Held at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wynn Commons, Friday night’s annual Penn Relays concert featured two frequent visitors to Philadelphia, Talib Kweli and Common. Billed as “The Resurrection of Hip-Hop,” for the two hours that Kweli and Common performed, it was exactly that – a show reminiscent of hip-hop’s earlier eras.
Preceded by a local group known as the Vikings and a typically long intermission, Kweli took the stage with DJ Chaps and the Shock Body Rockers (two female dancers/singers). He set off the show with a freestyle and “Move Something,” the lead single off his Train Of Thought album. He got the crowd even more open with some of his underground classics, such as “Fortified Live” and “The Manifesto,” before paying tribute to his Blackstar partner Mos Def by performing tracks like “Know That” and “Definition.”
Kweli’s stage presence was much improved from previous shows, as he seemed to have more confidence, and kept the crowd involved. In fact, he even had to put the crowd in their place during the two low points of the evening: once when a fight almost occurred during “K.O.S. Determination,” and another time, when they booed J Hood, a late-arriving opening act that Kweli let on stage.
Kweli also included several joints off the Reflection Eternal album, like “Down For The Count” and “Love Language,” while ending his set with his current single, “The Blast,” and the inspirational “For Women.”
After a brief intermission, Chicago’s Common took the stage with his usual high amount of energy, as well as New York’s DJ Dummy. The majority of Com’s set was from his last album, Like Water For Chocolate, as he opened with “Heat,” introduced “The 6th Sense” with an anecdote, included a Philadelphia-themed version of “The Questions,” and had the crowd participate in “Funky For You,” “Thelonius,” and “Geto Heaven.”
Like Kweli, Com dug in the crates to do some of his older work, including “1999,” “Resurrection,” and the hip-hop anthem, “I Used To Love H.E.R.” He also brought Kweli back on stage to perform “Respiration” and picked an emcee from backstage to have a spirited battle on different topics. As always, Com gave Dummy a portion of the set to display his skills, such as mixing and scratching blindfolded, spinning around, and with a girl in front of him, for the crowd to appreciate.
But no Common show these days would be complete without a rendition of last summer’s banger, “The Light,” for which he brought a girl on stage. Overall, the show had a lot of energy, and both artists got the crowd involved frequently. Nobody at Wynn Commons that night could go home saying they didn’t get their money’s worth.
In an interview on Saturday, Kweli addressed a variety of issues. On his label of a “conscious rapper” he said, “It’s applicable, but not accurate because it puts the artist in a box.”
“I just don’t make empty music; that’s my nature.” When discussing the recognition he is finally starting to receive, Kweli commented, “Mine was more of a groundswell situation, I didn’t receive any radio or video support, but I received love through other outlets.”
“I traveled a lot, got some regional support, and Rawkus [his label] helped out a lot.” Kweli also discussed future projects with Hi-Tek, Me’Shell NdegeOcello, and the Beatminerz, as well as the second Reflection Eternal album and the second Blackstar album, which we can expect, in his words, “When it’s finished.”