Queen Latifah and Common Bring U.N.I.T.Y. and Light To Hollywood The Hollywood Bowl Features Hip Hop Royalty For Career Spanning Performances
HOLLYWOOD, CA- On a perfect Wednesday night in Hollywood, California, multi-award winning and legendary artists, Queen Latifah and Common, descended upon the Hollywood Bowl, to give their fans in Los Angeles a night to remember.
If you would indulge me for a few moments as I reminisce on my personal history of being a fan of both Queen Latifah and Common.
My first experience with Common, was back in 1992, when he was a young and upcoming artist out of Chicago, going by the name Common Sense. At the time I was a freshman in High School and by this point had already submerged myself in the culture and music of Hip Hop.
Common exploded onto the Hip Hop scene with a blistering single called “Breaker 1’9”. It was one of the first cassette singles I ever bought (with my lunch money). Having the opportunity to see him perform is a bucket list accomplishment. In fact, I go sometimes as far to say that I want to be Common in my next life.
Queen Latifah. Where can I begin with the Queen. I was exposed to the brilliance of Queen Latifah a few years prior to Common. Even though I am born and raised in Los Angeles, in my youth I naturally gravitated to East Coast Hip Hop. Queen Latifah was affiliated with a collective of New York artists that called themselves the Native Tongues (comprised of groups such as A Tribe Called Quest, Black Sheep, De La Soul). The Native Tongues are legendary in the pantheon of Hip Hop.
Common opened the show by showing a video montage of his life growing up. Little did I know at the time, that Common was setting up the theme for the show. Common’s performance was an autobiographical journey of his life, and what a journey it was.
The first song Common performed may have also been his most groundbreaking song, and that song would be the undisputed all time classic, “I Used to Love HER”. “I Used to Love HER” is considered to be one of the top songs ever created in Hip Hop. The song was Common’s perspective on the state of Hip Hop at the time, and it was not without controversy. Common, and West Coast MC Ice Cube, had a famous rap battle that resulted from what Ice Cube perceived as a diss to the West Coast within the song. Needless to say, the song catapulted Common to the front of every Hip Hop fan’s eyes.
With that being said, the song was the perfect choice to begin the as it provided newcomers with an introduction to Common, and it provided his fans with one of the most impactful songs the genre of Hip Hop has ever seen. For me, I did not really need to see anymore. As a fan of Common, I got to see him perform “I Used to Love HER”, and considered my bucket list wiped clean. I was an extremely happy fan.
Not only does Common sound great live, but to hear Common perform with a live band with the assistance of universally respected DJ, DJ Dummy, was as sonically pleasing to this Hip Hop fan’s ears as my ears could have been pleased. But of course Common’s show did not start and end with I Used to Love HER. Rather Common proceeded to take us fans, old and new, through the journey of his life over the next 80 or so minutes.
Common’s entire catalog was on full display on this beautiful night. After I Used to Love HER, Common jumped into his sequel ode to Hip Hop entitled, “Love of My Life”. “Love of My Life” was originally performed with the vocal assistance of Erykah Badu.
In between some of the songs, Common would take a moment to address the audience. He would tell us about his life growing up on the Southside of Chicago. He would tell us about his idols childhood and how he wanted the world to know who he was. And it was through his dreams he found Hip Hop, and Hip Hop made those dreams come true.
Common’s autobiographical performance was touching and relatable. Who wasn’t that little boy or girl dreaming to one day make it big, to make an impact, to be remembered?
Common has a certain type of charisma, that special “it” factor. You can tell that when Common enters a room, his presence is felt. The same can be said when Common picks up the microphone in his hand. Common has a very unique voice, it is soothing yet impactful at the same time. He forces you to listen willingly, if that makes sense. That is an extremely rare and great characteristic to have at your disposal.
Common performed hit after hit, from the serious and thought provoking “Retrospective for Life”, to hard hitting Hip Hop anthem “Respiration” (sans superstar duo Blackstar), and every song sounded amazing with the live band.
Out of everything amazing Common did during his performance, I think my favorite was Common telling stories of his time growing up in Hip Hop. Common would talk about meeting A Tribe Called Quest, meeting legendary producer, Jay Dilla, and he would take us through how he ended up collaborating with those Legends. Every story Common told was a story of one of the building blocks of Hip Hop. Where would Hip Hop be if Jay Dilla and Common never connected? That is an honest legitimate question which also evidences the impact that an artist like Common has had on Hip Hop (not just Hip Hop). Part of what made these interludes of sorts so great is the result of how Common speaks to the audience when he is on stage. He speaks to the audience as if he is speaking to each individual one on one. Common has the ability to make himself relatable on a human level.
“I’m fighting for the immigrants … you know I ain’t that chump or that type of dude that is out here supporting Trump,” Common free-styled as the crowd roared with approval.
From performing “The Light”, “to Glory”, to beginning with “I Used to Love HER”, Common covered his catalog of music which left this fan satisfied. If you were not familiar with Common prior to seeing him perform, I believe Common left those audience members with a lasting impression on who Common is as an Artist. A career that began in the early 1990s, has only continued to accelerate on the trajectory of international stardom, and I’m proud to say that I have been along for the ride since the start.
If Common’s goal was to “Be,” and if in his being his goal was to unite as us a people through positivity and love, then Common succeeded exponentially.
Compared to Common’s performance, which was as previously mentioned essentially an autobiography, Queen Latifah’s set felt more organic.
The Queen entered the stage looking absolutely glowing. There was a radiance of positivity and happiness that Queen Latifah exudes in the most natural of ways. A pure energy of positivity, and it was beautiful to behold.
As I previously mentioned, like Common, I grew up listening to Queen Latifah. In the early 1990s, when there was a lack of female artists in Hip Hop, Queen Latifah quickly made her presence felt, and solidified her place amongst the greats in Hip Hop.
Queen Latifah started her set by singing various show tunes from the movie Chicago. Unlike the Queen’s Hip Hop catalog, I am personally not too familiar with her work in regards to that movie. In any case, what a song to open her performance with. I say that because hearing the Queen sing in person was a treat. I remember the first time I heard Queen Latifah sing. It was on the song “It’s a Shame” by the artist Monie Love. I was floored to know that the MC Queen Latifah, was also a talented singer as well. To be able to hear Queen Latifah sing in person decades later is a memory I will always carry with me.
While Common’s set was easy to follow as he took us from childhood to adulthood through music, Queen Latifah’s set felt as if there was not a planned set list of music, but as if it the song selection was selected based on her given mood. This obviously was not the case as sets are preplanned, but the Queen has this natural ability to make you feel as if you are in a tiny venue amongst the Queen and a few friends, as opposed to the reality of being in a concert venue with thousands of strangers.
Nothing made me feel more like an old friend of the Queen’s though than when she started performing her classic Hip Hop hits and yelled out: “Latifah has had it up to here!”
My favorite performance of the night from her though had to be when Queen Latifah performed “Just Another Day.” That is the kind of song that will take you back to your childhood. The song itself is also the perfect illustration to the lyrical talent that the Queen possesses. The stroke of her pen has written some of the most classic songs in Hip Hop.
A highlight of the night for a lot of fans in attendance was towards the end of the night when Queen Latifah decided to perform the song “I Wanna Be Down,” which was originally a song by the R&B artist Brandy. When that song was originally released, Brandy also released a remix version that had artists Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, and Yo Yo rapping on the track. Queen Latifah surprised the audience at the Hollywood Bowl by bringing both legendary MC Lyte and Yo Yo on to stage to perform the classic hit.
As the night came to a close, Queen Latifah ended her set out with the song UNITY. The decision to close with UNITY was a fitting end for the night as Common ended his performance with his classic song of empowerment, Glory.
The show in total was a little over two hours. If you came to the show as a fan of Common, then you were able to follow Common as he performed the major hits from each of his previous albums in chronological order. I did not realize at the time how Common’s autobiographical approach would also send me back through my teenage years listening to Common when was known as Common Sense. Common took me on a trip down memory lane, to my childhood, to my teenage and college years.
And the same can be said for Queen Latifah. Queen Latifah took us through the 1990s and to the present. A great highlight of Queen Latifah’s performance was when she started to sing the theme song to the hit TV show, “Living Single,” of which Queen Latifah was a cast member of. Point being, both Common and Queen Latifah have accomplished so much in so little time. Neither have allowed themselves to be boxed into being simply “rappers.” Rather, they have transcended music and have entered our collective streams of consciousness as Renaissance’esque Artists. Artists who can not only sing, rap, write, but also act, be activists, and be philanthropists. Most importantly, both Artists reminded the Hollywood Bowl to live with Love and Light.