando Castle, before going into his very emotional and necessary rendition of his simmering latest single, Black America Again, which speaks to the soul of the Black American experience and how as the lyrics suggests, “We’re going to write a new story.” Common went through several of his other hits such as, Go!, The Light, Testify and I Used to Love H.E.R. with an appearance from Bilal doing his very amazing rendition of the hook on Testify with them also doing a very absolutely amazing blend of the late great Prince’s classic record, Darling Nikki into it as well. Com then taking us way back with I Used to Love H.E.R. before one of the best moments of the whole night when after he rapped the lyrics, “She broke to the West Coast she went to Compton,” and out came the legendary Hip-Hop O.G. and N.W.A. member Ice Cube to an ecstatically ape shit! going crowd that gave thunderous applause, as Cube broke into N.W.A.’s breakout hit, Straight Outta Compton, which of course put Compton on the map. Cube then went into his classic solo records, Check Yo Self and It Was a Good Day. It’s definitely a good day when a union of this magnitude that couldn’t even have been fathomed 20 years ago comes together between the Chicago and L.A. native and appropriately enough at a park called Union Park.
If you thought that wasn’t enough from the hometown hero Common though, he also brought out the in his own right legend, King of R&B and fellow Chicago native R. Kelly to perform his classics such as Bump N’ Grind with the crowd going very ecstatic and nuts, before Kelly got everybody to “Step, Step, side to side,” as he gave a perfect impromptu performance of his forever timeless hit single, Step In The Name of Love. With Kellz being the only right person you can get people to do some stepping to on a perfect Chicago night.
The night still wasn’t done either, as another alum of this year’s 25th Lollapalooza extravaganza J. Cole came out to a light drizzle. That didn’t stop Cole or most of the fans in attendance, who where definitely waiting for him the whole time as evident by the almost deafening applause and roars from the audience as he slowly marched out to the stage. Wasting little time before going into his first song Trouble. A majority of the tracks that came after were from Cole’s critically acclaimed album that “went platinum with no features,” 2014 Forest Hills Drive such as Wet Dreamz, St. Tropez, G.O.M.D. and No Role Modelz, which had no problem getting the crowd involved. The North Carolina son showed Michael Jordan isn’t the only N.C. product embraced and loved by Chicago too, as he teased the fans he was leaving and done with his performance after his performances of Apparently and Love Yourz. Only to come back out with Chicago native Jeremih coming back out to sing his hit single Planez and have Cole of course rap his verse, which appropriately enough pays homage to M.J. and other Chicago icons like Oprah. It was only fitting Jeremih come out after his own set was cut short earlier too. Cole’s nonchalant persona and impeccably perfect stage presence, which was more live and direct than when I seen him close out the first day of Lollapalooza back in July actually helped make for a much better performance and why me, as well as so many others feel he’s one of the biggest voices of the millennials.
Whether it was the more intimate crowd at Union Park compared to the more all over the place crowd at Grant Park, something this go around seemed to click more with Cole, that was more what I expected of him when I first seen him at Lolla back in July. Awesome, raw and to the point, the Roc Nation emcee, who isn’t even from Chicago, but was embraced like he was from the Windy City, was the perfect closing act for what was a historic weekend for Chicago Hip-Hop and the city of Chicago in general. Like the inaugural AAHH! Fest back in 2014 this year’s AAHH! Fest was another one for the record books that will be very hard to top and like I said then as you can already see from this year’s lineup, be an event that not only Chicagoans, but even those beyond Chicago will want to be involved in for years to come.