Photo By: Jason Griffin
Common is at the top of his game. You can tell by his near-flawless performance, barely missing a beat as he flows from one song to the next. He’s not a young rapper anymore, but he’s got the performance stamina of someone half his age. Occasionally, he would put his fist in the air, as a sign of both strength and unity. The Chicago rapper, who celebrated the release of his 10th studio album Nobody’s Smiling Monday night (July 21) at the Gramercy Theatre, was running through songs like it was just another day at the office. He made it look easy.
At promptly 9 p.m., Common started off his concert with “The Corner” to a packed crowd. With such a large discography, he mixed in both old and new tracks, and the audience kept up, rapping every word. “Blak Majik” blended into “Get ‘Em High,” which then quieted down for the piano line off “The Food.” He performed his pair of collaborations with young, bright talents—“Out On Bond” (Vince Staples), “Hustle Harder” (Dreezy)—back to back, a veteran giving shine to the next generation.
Common built a career on conscious raps that sparked thought and emotion. Many of those songs like “The People” and “The Light” filled the room with loud sing-alongs that showed the power in his words. The heavy dose of hip-hop continued when the DJ broke down Biggie’s “Hypnotize” on the 1s and 2s that cleverly flipped into “Speak My Piece.” Shortly after, Common picked up the energy with “Diamonds” that’s grown into a fan favorite.
While performing “Rewind That,” Common emphasized certain verses of the J. Dilla tribute by rapping them a capella. It almost doubled as a theater performance as he acted out memories of meeting Dilla, creating “The Light” and learning of his illness. To show more love to JD, whom he called “the greatest producer in music,” he brought out his Grammy as a big salute to their work together. By the time he got to “Be (Intro),” toward the end of his set, people were throwing peace signs in the air and chanting Common’s name.
After a brief intermission, Common delivered a strong encore for his devoted fans. These last few joints, classics like his verse off of Black Star’s “Respiration,” “Go” and “I Used To Love H.E.R.,” got the loudest responses. He left us with “Universal Mind Control,” a future-inspired hit that got everyone dancing. Like the other rappers in his generation (Talib Kweli, Yasiin Bey, Nas), Common simply showed that age is nothing but a number. Studied this rap shit, he don’t need a mic test.—Eric Diep