Never did I assume that my first visit to London’s famous Roundhouse would be to see one of hip hop’s true greats, but that was all to change on Saturday 8th November 2014 with a spectacular performance from a Chicago born legend. Known to his fans as Common Sense or Common, Lonnie Rashid Lynn, jnr is a grammy awarded hip hop legend whose career spans 14 years, 10 albums, and an impressive string of collaborations and film appearances. Scholars know him best for creating one of the genre’s greatest tracks of all time, ‘I Used To Love Her’- a seminal record which uses the extended metaphor of a once studious, spiritual woman turned fast and loose to mark hip hop’s journey from greatness to demise following it’s ’94 release. As a testament to his socially conscious style of rapping, Common is a member of alternative hip hop and neo soul collective, Soulquarians, which includes the likes of Talib Kweli, D’angelo and Erykah Badu (see: http://soulquarians.com/)
Carrying his bohemian essence on stage with him, Common arrived fashioning the most garish of cardigans: a series of star- like white dots on a tapestry of black fabric- this I took to symbolise hip hop’s current shortly supply of luminary talent in a void of lost potential, for which his contributions are colossal. This show marked the recent summer release of tenth studio album ‘Nobody’s Smiling’ and the start of his tour up and down the country, including visits to Bristol, Manchester and Glasgow. Living up to expectations it carried energy, surprise and magic, with classics being dropped left right and centre. Notable tracks on the night included ‘The People’ (Finding Foreover), ‘Ghetto Dreams’ (The Dreamer/ The Believer) and an enchanting live version of ‘Come Close’ (Electric Circus) performed with a participating member of the audience, whose name Common cutely failed to get right several occasions before introducing.
Saving the best till last, the night concluded with live performances of Dilla gem ‘The Light’ and, as expected, ‘ I Used to Love Her’. Filler material was kept to a minimum, consisting mainly scratching by the resident deejay over well known classics like ‘Jump Around’ and ‘Ten Crack Commandants’. Impromptu freestyling by Common was a much welcome addition to the night though, injecting firepower into the second half of the show and proving our star to be a true great in the very rawest form.
A venue widely noted for its Rock music and theatre, the Roundhouse presented an interesting stage for hip hop. Once a railway engine shed, this performing arts and concert venue has seen host to the likes of Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zepplin, David Bowie. Interestingly, despite its impressive 5,000 strong capacity, the circular structure of the Roundhouse gives one the illusionary impression of being up close to the main stage wherever you stand or sit, which in effect creates an unusual sense of intimacy. Usually accustomed to seeing hip hop gigs at smaller, more tightly packed venues like the Jazz Café (Camden), The Book Club (Shoreditch) or Plan B (Brixton) the Roundhouse offered a stage to a much more sizeable performance, one which Common delivered with plenty of punch.