After a year away, Chicago's premier hip-hop festival arrives back in Union Park this weekend as AAHH Fest returns for it's second installment after a year away. This time around, the expanded two-day experience thrown by Common and hosted by Deon Cole arrives amidst a crowded weekend for hip-hop fans with an appropriate nod to the past and a stern eye towards the future.
Boasting a steadily-growing lineup of names big and small, including the likes of J. Cole, Vic Mensa, The Roots and more who will take the stage that in 2014 hosted the likes of Vince Staples, Kanye West, Jennifer Hudson and many more. With stiff competition across town with a busy weekend filling Chicagoans' plans for the next few days, AAHH Fest returns from it's year-long hiatus with a renewed spirit that includes an added focus on the local acts that have been making noise from the city's streets consistently over the last few years.
One act taking the stage this weekend that has a particularly unique view on the festivities is none other than Taylor Bennett, who's older brother Chance is financing the competitive draw across the city at Comiskey Park with his 'Magnificent Coloring Day'. A student of the game currently riding the hefty wake from his last project, Broad Shoulders, Taylor will be performing on Friday's Community Stage hosted by Malik Yusef along with Tink, Sir The Baptist and more. For the younger Bennett, the decision was an easy one, despite the fact it was the same weekend as Chance's festival.
"I've always looked up to Common and everything he does for the city and I thought it would be a great opportunity and a great experience to meet some of the famous people that are from Chicago that have inspired me since youth," said Bennett over lunch the other day. "As well, Dr. Hines is very close to my family, when we got the opportunity we didn't see any reason we wouldn't do it."
For Chicagoans who have been paying attention for the last few years, the weekend bears a similar theme: The Bennetts. Since Chance emerged in 2011 with his debut mixtape, 10 Day, the brothers, as well as their father Ken who works closely with the Mayor's office, have become bonafide local celebrities. As Chance's star has continued to shine ever higher, Taylor has focused on building a career unto himself. One which had Sway's mouth hanging on the floor after a recent on-air freestyle session.
While a perceived competitive angle could be the storyline here, more than anything Taylor feels blessed that his family is in the position to participate in these kinds of events. Having worked together and separately before, it seems as though this weekend's performances won't be the last coordinated effort from the pair.
"Me and my brother have done Open Mike and all sorts of stuff like that and we were just recently in L.A. and talking about trying to create a different program or series of events throughout not only the summer but the whole year where we can come together and bring our city together as well and that way we can get different ages and fanbases of people come together and continue to bring the city tighter."
Regardless of which festival you decide to side with this weekend, one thing is for sure, you won't be disappointed. Over the course of the last five years, Chicago has asserted itself as the center of the hip-hop and larger music worlds through a concerted effort to put the scene on top. Despite knocks about lack of industry, capable studios or whatever else is muttered on internet message boards and comment sections, the fact that so many eyes will be on the locale this weekend is a testament to the successive layers of talent that have begun to unveil themselves.
"I think what we're about to do is a really big deal, to have Common, J. Cole, Vic Mensa, Tink, Alicia Keys, Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz, to have all those people in the city should make it a weekend to never forget," said Bennett. "AAHH Fest is important because it reaches to different generations of hip-hop fans. If Common wanted to bring out a lot of influencers from Chicago, it would have been easy, he's a huge influencer himself. But when you make a show, when you make something for the city like this festival you're bringing out youth, you're bringing out people who don't usually get to participate in these spaces.or conversations. It just makes it a lot more personal and a lot more age-ranging for the listeners and the people to come through, their not just fans."
On Monday, Taylor will being looking forward to a serious support slot opening for Tory Lanez on the road, tagging along across North America and Europe while also putting the finishing touches on his fourth consecutive full-length project. Before that though, he'll come together with Chicago artists big and small, past, present and future to toast to a year that has seen those from this area evolve into some of the biggest names in the country, all just a few miles from his own home.
"Every single day is a surprise, I remember seeing the other day J. Cole is coming, now Ice Cube is coming so they're literally adding people every day and it's just a really cool exciting thing that Common Ground Foundation and Donda's House is doing," Bennett said, wiping ketchup from his face, peering out the window over his shoulder. "It's going to make everyone as a city feel closer and I think that's a great thing."