MGF Reviews Zune presents Live at the BBQ @ Union Park (Chicago, 7.22.07)

It’d been a while since I’d last seen a hip-hop show in Chicago. Yes, I was able to check out Open Mike Eagle’s crew back in May while in L.A., but the last time I paid to see a hip-hop show at home was back in 2002, when I saw Del The Funkee Homosapien. I have no explanation for the drought, but I’d kind of missed it, honestly.

Then, last week, one of the promotional firms with which this site does business let me know about an upcoming event in Chicago the upcoming weekend. Apparently, Microsoft has set up its own urban-based concert series in order to promote the new Zune mp3 player. As the press release states:

Zune worked with artists directly, to give back to the cultural core consumer and connecting Zune with that core by giving them the opportunity to participate in the Zune mantra, which is to support Art, Music and Film in the digital space with technology and innovation. Consider these shows as rewards to those who have come to support the digital platform. By bringing music back to the community parks, they’re also a thank you to those individuals in the cities who have come to support the local and national Art, Music and Film community. It’s a nod to a time when this music was about community; community support and community interaction. The idea is to re-create that energy with the ultimate park jam experience.

Interesting, I thought. The Los Angeles leg of the concert series included UGK, E-40, Collie Budz and Common, and if that had been the lineup here I may not have been so inclined to go (I’m not going to drive an hour and spend another hour to find street parking just to see Common), but the organizers set up a much better roster for the Chicago show. While Common would have probably been a bit more logical for Chicago, they made up for it by calling in Mos Def, Bilal, Little Brother and Qualo (see, Mathan, you should have moved out here). Ergo, I decided that there would be no better time than the present to put the kibosh on my hip-hop show drought.

While the obvious choice for a venue would have been Grant Park (which is hosting Lollapalooza), the folks at Zune decided to make it a bit cozier, setting up shop at the historically racially integrated Union Park—well-known for hosting numerous cultural and social events including art exhibits and concerts—in the West Loop. They then enlisted Chicago’s own Robinson’s No.1 Ribs to set up a grilling Xanadu with a plethora of offerings including pork ribs, beef ribs, fried chicken, barbecue chicken, hot links and turkey wings. I was in pizzaface paradise.

While I was getting there just as Little Brother was finishing up their set (that’s that bullshit that is finding parking in the area), I was told by other concertgoers that their set was very good, even without 9th Wonder. Unfortunately, the check-in process prevented me from seeing much of their set, but what I did see was pretty damn good. I followed up that performance with a visit to the barbecue tent, and partook in some complimentary Red Bull as well. VIP kicks ass.

Bilal was up next, and boy does he need to release that Love for Sale album soon. That man can sing better that 95% of people who currently hold record contracts. He could be (and should be) bigger than Kelly Clarkson and Justin Timberlake combined. It’s apparent that this man truly feels the music that exudes from his vocal cords, as he almost seems in a trance while singing. He sang fan favorite “Soul Sista” as well as a lot of material from that in-limbo album. I was later able to speak with him for a few minutes:

Re the status of the Soulquarians (on which there are conflicting reports from Common and ?uestlove), Bilal does still talk to most of them, though the untimely passing of J. Dilla last year did serve to make any future projects much more questionable. Asked whether or not we’d be seeing any upcoming album produced by the group, he told me that he honestly didn’t know.

Re the release of Love for Sale, he said that he is determined for it to see the light of day eventually, though it won’t happen until Universal [Records] gives him back his master tapes. He really is disappointed that it’s been such a difficult process to get the material out, because he’s really proud of it, as the music is very organic and reflects his inner soul very much.

I was also going to try and ask him a few more questions, including what he thinks 50 Cent looks like, though I was cut off after a few minutes. Thanks to the people at Zune, though, for letting me have the opportunity.

Bilal feels the music during his set (top), and later on I get a chance to hang out with him in the press tent (above).
For other images of Bilal from the concert, click on these numbered links (1,2,3).

The “special guests” were next, and they were Talib Kweli (as I had discovered on the itinerary upon check-in) along with Jean Grae (not included on the itinerary and a nice surprise). Yes, folks, that’s right, Talib Kweli and Mos Def would be performing together for the first time since I’m not sure but who cares because I get to see it. Talib Kweli did some fan favorites (including “Move Somethin'” off of the Reflection Eternal album), as well as a track sampling “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” that really got the crowd riled up. The crowd was really into this show, and the turnout was great. It’s really good to see people excited about rap music that doesn’t suck. Jean Grae tore it up lyrically as well, though I was expecting to see a bit more energy from her.

Jean Grae (top) waxes poetic onstage, while Talib Kweli (above) sweats to the oldies as the sun goes down.

For a slightly blurry pic of Jean Grae with Talib Kweli, click here, and for other Talib Kweli pics click on the numbered links (1,2,3)

Mos Def came onstage unannounced near the end of Kweli’s set to a HUGE POP, and Black Star was reunited just like that. They did some tracks off of Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star, including “Definition”, and some material I’d never heard before. Could a new album be on the horizon? Probably not, but a man can dream. I was also pleased by random rapping over the beats for “The Message” and “Don’t Stop the Rock”, respectively. They put on an excellent show with great energy to close out an afternoon full of musical goodness.

Black Star reunites onstage (top) as Mos Def exudes an almost godlike aura. The aura then dies down as they start to live some old memories with a rendition of “Definition” (above).
For other pics, click here and here.

Katie, bar the door, and cue the BONZO GONZO HUGE POP. I did not have a chance to speak with Mos as I had wanted to, so unfortunately I didn’t get to ask him about The Cosby Mysteries. Probably for the better.

The energy and people at this show were great. There was also free beer and vegetables in the VIP tent. While I did not seize the advantage to eat some celery, I did have a few bottles of Stella Artois. The best T-shirts I saw all afternoon were one that said, “De La City” (in the same font from the cover of Stakes Is High); one that said, “I AM NOT THE FATHER” (a nice little nod to Maury) worn by one of the guys from Qualo; and one that said, “J DILLA CHANGED MY LIFE”. Also, I got a compliment from Bilal for my shirt (which bears this this image with the heads switched). Also seen in the area were Chicago emcee Psalm One and former Chicago Bears defensive back Jerry Azumah (though not together) as well as numerous hot women. Numerous.


I could think of no better way to end this column than with a shot of this pant/shoes combo. He also had some ’87 gold chain shit going on as well.