If you’ve listened to a lot of Common’s music, you will know it is sometimes referred to as ‘conscious’ hip-hop, as Common is aware of the world around him; he is aware of his people, and he raps about his love for the people. You could take away the beats, change up the crowd and he could perform just as well as a poet. Indeed, he is a poet as well as a rapper, having recited some on Def Poetry Jam, and the man has always inspired more than just hip-hop lovers. This was made clear during his performance in Melbourne last night; taking a look at the crowd, you could not have guessed who was performing or even what genre the concert was for.
Last night, I caught Common, supported by the immensely talented Talib Kweli as well as DJ MzRizk featuring N’Fa Jones and Man Made Mountain at Melbourne’s Trak Lounge. Talk about a dope line-up. Common had promised special guests as well as Talib, and couldn’t have chosen finer Melbourne talent to get the vibe right.
Setting the mood for the night was MzRizk, who, as the person responsible for Rizk’s Block Parties and Hip-Hop High Teas, knew exactly how to get the party started. Joining her on stage was fellow House of Beige artist N’Fa of 1200 Techniques, who did the MC thing, asking how the crowd were feeling before launching into a lengthy freestyle, improvising from what people in the audience were wearing and doing. A proven lyricist time and time again, he performed as many freestyles as songs above MzRizk’s slick beats.
After N’Fa, Man Made Mountain came out for a set. If you don’t know Man Made Mountain, they are a hip-hop duo comprised of ARIA Award-winning producer Billy Hoyle and MC Cazeaux O.S.L.O.. Man Made draw upon their spiritual connection with the sounds of Brazil to create incredibly uplifting and unique music. The Melbourne group brought a perfect chilled out vibe, the kind you might get from a J Dilla track, which segued perfectly to the music of Talib and Common.
MzRizk and N’Fa came back out to spin and spit a bit of original music, before introducing a man who really needs no introduction – Talib Kweli.
Talib Kweli is an MC’s MC, and you will seldom find ‘good’ rappers who wouldn’t list him as having a major influence on their career. He is not your typical rapper: he’s not about ‘bitches’ and ‘hoes,’ or ‘cars’ and ‘clothes,’ which we discussed with him in depth in an interview last year. He spits from the heart and could teach a man a few things about being a man.
Talib was highly charged, jumping straight up on the speakers at the front of stage. The crowd went wild, they loved every second of him. He had us putting the ‘Ws’ in the air for The RZA-produced track Rocket Ships from Prisoner of Conscious, before taking us back to my favourite album of his, The Beautiful Struggle, and what is possibly my favourite song of his, Never Been In Love. Without slowing down the pace, he took a moment to remember Prince, and as his DJ spun I Wanna Be Your Lover, Talib danced around the stage and the crowd reciprocated the love.
That’s when Talib turned it up by shouting out to his man Mos Def and Blackstar. “1, 2, 3 Mos Def and Talib Kweli” – that’s right, he rapped Definition, and not only that, he even did K.O.S. The only thing that he hadn’t done on his near-perfect set was perform Get By – which, of course, he then smashed out as his last song. Talib can really handle the crowd, and he gave us everything we needed in the limited amount of time he had.
And then the man of the night was up. As his five-piece band (drummer, DJ, keyboardist, producer, and vocals) slowly set up, I was expecting/praying that he would open with the intro to Be (I’ve documented by longstanding love for that album and that song in particular). He didn’t open up with that, but he did open up with The People, which was almost as good.
Scattered through his performance (and I don’t use ‘performance’ as a regular noun – he really performed) were little uplifting speeches that were perfect intros between tracks. He even slipped an anti-Trump speech in there towards the end. At one point he discussed his love for people – from the rich to the poor, to the people from the street and on The Corner, which led him nicely into that song. He then launched into The Food, also from the Be album.
Later, Common was building up to a song that apparently meant a lot to him, until he noticed a few too many punters taking photos. He proceeded to tell them off and then told the band to instead play Black America. It didn’t really stop people from taking pictures, as up next was Blackstar’s Respiration. Yeah, that’s right, Common and Talib were on stage together and it was every bit as dope as it sounds.
There was one weird moment once Talib left. Common chose a young lady from the crowd and invited her up on stage; her name was Eden, which I remember as he serenaded her in freestyle, making lots of references to his being ‘Adam’ in ‘Eden’s garden.’ He even had her wipe away the sweat from his face with a towel – it was a little gross, but she seemed to enjoy it. It was a bit much at times, and almost felt scripted, as is, well, common for a Common show, but that’s expected from an entertainer at his level. Once the moment passed, Common came down into the crowd to sing his song, Go.
After a dramatic rendition of Testify, Common spent some time talking about producers he has worked with throughout his career, especially J. Dilla, and he gave the crowd a little vignette of their meeting, and how Dilla gave Common free beats before they were even mates.
His set ended on the Pharrell-produced Universal Mind Control, which bangs pretty hard live and was a solid choice to end on. But, of course, that was not actually the end. The band came back out for the encore playing Be (Intro) for a minute before Common reappeared, rapped Be, and made my life. That’s what I came to see, and once it was done, I could drop my metaphorical mic and walk out of the building.
It was a truly remarkable night with great performances from everyone, and it was amazing to see two of my favourite MCs perform together. In the words of the legend that is Common, “I’ll tell you the rest when I see you, peace.”