Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Under Common's Spell

Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr., better known as hip-hop intelli-hunk Common, is quite the spellcaster when it comes to his music. Common's fluid verbal cascade and jazz/soul backdrops mean Common is for the flavorful ear.

Unlike some of the brutish sounds of modern rap, Common's music is a portrait to his struggle with himself and the world around him. This journey has allowed others to empathize with him and capture a loyal following in and out of hip-hop music.

Common appeals to me due to his unique cerebral groove and how it stimulates in its subtle, but constant progression. I've currently gathered the following LP's from Common's discography: One Day It'll All Make Sense (1997), Like Water For Chocolate (2000), Electric Circus (2002), Be (2005), Finding Forever (2007). I am currently still digging through Be, and that leaves Can I Borrow a Dollar? (1992) and Resurrection (1994) to complete my collection. Here are my thoughts about these records.

One Day It'll All Make Sense (1997): Brushed with the rugged charm that is said to characterize much of his earlier work, this record has a lean, and spiky funk tone. The samples here are used well, but emphasis is placed on the beat and the lyrical dexterity is at the forefront.

This allowed Common's urban folklore to come to life vividly. Referencing his own, at that time, impending fatherhood there is a slight vulnerability that rounds off some of the abrasiveness. Random Favorite Cut: "Real Nigga Quotes"

Like Water for Chocolate (2000): This record was the bridge between the polished hoodlum wit of Common's Relativity Records work and his signing with MCA Records. The loose "Questions" sits well with the familiar hardened bite of "Doonit," and "The Light" has since become a Common classic.

Jazzy, almost ambient at times, this record foreshadowed the lyrical and compositional stance taken on the following three albums. Random Favorite Cut: "Questions"

Electric Circus (2002): This record was the experimental detour that either was praised or panned. It is significant that it saw Common incorporating other genre elements (rock, electronica, etc.) into his jazzy-hip-hop hybrids. The visceral "Electric Wire Hustler Flower" is hypnotizing in its strike, "Soul Power" skitters along the ears quickly and almost creepily.

 For me, Common hit the mark on this album with three songs in particular: "Come Close (with Mary J. Blige) a hip-hop valentine, "Star 69" a sensuous erotica piece, and "Between Me, You, & Liberation" the stunning story piece of three completely different people. In one of the stories, Common's friend's revealed to him that he is gay. Common not only managed to embrace his best friend, but actually is honest about his own homophobia and dealt with it. This showed that hip-hop has far more heart than given credit for. Random Favorite Cut: "Between Me, You, & Liberation"

Finding Forever (2007): Coming after the success of Be (2005), Finding Forever is Common's finest album to date. There is a calm confidence that permeated this record, from the dramatic opening of "Start the Show" to the staccato head nod inducing "Break My Heart."

The production is mostly handled by Kanye West who helps ground some of Common's most intriguing lyrical tales in smartly guided and sampled hooks. This was the first Common record I bought and still remains my personal favorite of all the albums mentioned. Random Favorite Cut: "Break My Heart"

Common represents at its heart what hip-hop music is meant to represent to the world: intelligence, musicality, expression, honesty, and growth.-QH


S. Flemming said...

Shaun has been a fan of his since we all were in college. The song I've always loved by him is "The Light." I really liked that video. Nice piece.

frank coleman said...

I have loved Common since my senior year in high school. Common stays in my rotation because I regard him as a true artist. It has been a joy over the past years to watch him evolve into the thought-provoking and soulful artist that we see today. Great post!

RhythmicSoul said...

I first got into common the summer i lived in Indiana, when "The light" began to recieve HEAVY rotation, the song sampled one of my favorite songs "open your eyes" by Bobby Caldwell. After listening to the song once i KNEW i had to give him a thorough listen. He was a wonderful surprise and a GREAT alternative to the "shake it fast" mystikal craze at the time...after a few years past i managed to get his albums and stayed a fan till this day. He's the ONLY rapper i can say that gets BETTER with time, that experiences GROWTH and excudes MATURITY with every effort (and thats coming from a BIGGER Jay-Z fan). But fav albums are Be and Like water for Chocolate...I still dig "electric circus" to this day..i think it was just before its time and there was no smooth transition into it, so it scared alot of fans for being something so different so soon. Great write Quentino

Kyle Young said...

I've been a big Common fan for some time now, his style and message is unique and inspiring. His uncanny ability to keep his music fresh/real while still retaining his often positive and uplifting themes still amazes me to this day. One of the few MC's that truly raps from the heart and soul. (Mos Def being another favorite, on the subject of brilliant artists).

Common actually did a single in 07 for the Freedom Writers movie (a great movie if you haven't seen it already)"A Dream" (link below) is still one of my favorite Common songs to date, though not widely known. Not sure if he released it with an album, but the lyrics are phenomenal.

Anonymous said...

Common brings something to Hip Hop that is lacking today - honesty. I love his candor and openess in his lyrics. I'll be a fan as long as he keeps it real.


Anonymous said...

Common brings something to Hip Hop that is lacking today - honesty. I love his candor and openess in his lyrics. I'll be a fan as long as he keeps it real.