2016 saw Common’s 2nd annual ‘Aahh Fest’ return to Union Park for a two day shebang. Interestingly enough, the fest includes both a ‘community day’ as well as a ‘music festival day’ following it. Both comprised pretty different experiences overall. The former was not entirely devoid of musical performances, but was more family oriented. This means things like no booze and lots of kids running around. This didn’t stop Chance the Rapper from making a surprise appearance on stage though, much to the crowds delight. He busted out a couple of his more churchy hits i.e. Sunday Candy, as well as the obligatory performance of ‘no problem’.
The following day was a much more frantic affair. The festival’s attempt to abide by the schedule was neither here nor there, but ultimately that is little more than a mild annoyance. Vic Mensa’s performance was a big momentum bringer towards the beginning of the festival. In classic fashion, he put on a very politically charged set. The song ’16 shots was a highlight, paying homage to Laquan McDonald, as well as protesting the police brutality in the city of Chicago in general. Before this, Jeremih, Sir the Baptist, and The Internet had performances in front of a steadily growing crowd.
Events didn’t really turn up until later in the evening when The Roots took over the stage. Jam after Jam, The Root’s instrumentation was incredibly on point, and generally impressive. One of the best live hip hop band performances available in the city. The cherry on top was the wildcard live production/beatbox via an MPC by Jeremy Ellis.
One of many high points was reached when festival creator Common himself took control of the stage. His set was riveting, drawing the most concentrated crowd of the evening up to that point. Songs performed included the politically charged ‘Black America Again’ as well as more throwback hits like ‘Go’. The well roundedness of his set paled in impressiveness only to his enormous stage presence. Needless to say, when he brought out Ice Cube, everybody went buck. The hype reached a fever pitch when North Carolina’s son J. Cole himself commandeered the fest.
When he did, it became clear that many people had been waiting for him the whole time. The deafening roars and applause from the audience only felt appropriate seeing Cole march out to the stage. Little time was wasted before the first song, ‘Trouble’ began. Most of the tracks that came after were off of this double platinum with no features album 2014 Forest Hills Drive. Cole had no problem getting the crowd involved with hits like “St. Tropez”, “Wet Dreamz”, and “No Role Models”.
Personally I wished he had performed more songs off of Born Sinner, especially after seeing how well ‘Trouble’ was received. At the end of the night, though, fans were responding more to Cole’s persona and stage presence, both of which were live and direct. Given the authentic tone of hip hop that preceded his set (The Roots, Common, Ice Cube, etc…) J. Cole felt like the only appropriate artist to close it out, and that’s exactly what he did.