Calgary gets a solid dose of Common Sense [Review]
Calgary, AB – On Aug. 10, Common headlined the annual Afrikadey! Festival at Prince’s Island Park in Calgary. This year, the festival utilized a cheeky tagline: “Celebrating Our Common Heritage.” No truer words could have been spoken. The fine folks of YYC congregated in the park, not only for a celebration of African culture, but for a united appreciation of a legendary hip-hop pillar: Lonnie Rashid “Common” Lynn, Jr.
Though the festival was well underway at noon, Common wasn’t scheduled to perform until 7:30 p.m. Just after 8 p.m., he pulled up behind the festival stage in a two-Escalade entourage (it felt very presidential). After 30 minutes of shaking fans’ hands from the back of the Cadillac, Common was rushed into a beat-up onsite trailer. Within a few minutes, he was ready to go. Common hopped up on to the back of the stage, rocking a slick pair of wayfarers and a t-shirt from the Basquiat Collection (which pays homage to the late graffiti artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat). He was turned up and ready to unleash.
The stage managers pulled up chairs for Common’s ladies in tow—his mother, Mahalia Ann Hines, as well as his 16-year-old daughter, Omoye Assata Lynn. They are both remarkable women. It was almost surreal to have them present at the show— it felt as though Common had invited Calgarians in to his personal life. Not the over-sensantionalized Erykah Badu or Serena Williams parts, but the parts where he serves as both a father and a son (as opposed to just a hip-hop mogul and A-list actor). Common’s performance of “Be” was goosebump-inducing. Paternal love oozed out of Common as he versed, “I look into my daughter’s eyes, and realize that I’m gonna learn through her. The Messiah, might even return through her. If I’m gonna do it, I gotta change the world through her.”
There was one other lady in the Common entourage who didn’t receive as much love as she should have: Maimouna “Mumu Fresh” Youssef. Mumu provided backing vocals for Common through the entire duration of his set. She’s probably best known for her work with The Roots on the 2007 track, “Don’t Feel Right” (which received a Grammy nomination, by the way). Mumu is just one of those ladies with the entire package. She can rap, she can sing, she’s got killer style, and she has the most prolific red-hued Afro, ever.
Although the audience demographic was all over the place — from toddling future hip-hop heads to those in their 80s, 90s, and beyond — Common’s stage antics had everyone engrossed in the set. He kept the performance very PG-13. He forgoed his raunchier ballads in favour of the more wholesome tracks like “Come Close” and “The Light”— you know, the songs that bucket lists are made of. But the evening definitely had a lady-loving undertone to it. Common got his hype man to bring a girl in the audience on to the stage. Common sat the girl on a stool and serenaded her. He didn’t even flinch as she groped her way around his shirt. But it didn’t stop there. Common slow danced with her. Yes, you read that correctly. Common slow danced with one of his fans. Dreams do come true, people. This is proof.
A peep at the setlist showed that Common was scheduled to perform Kanye West’s “New Slaves,” as well as a Tom Ford freestyle (which we’ll assume is a homage to Jay Z’s anti-Molly Magna Carta Holy Grail track of the same name). Sadly, neither was performed. Common did, however, perform the innuendo-filled Kid Cudi and Kanye collaboration track, “Polk Her Face.” But since his set was otherwise very wholesome, it’s highly unlikely that the unassuming folks in the crowd caught on to the song’s allusion to blowjobs. Common also did a little mixed-up rendition of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” It was completely unexpected, but Common served it up, nice and fresh.
The set wrapped up as Common brought Omoye on to the stage prior to his concluding performance of “It’s Your World.” (Side note: Today is actually Omoye’s birthday. She just turned 16. Happy birthday, Omoye). She carries herself with maturity and poise. And her wardrobe ensemble was delightfully posh. But when Common is your father, you’re guaranteed a proper education in style and stunting. Common told Omoye that the world was hers. But it seemed as though he was speaking to the audience, as well. Warm fuzzies were garnered by all and it was one of those “carpe diem” kind of moments. It could have been the select few wafts of dope smoke blowing around, but there was love spreading everywhere. It was infectious.
Common left the stage and hid out in his trailer while his hype man turned away eager fans and reporters. Common must have been exhausted. He started the day off at Calgary’s historical Heritage Park to promote the third-season premier of Hell on Wheels. And although he had just finished a killer set on the stage, he still had a Hell on Wheels premier party at Theatre Junction Grand to attend. After some time had passed (and the coast was clear of Common-heads), Common and his manager gracefully exited the trailer and loaded back in to the black Escalades. Common continued to show love to YYC at the UBU Lounge Hell on Wheels afterparty, where he freestyled over a beat by local producer, J Ricky.
It’s safe to say that Calgary has been very fortunate to take on Common as an adopted local. Hopefully Hell on Wheels runs indefinitely so that Common will continue to grace us with his presence.
Photography by Sarosh Rizvi and Sarah Sussman for HipHopCanada