Common, Jay Electronica Warehouse Live December 2, 2014
The mystery behind Jay Electronica is that he's a supreme talent, a nomad who for reasons only known to himself is holding fans at bay with an album he promised to deliver five years ago. When you see him flash a gold-tooth grin carrying plates of food backstage at Warehouse Live, there's zero pressure from label executives and fans to deliver Act II: Patents of Nobility. Instead it's just him, appearing like a conduit for higher thought and good old-fashioned Southern-boy charm.
Electronica is the pride of New Orleans; much like Common is one of the prides of Chicago. Both of them on a bill equates to tracks devoid of gimmicks and saccharine. The two of them together on any bill may be a dream for anyone driving a car that spells out "LYRICS SHOULD DOMINATE RAP DISCUSSIONS," and on a damp Tuesday night in Houston, fans got their wish.
Given that both men had about two hours combined to kill onstage, Electronica delivered first. As he marked his territory through old-school, cut-the-beat-and-let-me-rap tactics over a collage of mixtape tracks, there were no Nation of Islam members beside him on this night, just a DJ. He stood triumphant during the opening barrage of his "We Made It Freestyle" and then asked the crowd, "Yo, you heard Jay Z verse on this shit?!"
"We apologize for raising your crime rate," Electronica said in reference to some inhabitants of New Orleans reverting to illicit behavior after being forced to relocate here by Hurricane Katrina. "But you accepted us and we love you."
Love was the main topic of discussion for Electronica: a love for the culture, a love for rhyming and a love he and Common share -- a universally noted adoration for J Dilla, who befriended both men before his untimely passing from lupus nearly a decade ago. Common would share a full-fledged tribute to his fallen friend later in the show with "Rewind That," but more on that later.
The pull with Jay Elect comes from the fact that he still holds the distinction of releasing rap's last perfect single, 2009's "Exhibit C." In a few weeks, five years will have passed since he and Just Blaze flipped Billy Stewart's "Cross My Heart" to declare he officially had next. Following riling up the crowd with "The Announcement" and "Dimethylthryptamine," Electronica opted for bringing the crowd on stage to perform with him.
Visually stunning, watching 40 people leave from the throes of a thousand to join their favorite rapper onstage to perform his most memorable track is a chilling experience. "Exhibit C" is one of rap's last true "Where were you?" moments.
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Common, on the other hand, is suave, a ladies' fan favorite from the moment he thought higher of them and less in a misogynistic sort of way. "22 years," he would casually repeat throughout the show. "Who knew I'd be performing in Houston for y'all 22 years after starting this?"
He's always been a lover, letting a fan get her own personal memory while rapping "Come Close" to her, delivered one of his patented off-the-top freestyles that only 2 percent of the current rap community even dares. In Tuesday's career spanning 75-minute set list, the Chicago rapper told the crowd stories, not just of his own growth as an MC but his love for others.
All of that love mushroomed in one monumental act: Common geeking out because he decided to let himself be a fan for a second and letting WILLIE D AND SCARFACE perform "Mind Playing Tricks On Me." Bun B was positioned in the wings, but for some reason wouldn't budge to satisfy the crowd with "Murder," or anything else. He was a fan for a change, much like the rest of us were.
This tour is billed as Nobody's Smiling, named after Common's latest studio album where the plight of modern day Chicago weighs heavy on his mind. Smiling was all people wanted to do Tuesday night as Common name-checked J.J. Watt, Frenchy's, the Galleria, Bun, James Harden, the Geto Boys, Scott Street and Third Ward during another impromptu freestyle; made the fellas attempt to find a slow-dance partner to "The Light"; even offered honest confessions with "I Used To Love H.E.R." and "Love Of My Life."
As the PowerPoint presentation of certain memories passed by -- a Range Rover, Common as a child and Dilla himself -- Common segued to specific songs to match the moment. The Range gave us "Thelonius" from Like Water For Chocolate, the child led to "The Food" from Be and the closing image of Dilla during the encore led to "Rewind That," a spotlight falling on the Grammy Award the two won together.
Love, in the physical.
Personal Bias: In my closet, there's a black T-shirt that details Jay Electronica's "Exhibit C " verse. So there's that.
The Crowd: Grown, a healthy mix of hip-hop heads and Afro-centrics who were either on a date or trying to get at Common himself.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Do you want a sister? You're an only child? Take her!"
Random Notebook Dump: Following the show, I ventured backstage to attempt to get an interview with Common, just for the archives. What ensued lasted for about 40 minutes of waiting and waiting. My interview? Turned into a dap and pound and a minor question about exploring the city that never got answered. Time constraints suck.
JAY ELECTRONICA SET LIST
We Made It Freestyle Exhibit A Swagger Jackson's Revenge Dimethltryptamine The Announcement Can I Kick It (Live) Shiny Suit Theory Exhibit C
COMMON SET LIST
Forever Begins The People The Corner Blak Majik Go Poker Face The Food Thelonius Get Em High Freestyle Come Close Testify Love of My Life I Used To Love H.E.R. Freestyle #2 Speak My Peace Diamonds The Light So Far to Go Kingdom
Be (Intro) Rewind That Celebrate
ROCKS OFF'S GREATEST HITS
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