Live review: Kanye West, Queen Latifah highlight 'Common & Friends' benefit show
“I’ve been to a lot of charity events, but I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Old-school rapper Heavy D surveyed the sold-out Hollywood Palladium crowd gathered for the second annual “Common & Friends,” a star-studded affair that featured appearances from a seemingly endless cavalcade of A-list hip-hop stars to benefit Common's Common Ground charity.The audience had already seen a series of highlights. De La Soul opened the show with a quick, high-energy set, punctuated by a surprise appearance from masked rapper MF Doom, who ferociously ripped through his verse from “Rock Co.Kane Flow.”
Black Thought and Amir “Questlove” Thompson represented for the Roots, and Ludacris ignited concertgoers with a crowd-pleasing set that culminated with “I Do It for Hip-Hop.” The latter allowed him to introduce Nas, who appears on the recorded version (video here).
After a simmering take on “One Mic,” Nas looked on in appreciation as the night’s host, Common, proceeded to spit most of Nas’ “N.Y. State of Mind” verbatim.
The crowd was also treated to an impromptu Black Star reunion, with Mos Def and Talib Kweli hitting the stage together. The two galvanized the audience with solo hits “Umi Says” and “Get By,” respectively.
But it was Heavy D who offered up one of the most surprising highlights of the show. Among the many unbilled performers of the evening, even those too young to remember Heavy D's late '80s/early '90s hits such as “We Got Our Own Thang” and “Now That We Found Love,” responded to his showmanship and the enduring qualities of the songs.
Word had been circulating throughout the day that one Kanye West would also be among the surprise performers, a fact that Common teased the audience with briefly.
“He’s still going through some things, trying to deal with everything that’s happened because of a choice he made, so he couldn't make it tonight” Common said, obviously referencing West’s meme-generating mike grab from Taylor Swift at the 2009 MTV VMAs. “But he still wanted me to send his love to everyone.”
Running through songs like “Make Her Say” (Kid Cudi’s take on Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”), “Flashing Lights" and his verse from Jay-Z’s “Run This Town” with Common, Mos Def and Talib Kweli, any lingering resentment toward West for his actions at the MTV event were nowhere to be seen in the partisan crowd (video here).
There are few artists with the star power to upstage Kanye West, but when Queen Latifah casually strolled onstage during his set, she pretty much pulled it off.Dressed in a form-fitting black outfit with a beret and glasses, she took the mike for a brief set, highlighted by a run through her 1993 hit “U.N.I.T.Y.”
When the show ended promptly at 11 p.m., not even the house lights were enough to disperse the crowd from chanting for one more. It took technicians breaking down the stage equipment to finally send happy fans out onto Hollywood Boulevard.
-- Scott T. Sterling
Photo: Common, left, and Talib Kweli perform during the 2009 Rock the Bells concert at the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater on July 19 in Wantagh, N.Y. Credit: Astrid Stawiarz / Getty Images