It was a balmy autumn night as hundreds huddled under umbrellas outside The Corinthian in downtown Houston. No amount of rain nor humidity could put a damper on what would be an evening of incredible music at the Hennessy Artistry Tour curated by Common and The Roots. Upon entry, we were greeted with a variety of Hennessy cocktails served by beautiful hostesses as the deejay played his own blend of Hip Hop classics from Notorious B.I.G. to Digital Underground. It didn't take long for invited concertgoers to dry off, grab a drink and fill this majestic ballroom with high energy and merriment. As the night progressed, I realized history was in the making as past legends, present icons and the future leaders of good music poured their hearts out onstage.
The show opened with NYC's Elizabeth the Band taking command of the stage with their lead singer channeling Tina Turner's strength as the band blended her vocal prowess with their instrumental fervor. They not only warmed up the crowd, they set us ablaze; allowing our excitement and anticipation to be released as hands and cell phones waved in the air.
I was barely able to catch my breath and get another Hennessy Ginger before ETB exited and ?uestlove sat at the drums while his bandmates took to the stage. The evening progressed at warp speed when Black Thought grabbed the mic and the crowd went bananas as he unleashed his imperial flow. I surveyed the sea of diverse faces from the stage's corner as they recited the words to "The Next Movement" and "Here I Come."
Common ran out and damn near leaped into the crowd. I thought he was about to get his body surfing on. He and Black Thought volleyed verses like Wonder Twins activating Hip Hop in its purest form. Common's performance of "The People" came off as his personal introduction to the show. "Punch Drunk Love" seemed fitting for the modicum of buzzed party guests swaying to the band's rendition while Common flirted with the ladies up front. On the opposite side of the stage, I spotted Muhsinah holding down the background vocals.
After Common ripped the crowd to shreds of appreciation, he introduced Latin sensation, Makano, who serenaded the ladies with his romantic brand of reggaeton. You haven't lived until you seen a Latino hype-man go IN on an unsuspecting crowd. This was a pleasant twist to the evening and very well received.
Speculation on who were the special guests filled the air just as loudly as the fruit scented body sprays and designer colognes. That's when Common introduced Big Daddy Kane and everyone went ballistic.
"I would not be here today if it weren't for this man right here!" Common bellowed through the screams and cheers.
Dipped in a button-up shirt, jeans and dayglow orange shell-toe Addidas, BDK grabbed the mic and showed the crowd why he is considered one of the most influential MCs in Hip Hop. This wasn't a shell of former greatness searching for the shine of his heyday. His showmanship was like they took a time machine and brought him back from 1986. When he broke down "Ain't No Half Steppin'" you would have thought he dropped the single last Tuesday.
The brother looked good and rhymed even better. Common and Black Thought traded verses with the legend, which intensified the crowd hysteria. It felt great to watch one of Hip Hop's heroes still do his thing in a major way. As he and the band segued into "Closer," Common invited a young lady to join him on stage and she danced as if she'd died and became an angel in Hip Hop heaven.
The audience was still reeling from the nostalgia-induced euphoria of Kane when the band went into a familiar synthesized R&B riff signaling the entrance of our second surprise guest. Much love goes out to the woman who screamed (and almost made me go deaf in my left ear) when Al B. Sure! walked out donning a black two-piece suit and a sparkling Michael Jackson T-shirt. Without breaking stride, he and two backup singers went into his classic "Nite and Day" tune. The next 15 minutes was a lot of Al B. bumping and grinding while his singing bookends held him down vocally. He also plugged the recent release of his Hidden Beach album, Honey, I'm Home.
There was a brief intermission where they presented a candlelit cake to honor Black Thought's birthday. The entire venue sang Stevie Wonder's version of "Happy Birthday" while Thought blew out the candles. For those few moments, the concert felt more like a grown and sexy birthday party with a few hundred close friends.
And what do close friends do at a party? They let loose. That's what Common and the Roots proceeded to do for the next 20 minutes as they transported us into a hyper set of live orchestrated Hip Hop flowing as freely as the complimentary Hennessy. ?uestlove lifted us into an explosive crescendo that concluded when his sticks went flying out to the front of the stage. I walked away from this night of blended artistry with unforgettable memories, a satisfied palate and throbbing eardrums.