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Kanye Unmasked: Yeezus Made His Homecoming at Chicago's AAH! Fest

Without all the theatrics, masks, and monologues, it felt like we had our Kanye back.

Chicago needed a good party. The city's struggle with violent crime is ongoing and, at some points this summer, reached a fever pitch: Eighty-four people were shot in Chicago over this year’s Fourth of July weekend alone. Eighty-four. All kinds of groups have worked to find a way to curb the shooting, and the city's biggest rappers are no exception.

Thus, the inaugural AAHH! Fest was born. Common's Common Ground Foundation partnered with the Chicago Urban League and Kanye-founded Donda’s House, Inc. to collaborate on the concert fundraiser to support jobs for youth and other anti-violence initiatives.

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The day started early with a community showcase hosted by Common and former aldermanic candidate Rhymefest. The mainstage featured short sets by Lil Herb, Sza, and Jay Electronica. There were the obvious staples of a Chicago hip-hop concert: an obligatory J Dilla shout out, references to Chicago house music, and DJs playing Too $hort’s “Blow the Whistle” (twice!) because let’s face it, women love that song. But there were also some standout moments, thanks to MC Lyte and De La Soul.

Photo via Instagram

First, I’d like to applaud the sense of unity MC Lyte brought to the audience as we came together for a collective WTF moment when the legendary rapper invited the very non-legendary Lil Mama onstage to rap for 30 seconds. I think I can speak for all of Chicago, if not the entire nation, when I say, “Girl, quit playin’.” Also, I’d like to thank Posdnuos of De La Soul for being so invested in the enjoyment of all the festival attendees. “Put your cameras down and put your hands up!” he demanded of the media photographers in the front row. Needless to say, Lyte and De La were crowd favorites.

Jennifer Hudson came out strong with two dancers, three backup singers, and a buffalo plaid flannel—designed by Kanye's right-hand man Virgil Abloh's label Off-White—over her crop top and booty shorts. “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” came toward the end of her set, and despite being an odd choice for the night, it was full of surprising emotional highs.

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The festival’s host Dave Chappelle made his first appearance fairly late into the event. He offered us some thoughts on a recent visit to China, musings on almost being rich, and one very endearing sentiment. “This feels like a very special moment,” Chapelle said. “If I had everyone’s number, I’d send everyone a dick pic. Y’all better have that big iPhone, though.”

Lupe Fiasco walked onto the stage to “Sirius” by the Alan Parsons Project, a song known to most as the Chicago Bulls starting lineup song. Despite wearing a tunic I can only describe as “indo-baja”, he exuded confidence, had strong delivery, and spent much of his stage time doing the cabbage patch.

Photo via Instagram

Festival founder Common started with “The Food”, and we all rapped along to “The Corner”. “It’s a breathe of fresh air for everyone in Chicago,” he commented on the festival’s name. Twista got the crowd feeling grown and sexy with “Overnight Celebrity”, his first of two songs. Common returned and melted us all back into our teenage selves with “The Light” before inviting Vince Staples and Jay Electronica to join him onstage.

Now the moment we had all been waiting for: the special guest. For the record, we all knew it would be Kanye, so buying a ticket to AAHH! Fest was essentially buying a ticket to see ‘Ye. He entered with “Jesus Walks” wearing the same Off-White flannel JHud wore earlier. (Did he lend underdressed Hudson an extra layer on this chilly night? If so, what a gent! If not, then I was gravely mistaken when I pegged him as the type of dude who would never call a pal to coordinate ‘fits.)‘Ye followed with “Touch the Sky”, “All Falls Down”, and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”. Without all of the theatrics, masks, and monologues to which we've become accustomed, it felt like we had our Kanye back. He was all Timbs and no Margiela. He didn’t bother with bombast, simply gazing intensely into the audience between songs. Several songs in, we even saw him smile as he joked that he was taking up too much stage time. Kanye West was home in the city that loves him, and he was having a dang good time.

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Photo via Instagram

He performed songs from Yeezus and kept the energy high. Perhaps the most moving moment of the night was his performance of “Homecoming”. It made the whole audience feel awfully proud, even the visitors from neighboring suburbs and states. (I see you guys. You’re not fooling anyone with your picnic blankets and backwards snapbacks.)

Photo via Instagram

West was joined by Jay Electronica, Common, Rhymefest, and Dave Chappelle for “Clique”. “You got the gods up here,” said Common, though I’m pretty sure only one of the people on stage identifies as such. Common and Kanye ended the night with “Get Em High”, and before bidding us adieu, Com reminded festival goers why we were there. “We’re all about peace,” he said, “and having a good-ass time.”

Helene Achanzar is a writer and poet living in Chicago. She's on Instagram - @heleneiswaiting.