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The Roots, Q-Tip, Kid Sister, Oh My!

By Kim Bellware in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 21, 2010 6:00PM

2010 thus far has been filled with some pretty fantastic shows, but last Saturday’s Hennessy Artistry in Chicago event extravaganza raced to the top of our list for potential “best show of the year.” The combined star power of The Roots, Q-Tip, Kid Sister and Erykah Badu (along with a few special guests) made for a performance memorable not just for the incredible lineup, but for the energy, the free-flowing nature and the fun that didn’t let up for a second.

Now in its fifth year, Hennessy's Artistry series hosts multiple showcases across the globe that combine "art, music and culture," while supporting and promoting the work of up-and-coming artists from the selected cities. Chicago artists Stephen Flemister and Amanda Williams (also from Bravo's "Work of Art") were featured for Chicago's event, both chosen for their due in part to their artistic service work in various South Side communities.

Before The Roots took the stage, the audience spent the cocktail hour browsing the exhibit set up in the back of the space, held inside Lincoln Park's Blackhawk Building. The Roots, who co-curated the event along with A Tribe Called Quest rapper/producer Q-Tip, kicked off the night's performance, gradually morphing the entire show into an extended--and thankfully never self-indulgent--jam session that mixed a medley of songs, blending everything from their own "Adrenaline!" to N.W.A.'s "Straight Outta Compton."

The Roots, who have been releasing albums at a steady once-every-two-years rate have recently been quietly promoting their newest effort, How I Got Over, splitting time with their duty as the house band for "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon." On Fallon's show, they're as lively and fluid as they were in the flesh for Artistry in Chicago, but with an added freshness and command that doesn't translate quite as well over the tube. Tuba breakdowns and blistering guitar riffs mingled with freestyling, singing and spirited call-and-response.

Just under half of the show incorporated guests, starting with the North Carolina-based singer, Dana Nicole Williams, who performs as Yazerah. Singing a feisty brand of neo-soul, Yazerah (a former backup singer for Erykah Badu) veered almost into MC territory more in the vein of the act that followed, Chicago favorite, Kid Sister (a.k.a. Melissa Young). Kid Sister's live show is as infectiously fun and upbeat as her infamous tweets, starting her mini-set with a "Pro-Nails" remix. Young built the crowd into a frenzy, ultimately kicking her boots off onstage mid-song the break it down--literally--for the audience during the ultra-hyper "Switchboard." Not that the audience needed any coaxing, but anyone's energy was flagging at that point, Kid Sister's 60 second dance break certainly brought them up to speed. Soon after, Q-Tip grabbed the mic for some solo rhymes, climbing atop the monitors on stage left to sit, hang and sing for his part of the show.

In and out of each change up, The Roots wove their grooves in with their accompaniment of each act, creating a seamless transition in between performers. Badu, The last performer, was the secret guest of the evening, and was revealed to the audience only seconds before she took the stage. Badu was practically unrecognizable from her blonde mohawked appearance at Lollapalooza, this time showing off close-cropped hair under a costume-y top hat, looking ebullient instead of fierce. In keeping in step with the energy of the evening, Badu's performance was light on crooning and heavy on the power vocals that turned downright jaw-dropping when she crescendoed into a beautiful, all-out belt of a sustained notes.

Shows liked these where the enthusiasm stays fixed on high usually leave us tired if not completely drained; instead, we felt as energized as the performers onstage and left feeling like we had just witnessed a contained, one-off masterpiece that we won't soon forget.