As of late, Chicago summers have unfortunately been highlighted in the national news by increased gun violence, senseless murders, gang problems, the closing of public schools, corrupt politics, and suffering communities. As politicians, police officers, community activists, everyday citizens, and even the FBI have shown concern for the problems, the resolutions to these aforementioned issues have not come with enough vigor or swiftness to drastically impact the problem.
Chicago did receive some necessary and welcomed positive energy due to the heart, passion, poise, and determination shown by the United States Little League Champions, Jackie Robinson West team. Those young men captivated the city and the world for that matter, in a way I have not personally witnessed since Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were dominating the NBA.
Just when I thought the JRW journey would be the highlight of Chicago’s summer, Common, Kanye, Lupe Fiasco, Rhymefest, Jennifer Hudson, Twista, and a host of others put on for this city in a way I always I viewed it or at least wanted to remember it. Despite all the negative news surrounding the Windy City, I always envisioned it as the city Kanye described in his “Good Life” song when he simply said, “Summertime Chi, AAAHHH!”
In that small yet significant sentiment, Kanye captured the essence of what went down this past Sunday at Union Park at Chicago’s first AAHH Festival brought to you by Common’s Common Ground Foundation and Kanye’s Donda House foundation. From the community event that featured local Chicago talent and was curated by rapper/activist Rhymefest and hosted by Diggy Simmons, to the star-studded musical experience that was on display later than evening, it was the perfect cap to complete an already special summer.
Chitown came out in droves as the youth, hipsters, hip hoppers, house heads, and old schoolers partied, laughed, sang, danced, reminisced, broke bread, and sipped a beverage or two, all in complete and utter harmony. It was truly an AAHH moment as opening host/comedian and Chicago native Damon Williams brought the funny as Chicago DJ’s Wayne Williams, Timbuck2, Vince Adams, and a few others gave the crowd everything from that Chosen Few house music to that classic 90’s hip hop. From WGCI personalties to POWER 92 hosts perusing through the crowd, everybody that has a voice that speaks to the hip hop community was on hand for this event.
This was “The Go” at its best and it was quite nostalgic in a sense as Jay Electronica spit that BDP type knowledge, while MC Lyte reminded us to “Cha Cha Cha to this Mardi Gras,” and De La Soul had everybody like “Oooh Oooh Oooh!” This was the city I remembered so well as I partied with old college friends reminiscing about that days when we fell in love with hip hop. For my fellow Chi natives, this was Otis’, The Warehouse, and Cliff Levingson’s College Night at the Rivera combined with Live at the Barbecue with a touch of Dave Chappelle’s Block Party. Yes, it was that and more.
As the drinks poured, the music elevated, and night fell upon the sky we found ourselves falling in love with hip hop or the maybe the city all over again. With Dave Chappelle taking over the master of ceremony duties the evening continued to ascend and ascend as the homegrown Chicago artists took over. While Jennifer Hudson was showing off her amazing vocal ability and a few dances moves, Lupe Fiasco spoke power into the 1000’s in attendance during his performance. Common was far more than common as he gave us classic renditions of “The Light,” “I Used to Love H.E.R,” and more. I found out that I personally still love H.E.R as the south side MC dropped a few joints from his new album as he brought out another Chi artist, Vince Staples to rock with him on “The Kingdom.” Common was definitely holding court but he had no problem playing sidekick to Twista as he surprisingly brought him out to rock “Overnight Celebrity” a few songs to continue showing that Chicago love.
The love didn’t stop there nor did the ascension of the show. As those familiar drums hit, Chicago was about to know that “Yeezus Walks” again. A show that was already bananas, went from incredibly dope to completely epic as Kanye West hit the stage as somewhat of a surprise guest. This wasn’t the “ranting” nor mask wearing Kanye, this was the “College Dropout” Ye. The G.O.O.D. Music mastermind performed the classic and crowd jeering “Get ‘Em High” alongside Common before going over his time and rocking for a good 40 minutes. This was that raw “I’m just here to move the crowd and show love to my city” Kanye as he performed many of his classic songs like “Touch the Sky,” “POWER,” “Homecoming,” and of course the “Good Life.” It was truly an amazing way to cap off a night of good music, good food, good people, and a damn good time.
As Yeezy hit that classic line, “It feel like NY, summertime Chi, AAAHHH!” I couldn’t help but think, he was absolutely right. This was summertime Chi in all its true and unreported essence. In one classic night, the AAHH Festival gave us Chicago music legends, hip hop royalty, a comedic czar, infectious music, and even some Chitown goodies in form of Maxwell Street Polishes and Harold’s Chicken.
The significance of this festival speaks volumes about what Chicago could and should be. Music can’t change everything but it was an amazing start as the AAHH Festival is part of a bigger plan for the city. The Common Ground Foundation and Donda’s House, Inc. is planning to make this an annual music festival, with proceeds from the Festival supporting the Common Ground Foundation, Donda’s House, Inc., Arts Education in Chicago Public Schools, and Year-Round Youth Jobs initiatives. That is how you use your music, your talent, and your influence to make an impact.
Yes, Chicago has a violence problem; Yes, Chicago has an education problem; Yes, Chicago has a poverty problem but on this night it had a answer to those problems and it came like a breathe of fresh air in the form of the AAHH Festival.