Concert Review: Common's Basement Experience

Who: Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli & Other Guests

Where SOB's Club, New York City

When: May 24, 2005

Today’s big budget concerts are like legalized assault on the senses with a penchant for elaborate lighting, fierce pyrotechnics, jumbotrons, dancers and the loudest sounds. It's kind of hard to remember the simplicity of a performer and their band.

Accompanied by a keyboardist, DJ, and drummer, a rejuvenated Common, took the stage at New York's SOB's on May 24 in celebration of his new album BE. Though the album has received much praise from the media, Common fans eagerly awaited to see if the Chi-Town native had completely abandoned the “electric circus” and his live performance would answer the key query: "Does he still got it?”

"I’ve been partying for 13 years now. A lotta people had a lot to say over Electric Circus …I don’t give a f**k what they say,” the eccentric worth smith barked, simultaneously dropping the John Legend-assisted “They Say.” With the crowd in the hollow of his cowry shell bracelet, Common personally invited fans, friends, industry brass into his Basement Experience. Dapper as usual, he was draped in sweater vest, tie, and newsboy cap, he took the stage with a bop in his step that never left from start to finish.

The speakers erupted in the basement party. Settling into a stream of records off the BE album, he kept the momentum going with “Chi-City”, Like Water for Chocolate's “Nag Champa” Com flaunted his dominance of the crowd one minute by having them rock to old school chants, next flailing their arms from side to side and finally brought them to a collective whisper before continuing with BE’s “Go,” “Faithful,” and “Testify.”

Though his G.O.O.D. Music cohorts John Legend and Kanye West weren’t in the building, Common did allow a few notable guests slide through to help enhance his sublime, heartfelt experience. Appearing from shadows of stage right, Mos Def manned a pair of congo drums, shocking the crowd. After getting his Tito Puente on, the rapper/actor finally made his way to the mic, where his former partner-in-rhyme Talib Kweli shortly joined him. Throwing back to their backpacker days, in true fashion the trio dipped into some classics performing “Respiration” from the Black Star days and “Put Your Hands Up” off of West’s The College Dropout. Doing some of their own solo hits, the crowd was then treated to a fist-pumping rendition of Kweli’s “Get By”. Next, Mos tapped into the room’s collective soul with the words and melodies of “Umi Says,” which was remixed for political prisoner Assata Shakur.

Redirecting the focus, Common re-assumed spotlight and requested that a woman assist him on stage. Showing the side of him that probably wooed Erykah, he charmed the crowd and his female guest with a medley of classic R&B hits from Prince’s “Adore” to fellow Chicagoan R. Kelly’s “Bump and Grind.” All sensuality eventually led to “Come Close.” A true b-boy at heart, Common can only keep it smooth for so long before kicking a freestyle. Calling Mos from the side of the stage, the lyricists rhymed over old and new lacing Tribe’s “Electric Relaxation,” and even The Ying Yang Twins’ “Wait (The Whisper Song).” Getting ill, Com spat, "I aint 50 cent/ but b***h its ya birthday."

After letting DJ Dummy slice up Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock's “It takes Two,” Common presented Umar Bin Hassen of the last poets, who stood wise and stoically as the beat of “Corners” began to play. With arms pumping and heads nodding, the audience roared and recited the lyrics and echoed Umar’s poetic interludes. After Musiq Soulchild stepped in for “The Light,” the lights came on in SOB’s as if mom dukes flipped on the switch to say the party is over.

May 24 was a chilly, windy night, but friends, industry found that one man can heat up an unseasonably cold New York City with a magnificent evening of good old fashioned Hip-Hop. Common answered the question the multitudes have asked since he sported those knit pants and sleeveless sweater hoodies. Not only does he still have it, but he never lost it in the first place.