Conscious Hip-Hop acts as a counter to the violent, materialistic, bling infused cookie cutter music that dominates the airwaves. As a genre, it rails against social injustices with deadly precision. Artists such as Run the Jewels and Kendrick Lamar may have brought the concerns of Conscious Hip-Hop to a whole new generation of fans, but nothing is born in isolation and last night The PowerStation played host to the two Godfathers of the genre Common and Talib Kweli. Combined they have worked with some of the most respected names in the business, including the aforementioned Kendrick, J Dilla, Mos Def and Pharrell.
Opening act Talib Kwalei managed to craft a set list that spanned most of his impressive twenty year career and showed off his lyrical dexterity and quiet aggression. Kweli has always been an MC’s MC and his energetic performance simply cemented it in this reviewers eyes. Thoughtful lyrics and old-school turntablism was at the heart of this performance, which merged classics flawlessly with newer material. Standouts included the RZA produced trackRocket Ships and Never Been In Love. He somehow managed to pay homages to both Prince and Bob Marley without slowing down the frenetic pace of his performance. By his closing song the keening jazz-funk fusion song Get By’ the crowd was heaving and primed for the evening’s headliner Common.
Common has a significantly different style to Kweli. He felt bigger, brasher, and bolder and that is not a criticism. He to capture and maintain the audience’s attention with his magnetism throughout the hour and a half set. His flows were relentless and perpetually good, opening with People and weaving some of his biggest hits with deeper cuts, including The Corners, I Used To Love Her, and ending with an excellent cover of Nas’s The World Is Yours. Collaboration is at the epicentre of Hip Hop and this concert was no exception, and arguably provided the evening’s highlight when Kweli joined Common onstage and they performed Blackstar’s Respiration. Kweli’s cool stage presence acted as a good counterpoint to Common’s earnestness. Common is as sincere as they come- his impassioned Black Rights Matter and imploring to love and respect each other was beautiful, necessary and heartfelt. However, things got a little smaltzy when he brought a woman up onstage and began freestyling and dancing with her onstage. While it undoubtedly showed off his genius, and his love for his fans appears genuine, it came off feeling a little too Boyz II Men for my tastes and disrupted the otherwise flawless flow of his set.
It was an honour and a privilege to see two Hip-Hop heavyweights share the stage for an evening that was a celebration of collaboration, commonality, and community. Top marks.