Concert Review: A Night of Symphonic Hip Hop featuring Common

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Concert review | Common with the Columbus Symphony: Pairing natural, surprisingly creative
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The combination of rapper Common with a classical symphony was potent; as a viable musical scheme, it sounded natural and often surprisingly creative.

By Curtis Schieber
For The Columbus Dispatch

Posted Jul 16, 2017 at 4:49 AM Updated Jul 16, 2017 at 4:49 AM

“I know black lives matter,” rapped Common in front of the Columbus Symphony for the Picnic with the Pops program in the Columbus Commons on Saturday night, “And they matter to us.”
In the previous song, one of his eloquent phrases ended with the line, “The people, that’s the prize.”
The two statements came together in the first highlight of a passionate evening of musical and cultural bridges: the title track from his newest album, “Black America Again.” In it, he gave sharper focus to the word “people” from the song before, naming the diverse components of America and concluding, “Let’s write the new story together.”
As a symbol of this unity, the combination of the Chicago rapper with a classical symphony was potent; as a viable musical scheme, it sounded natural and often surprisingly creative.
The opening tune “Be” included a swinging string part, but more importantly, a brass chart that echoed big-band music and lent a firm backing to Common’s rap. On the following “The Corner,” Common’s mantra-like chorus line, “I wish I could give you the feeling,” about African-American urban street life, was augmented by the impressionistic string arrangement.
The second potent statement of the evening came with “The Day Women Took Over,” a passionate observation of all the thousand years of male wrongs that might be righted by a world run by women. It was a heartfelt, lyrical and pointed moment in an evening full of statements.
That it was undercut by being followed by the story of a gold-digging woman in “Testify” was more bad programing than contradictory politics.
The evening never struggled with balance — neither between the electric ensemble that backed the rapper and the orchestra, nor between the hip-hop and classical instrumentation. When the orchestra yielded to the band, which included keyboardists Junius Bervine and Johnnie Smith, drummer Eric Greene, bassist Derrick Hodge, guitarist Clay Sears and — most importantly — backing singer Lola Brown, the show shifted seamlessly. When the orchestra made a contribution, it was significant.

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