[Published on 10/13/2004] on JamBase
Common and The Roots know how to rock a party. Case in point: the Kool Nu Jazz Fest, on September 30 at The Trocadero in Philadelphia.
Some bands change on the surface, take some chances, but at the end of the day, remain true to their original gangster. Philadelphia’s Legendary Roots Crew and Chicago MC extraordinaire Common have been compadres since the post-Native Tongues collective Soulquarians first joined forces over half a decade ago. In recent years, both have taken decidedly risky turns in releasing experimental records, hip-hop outside the box. In relatively close succession, The Roots delivered an introspective brooding opus, the art-rock tinged Phrenology while Common followed with psychedelic celibacy in Electric Circus. Both were spiritually and sonically helmed by Roots drummer/Soulquarians mastermind Ahmir ‘?uestlove’ Thompson.
Five years ago, the loosely affiliated clique (which also included D’Angelo, Raphael Saadiq, James Poyser, Q-Tip, and Erykah Badu) left an indelible imprint on hip-hop with progressive, career defining albums Things Fall Apart from The Roots, and Common’s otherworldly, profound LP Like Water For Chocolate. Roots MC Black Thought can first be heard spitting alongside Com on the Roots sophomore Illadelph Halflife. In 2004, the slightly revamped Roots are touring in support of their recently released return to boom-bap, The Tipping Point. An invigorated, Erykah Badu-free Common is preparing to drop his b-boy renaissance Be, and both performers remain dedicated to the core essence of hip-hop in creation, performance, and intent. Like the art they embody, their respective careers have evolved beats and rhymes that push for the stratosphere.
Hardcore hip-hop fans have been curious about Common for a minute. After the wonderful Like Water For Chocolate, the Windy City spitter began an extraordinary foray into alternative styles of living. Celibacy, vegan diet, no trees nor liquor. Wild, unorthodoxly tight clothing, a style born in thrift shops. All things decidedly “not hip-hop” according to even his “conscious” fan base. Pair all of that with an eclectic, critically acclaimed but generally loathed departure in Electric Circus and you can see why his status has been a mystery.
Rest assured–the man who created the epic “I used to love H.E.R.” and “Sixth Sense” is all b-boy rhyme spitter again. And he’s hungry, as evidenced by his thorough performance on a Thursday evening in Philadelphia. As an overcrowded bar harassed bartenders and an audible conversation buzz permeated the room, Com heated things up from jump, with a casual, heartfelt stroll through his glorious catalogue with glimpses into the future.
Ably assisted by Brooklyn’s DJ Dummy, Com blasted through a new joint “Get Down” from the forthcoming record, before hitting the packed Trocadero with banger after banger of boom-bap bliss. “Sun God,” “Nag Champa,” and “Invocation” all followed, as did his verse from Black Star’s “Respiration,” and “Funky for You” before he slowed things down with the Mary J. Blige/Neptunes collabo “Come Close.”
Common’s legendary love letter to hip-hop, “I used to love H.E.R.” was just that, spit over classic beats, interspersed with ill verses from Run DMC and the Pharcyde. After a brief, choice DJ Dummy solo, Brother Com dropped a vicious freestyle littered with Philadelphia references, most notably one to Donovan McNabb, a fellow Chicago son. Then came an updated “The Questions,” quite politically charged as this was the night of the first Presidential debate. Com’s hot 16 from Jadakiss’s “Why” remix, “Food,” and the transcendental love song “The Light” closed an inspired set.
The Roots then took the stage to their home crowd, no longer distracted by booze or political talk. Immediately, the Legendary got down with The Tipping Point’s “Boom,” a raucous new joint, before turning in a blazing rendition of “Thought @ Work.” This song sonically epitomizes The Roots, and is Black Thought’s finest work (along with “Web,” which would come later). After rocking The Beatles’ “Hey Bulldog” jam under the serious spitting from ‘Riq Geez, the band took it out with an extended funk mix of “It’s Just Begun” and “Apache.”
Another TTP party jam “I Don’t Care” served as an appetizer to the reappearance of Common, for his “H.E.R.” sequel with The Roots, “Love of My Life.” It’s truly grand to see MCs of their pedigree toast an iTcredible, timeless song on the same stage with such presence. The Roots band held it down with understated eloquence. More guests ensued, upstart Truck North on the crunk “The Mic” and LRC vet Dice Raw for “Somebody’s Gotta Do It.” New summer jam “Stay Cool” brought that sunshine and BBQ, drummer ?uestlove kept it tight with his trademark snare and sparse breaks. Philly’s Musiq Soulchild got on to croon for a dubbed-out “Break You Off,” and yet another alternate arrangement for the now-classic “You Got Me,” which also featured a choice solo from virtuoso guitarist Kirk Douglas. Martin Luther, the second guitarist and back up vocalist (in the absence of departed human DJ Scratch), debuted a meager solo R&B; song as the set needed a breather.
Two more recent joints followed, in the form of TTP’s hit single “Don’t Say Nuthin,” getting the thus-far tame crowd hyped with the mumbled chorus and spooky synths. More funky keys, along with F-Knuckles dynamic electro percussion, ushered in “Duck Down,” which contained more heat from ‘Riq. Things Fall Apart anthem “Next Movement” reveled in its new spot late in the set list, with the crowd chanting “Hot Hot Mus-sick, the Roots new shit!”
The next, and primarily final segment of the show (sans individual solos from keyboardist Kamal and bassist Hub) was arranged for a recent appearance for British DJ Gilles Peterson. Beginning with an incredible, up-tempo version of “The Seed,” (originally penned and performed by Cody Chesnutt) The Roots proved exactly why they have established themselves as the definitive band in hip-hop. They segued in and out of the jazzy “Melting Pot” jam (?uest has admitted to seeing a couple Phish shows, including the last one in Camden) and arrived at the other of Thought’s best performances, “Web.” On record, with its 808 drums and bass-heavy production, combined with the ridiculous flow with no chorus, the song is the essence of hip-hop. Raw, uncut, the real shit, ?uest and Knuckles maintain the pace with authority. And this translates live, with Thought’s vicious energy and attitude commanding the song and the band just killing it, the closest I’ve ever heard them sound to both a beat machine and a jam band. After a positively murderous display of skillz from ‘Riq Geez, the band effortless reached the apex back in “Melting Pot” with a Hammond solo from Kamal and Clyde Stubblefield-esque breaks from the mighty Ahmir Thompson.
My favorite line from “Web:”
“After we’re finished makin’ you recognize, I’m gettin’ at a coupla civilized women cuz they tryna ride”
At the conclusion of this nearly three-hour experience, the evidence was clear. Common is indeed back, hungry and motivated, armed with a fresh perspective and even fresher rhymes. The Roots haven’t lost their way, either, and their return to Philadelphia was primarily a showcase of their dynamic new record. That showcase turned out to be an intimate return of the Legendary Roots Crew. The mission is still hip-hop, back to hot beats and hard rhymes for the OkayPlayers. They just know how to break the mold and take the art form to places it would never know unless cats like The Roots and Common are at the helm.
Get Down (?, new track from Be)
Get ’em High
Funky For You
I Used to Love H.E.R.
The Questions/DJ Dummy Solo
Why (verse from Jadakiss remix)
The Roots Setlist
Thought @ Work
I Don’t Care
Love of My Life (ft. Common)
The Mic (ft. Truck North, alternate version)
Somebody’s Gotta Do It (ft. Dice Raw)
Break You Off (ft. Musiq)
You Got Me (ft. Musiq) > Kirk Solo
Martin Luther song (don’t know name of song)
Don’t Say Nuthin’
Duck Down (ft. Spon ??)
The Next Movement
The Seed (alternate Gilles Peterson Session version)
Hip Hop 101/Kamal Solo
Questlove and Fisticuffs (Knuckles) Solo
Web (alternate Gilles Peterson Session version)
Melting Pot Outro
JamBase | Illadelph
Go See Live Music!
[Published on 10/13/2004]