April 26, 2001

Common Sense

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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Bailey Hall ain’t no Chi-Town underground hot-spot, but it will do just fine. Okay, you caught me. I’ve never said that before, or anything of the sort, but at least seven out of ten concert-goers from Sunday night’s Jurassic 5/Common show would agree that their chests nearly cracked under the bass of the beats. The other three, comprised of the all-too-common self-conscious Cornell type, refused to respond to stage directions such as J5’s “throw your hands in the air” or Common’s “get funky.”

Fortunately, the seven-out-of-ten contingent picked up the slack, pumped their fists, and sweated to what Common called “that sweat under your armpits, sweat on your balls funk.”

Indeed, right from the get-go, J5 kicked. The Cut Chemist, J5’s fleet-fingered DJ, warmed up the crowd with a little old skool cuttin’ and scratchin’. Then the four rappers that make up Jurassic 5’s lyric squad gave an hour-long demonstration on stage chemistry. Their harmony never faltered and every microphone hand-off ran seamlessly. As the frontman changed by the minute, it became apparent that J5’s vocals are a four-man endeavor. As they put it: “We take four MCs and make it sound like one.”

But really, J5’s presentation was a six-man effort as Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark often stepped up to do their own thing.

Several times, the lyricists actually walked off the stage completely and left the crowd to the DJs. At one point, Cut Chemist played the records while Nu-Mark played the xylophone. Later, the two combined hands on the turntables and the drum machines and created sounds that ranged from techno beats to tribal dances. Cut Chemist even brought out a little turntable necklace that allowed him to dangle records from his shoulders and play them like you’d play a guitar.

But the main event of Sunday’s show revolved around Common, the Chicago-based rapper who, after the show, explained his version of hip-hop in terms of the underground. “The whole approach is different. It’s related to the revolutionary movements of the past. It goes against the masses, against what everyone thinks you’re supposed to do.”

To be sure, his show was packed with surprises; both lyrical and physical, something to please every sort of fan. At one point he freestyled an entire song and asked the audience a series of questions including: “Why to graduate you have to pass the swim test?” But the physical gimmicks were almost more intriguing.

First, his DJ, DJ Dummy, flexed his skills on the turn-tables. He spun and danced and even managed to disappear behind a woman’s crotch without losing the beat. Later, an audience member was asked to display his own rapping prowess on stage, and more than stood up to the challenge, thus proving Common’s theory that “the soul is in everyone.”

The most memorable moment of the show, however, came near its end during “The Light,” when Common asked a female member of the audience to accompany him on stage. They danced and glanced at each other for a while until he reached his hand out, put it on her head and said: “If heaven had a height it would be that tall.” And although the moment was beautiful in itself it had its drawbacks: people will forever be trying to clean the spot on the stage where the girl instantly melted.

In fact, so charming is Erykah Badu’s new husband, that he’s managed to go commercial and still be loved by the underground. Common claims: “As long as the music is for the people and from the heart, they’ll like what you do, and follow you where you’re going.” This certainly rang true for Sunday’s crowd, which started off hesitantly, but was rocking by the end.

Archived article by Ari Fontecchio