Published on October 2nd, 2014 | by Jameelah "Just Jay" Wilkerson0
AAHH!: Chi City Breathes Through Classic and Current Hip Hop
ALL Photos By: Autumn B Photography
Since the removal of Rock the Bells in Chicago, Hip Hop festivals have not been the same… Until this night. Common, a Chicago native and rap superstar, took matters into his own hands to throw what would indubitably be one of the best, most positive and all about Chi Hip Hop events we have seen in a while. With so many festivals happening in Chicago, (North Coast, Lollapalooza, Riot Fest), it seemed rap always took a back stage or guest spot but never a front seat. AAHH! Fest provided the platform for Hip Hop to be heard, seen and felt at Union Park. And, because the partners of the performance were non profit and youth organizations, (Lupe Fiasco Foundation, Common Ground and Donda’s House, amongst others), you knew it would not only be a special night for music, but one with a notable and worthy cause – providing an alternative to negative stigmas, unifying Chicago and giving us a chance to exhale.
Being the late attendees to the fest didn’t pan out as I’d like, (shout out to my photographer – I’m pretty sure she’s a white Puerto Rican), so we didn’t get to see Jay Electronica or MC Lyte. The crowd seemed extremely pleased with their performances, though, noting that Lyte performed covers and classics and even brought out Lil’ Mama (though they were still confused as to why). As we got into the festival we acquainted ourselves with the environment, noticed the different organizations that had booths (Donda’s House asking: “What’s your truth?”), and of course familiarized ourselves with where the food, port-o-potties and libations were. We mingled with old friends and made new ones, noting the air and positive ambiance and breathing it all in.
The first performance we got to catch was that of the classic De La Soul, who truly are the epitome of tag team, got your back, hype man rap. There was a time during the set where De La Soul refused to continue their performance until everyone in the media pit (us included) had one hand in the air. “This is a party, this ain’t work!” hollered Trugoy the Dove to the photogs clicking away with their cameras. He kept stopping the music and pointing to those with hands still on cameras or cellphones, then restarting once he thought everyone was on board. There literally was one woman who flatly refused to participate, and though they called her out, she stood her ground. The show had to go on, however, and their high energy set continued with Pos even jumping into the media pit to be closer to his crowd. De La took us through time with “Potholes in my Lawn” and “Ooh!”, ending with the crowd sing along to “Me, Myself and I”. The sea of spectators would bend to their whim and raps and call backs, but I still wonder – Why wouldn’t that damn woman jam?!
As soon as De La Soul stepped off stage the hometown heroes jumped on and their welcome was more than warm. Jennifer Hudson, looking fabulously thin (though she was fabulous before), came on stage rocking leather shorts and an oversized plaid sweater (which would be donned by the “surprise guest” later on). She sang flirtatiously to the crowd, waving at people in between and noticing those singing along with her (I don’t think the woman from De La’s set was, though). The true test of a performer is how well they perform their songs in relation to the recordings, and she sounded just like her hits. She took the crowd into a trance when she performed “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”, the song that solidified her stardom and singing capabilities. It sounded just like the movie, just like a dream, and as I waited for her to hit that one part in the song where you knew she would snap I wondered – How one could be so perfect?
Introduced by Dave Chappelle, Lupe Fiasco followed Mrs. Hudson and let me tell you – the experience was life changing. Having seen him perform prior, nothing compared to being in the media pit staring up at one of my favorite rapper-slash-activists. He performed all his hits, starting with a recent “Freedom Ain’t Free” and going all the way back to “Kick, Push”. His energy transferred into the crowd and we all hung onto every note of perfectly delivered lyrics. It seemed as quickly as the set started it ended, though, and I was certainly left with songs I still wanted to hear.
Twista was another example of a short set, coming on and leaving so quickly I could barely take notes. I can remember that he performed “Overnight Celebrity”, though. One definite AAHH! Fest downfall was how short some artists’ sets were, but I guess to fill in all of that awesome into a few hours the show had to push on. Dave Chappelle even only shared a few jokes and a short time on stage, though I thought he would be hosting the whole night. He spoke about his, um… “phallic nether regions” and poked fun at an apparent marijuana cookie suicide. It was very clear that he is a strong advocate for legalized weed, and he made mention of Illinois and Gov. Rahm Emmanuel getting on board. Him just being there was reminiscent of his 2005 “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party,” where he brought the best rappers out in New York and did his thing in between, and Chicago was lucky to get something so similar.
The star of the fest came on next, the man who put it all together, the Chicago crusader – Common. The crowd went crazy and rightfully so – we were watching history in Hip Hop unfolding with songs like “I Used To Love H.E.R” and “The Light”, and as one arm rested on a speaker I felt part of the music, part of history – past and present. Common displayed his clever punches, rapping lines like “Time is money, forever is my salary”, and it was more than clear why he’s still so paid and highly regarded in this game. He spoke on why we were all there together and you could tell the sea of Chicagoans were in solidarity with the event’s purpose and sick of the state our city is in. For one night, though, we were able to just “Be”, like his 2005 song says.
The surprise (but not really) guest came on after being introduced by Common, and with all of the media backlash I expected a preachy Kanye. Instead, Chicago got a sweet 16 of all the hits we came to know and love. He went through songs like “Jesus Walks”, “Gold Digger”, “Touch the Sky” and “New Slaves”, even bringing out Jay Electronica for “Clique”. The moment that took the Kanye cake was when a courageous wheelchair-bound young man was lifted into the air to crowd surf in solidarity with the media-attacked rapper. Whatever anyone has to say about Kanye, one thing is clear – he is a (self-proclaimed and I’ll proclaim him too!) musical genius who gives hope and great music to a lot of hopeless youth in our city.
Some of the true winners this night were the DJs, however, taking us all to a happy place in Hip Hop nestled in the 90’s. DJs like Wayne Williams and Timbuck2 had everyone wilding out in the crowd from nostalgia with songs from Mobb Deep, Nas, Method Man, Lauryn Hill and even Crucial Conflict! I’m pretty sure I might have heard one Drake song, so from classic to current the spectrum of rap music was covered and the Chi got to breathe that good Hip Hop air again at AAHH! Fest. I do wish, however, that the Community Showcase portion of AAHH! Fest had been interspersed between the evening sets, as to give young performers a bigger platform and show them that they are just as important. They are our future Lupe’s, Kanye’s, JHud’s, Common’s and Twista’s, you know. All in all, here’s to hoping AAHH! Fest becomes an annual event so we can have more reasons to breathe in the beauty and breathe out the bullsh*t.
Written by Marisol Vélez