The one and only COMMON‘s album dropped last week. As was the case with The Roots early in the month, it happened under the radar for me. In this day of records being pushed back to coincide with market trends, if not to keep a project fresh from leaks, knowing when your favorite artist is going to drop is like pinning the tale on the donkey. I had been checking youtube routinely following his performance at The White House in May; occasionally stumbling onto a newly released single but learning of no definitive date. Estimations had him coming out in September then. ..NOt!
But anyway. The industry is what the industry is. Let me save any critique I have towards it for our brother Common, whom it seems has methodically, yet none the less by this point fully embarked on the commercial course. With The Dreamer/ The Believer Common ultimately proves to remain great. The Rolling Stones never got wack, as hasn’t nor ever will Aretha Franklin, and relatively so we are seeing that in his own right, neither will Com. But we’re going to keep it real. There is room for criticism of his balancing act between the conscious flow and the cash flow; one which he’s been successful in treading through his late 30’s, in a business that leaves you behind if you cannot appeal to the youngins. He is amongst a host of artists we grew listening to, as they salvaged through Hip Hop’s golden age to survive until today. And he is back with his original producer and comrade since 4th grade: NO ID.
____In vintage Hip Hop fashion TD,TB’s first song sets the tone with free-verse summing where Common is at in his career while foreshadowing some of the concepts we can expect from the rest of the album.
“The Dreamer” is a track that begins with a fickle 16 flashing a success once ill-equated with anything our brother stood for through his first six or seven projects. By this, his 9th come around, he indeed has the closet to prove such exquisite threads, as does he the Grammy and wallet it’s intro boasts.
____”It’s Common. I’m high above standard/ fly nigga, keep my feet planted,” he reminds us after flipping the righteous hope we’ve come to embrace Com for: “Get the beat from NO I., feel the pulse of the Chi/ survival of the fit with hope in their eye// Taking notes from the sky to fly above understanding. They’re notes from the most high, so I gotta land ’em”
By the third verse he is in full transition, etching a reflective stanza which places the imagery before your ears, at your eyes. As the listener you are treated to the brilliance that is Lonnie Rashid Lynn, a poet whom walks you through his vision to be sat amongst the rest of us, here to hear him speak:
“Reflections of the sun glaring through the window
Now the audience staring at my mental
Feeling like the world, the world is at my fingers
‘Bout to speak to an auditorium full of dreamers“
____If you’ve been along for any good length of the man’s journey you couldn’t imagine him coming weak, and technically/scientifically/artistically, you forward to the next track having it once again been confirmed for you that this is a certifiable craftsman, whom has once again proven to be crafty as he ever was. But as such a loyalist you’re also not without the observation that we may have seen a transition in Rash’s character. One any honest follower does good by checking our brother on, as did the iconoclast herself Maya Angelou, through a recent interview in which she expresses discontent with his use of the N bomb, on a record he invited her to feature on. ____Com’s brief and passive appropriation of ‘N’ isn’t the half in terms of the regressive direction to which I speak. It is on the second track, “Ghetto Dreams” that he breaks the seal in ensuing to spray misogyny around the room like it’s New Years Eve. “I want a bitch that look good and cook good/ Cinderella fancy but she still look hood// Butt naked in the kitchen flipping pancakes/ plus she’ tripping off the doe that her man makes,” he raps, rehashing (practically verbatim) the old as stone fantasy unapologetic sexists arouse, for a promiscuous Woman he could have barefoot in the kitchen.
____We’ve been here before in mainstream Hip Hop (over, and over), with both male and female emcees TYPICALLY espousing work that objectifies the under-whelmingly represented sex. It is true that even brother Common has had his share of
booty bitch saturation (albeit out-balanced with a greater aversion for worshiping the Queen in her), thus it might not be perfectly fair to hold him to a standard he has never absolutely aimed to toe. But the fact of the matter is, a GREAT lens through which Common’s artistry has been appreciated is that which he earned our attention away from the rest of the field for; the integrity with which he’s depicted Women as complete *to themselves*! Why should his new work be observed through a different paradigm now? ____A ‘booty’ or two probably doesn’t stoke such a response to TDTB, but as the music plays on it becomes clear that in the frame of C-O-double M’s discography, the bitch, is an elephant in the room here. He goes completely fraternal on “Celebrate”, complimenting a good ol’ boys ambiance the hook sets, with a chauvinism that strikes as so shallow our yellow King becomes all things considered, interchangeable with a man-lover-DMX’s running Boondocks character. “I got a couple niggas in town/ a couple hundred bitches around// so baby go on and get us a round/ cause I got all my niggas around” *the sisters aren’t exactly introduced to us as honorary guests* “Now we got some R&B broads we could call up… …Hustlers from the go, how far we done came/ celebrate” Com concludes, after numerous projections of the sisters at the celebration expendable to the pleasure and service of his boys.
____It’s difficult for one to endorse as a weighty criticism when playing back the record, as it would occur to most no different than what a majority of us have accepted as our everyday Hot97, toast and cheer. None the less, a contrast as to whom is celebrating and what is being celebrated deserves a shot at taking form amongst your questions as to the substance of the song. The brothers in with one another are brothers, their memories and the sharing of their newfound abundance generate a warmth within their camaraderie. The Women, on the other hand, are something slightly outside of that; they, with the drinks and the rest of the commotion, are things, of the celebration. ____In keeping honest to objectivity as it concerns art allow me to concede that while it is obvious I as a HUGE follower of Common, may seem to have singled out the likes of “Ghetto Dreams” and “Celebrate” because they are not “The Light”, the following criticism, beyond any moral, is what sinks them in his catalog: they are unoriginal! (deadpan. *Plus we waited 20 years for a Nas collabo and this is the best they thought to give us) ____Art, does not have to be heroic or in any way ideal; I totally understand that. Not only is there room for violence, unhealthy addiction, degradation, etc. but these are in fact, often THE DRIVING FORCES behind great cinema, great music. Yet, the aesthetics have to in some form set a piece apart to stand on it’s own identity. One of my favorite B.I.G. songs was “Me and My Bitch”. But for one thing, when that song broke, there had been nothing like it in Hip Hop, EVER.. there probably still isn’t… and more profoundly, there is a deep pain in that record that is not only emotionally intelligent (despite it’s brutal inhumanity), but socio-historically intelligent; as we got a window into a very personal and very prevalent condition per relationships that take on the poverty around them in a hyper violent culture. ..Art isn’t always just!
____After much meditation on the threat of us seeing him come uncharacteristically lazy on message, we are relieved to gather that Common does pull enough effort on the track list to balance the relationship-centered share of The Dreamer/The Believer. While “Raw – How You Like It” trumps just as favorable to the listener club hopping for music behind industry blinders, the beat bangs something hard enough to get boom-bap back up in the party and the hook mellows erotic to a tasteful invitation. C-O double enters the groove with a tipsy cadence, stalking for a lover to vibe. If a record is going to work passing some raunch, for the sake of giving us some credible reflection of a night out: somewhat horny, yet reserved enough that needn’t a lawsuit bring us back to it’s recollection; it is going to sound like “Raw”. ____And if there’s a spot in the album’s sequencing for a nostalgic glance the legend of Hip Hop sentiment gives of love, it comes dead on at the half with “Lovin’ I Lost”. Just as on “Raw” we are presented with an affected cadence, as Common gets playful with a delivery stressing inflections we’re used to getting from his once protege and now G.O.O.D MUSIC boss (Kanye West). The narrative parlays swift inside of a cool soul NO I.D. smooths out beneath a Curtis Mayfield sample. In it he isn’t so much lamenting as he is remembering a break-up from back in the day. You can’t help but love an emcee who is a true writer, one able to transcend a linear concept; bend perspective; be your brother, your lover, and your psychiatrist… “I’m waiting on your call / told you I’ll be back, had to break down some walls //Issues that I had/ some say it comes from not seeing my dad, keep moving on.”
____Behind his veil of brilliance a true writer knows something his audience would never imagine all his illustrious production comes down to being… that being the product of simple: honesty. This he knows, and it is this protected knowledge that shows up as insecurity when he is struggling to produce.. he questions whether the actual simplicity of his working formula, was ever what the minds that absorbed it imagined it to be. Common returns with reference to the same walls and issues he mentions on “Lovin I Lost”, on the optimistic “Cloth”; following up the inference to insecurity with: “attracted to women, for things that didn’t matter“. Revealing (in as much as for men, it is true to life) is how throughout the track one can arrive at the realization that whenever Common opens up to share his self, reflected in his words is an opening to fully absorb/appreciate/share Women. Whereas the surface delving facade he guards music for the boys with, alienates the Women to a distance on tracks like “Ghetto Dreams” and “Celebrate”, the transparency of who Lonnie Rashid Lynn is, brings her close, on a track like “Cloth”.
I appreciate the hugs and the days I breed with you/ strong seeds I can see with you// the good word I read with you/// Looking at things that we’ve been through/ things that seem simple// I know when to go hard and when to be gentle
____These are the records that gave Common his niche in HipHop music. Over the course of his 20 years in a hyper-masculine industry we’ve had the opportunity to journey with a man, whose been in as real a sense as we’ve ever heard: a man. A warrior, a nurturer, an intellect, a lover, a worker, an activist; in his words ‘through alcoholism and afro-centricity’, we’ve seen ‘a complex man drawn off of simplicity’. No question about it, his struggles with intimacy and manhood, his vulnerability, have stood as a pillar in his body of work. ____The Dreamer/ The Believer’s intimate cycle completes with a Stevie Wonder (synthesizer & melody stellar) influenced jawn NO ID polished to show case our brother’s heart on. In the first verse he tells the story of a Woman victimized and abandoned by men. An allusion is made to her innocence being taken in a dark room, followed by one telling of her father not being in the picture; stark scenarios which point to her reason for not trusting men. The hook, sang by James Fauntleroy, is a poetic conveyance of Common assuring his trust. It is a beautiful bridge to a second verse, which brings us Common describing his careful, loving, protective, and active relationship with his daughter.
____In retrospect over Common’s voice and style on the “Windows” track^, one cant help but realize a surreal connection to Drake; an emcee for whom if it weren’t for the foundation Common has laid with his insightful cultivation of the self-reflective lover, wouldn’t exist. Let the comparisons begin, as the release of The Dreamer/ The Believer has sparked a rivalry between the father and son emcee. Tensions draw back to the lyrical one-ups-manship of the track “Sweet”, in which Common steps up for his time to proclaim G.O.A.T in this rap shit. Upon hearing the record the hot sophomore took lyrics speaking to emcee’s ‘singing on records‘, personal and proceeded to send notice at an LA Christmas concert. Common in the past week, has confirmed that if the shoe fits and Drake is willing to wear it, then the shoe has found it’s owner; outright challenging Drake to defend his pride. ____Drake will definitely be needing to sharpen his tool, as all indication on the TDTB album continues to hoist Common as an elite lyricist. Whether it’s his perennial ability to reinvent himself and reclaim the energy that’s allowed him to carve past his peers with the command of an elder’s thumb pushing the a pocket knife through an apple’s skin; or it’s inspiration from his game producer’s drum knocks, echo effects and layered arrangements, our man has picked up where he left off. In fact, we see an intensity in his rhyme that is reminiscent of early Nas in terms of the compact and prolific amount of imagery he is charging through tracks like “Gold” with. And you already know the metaphors and similes are you already know…
Ashtrays and cigarettes, last days, indigenous people
These are adventures of young black millionaires
I am the voice of the meek and underprivileged
The smell of success, I want y’all to get a whiff of this
On the move like black slaves through the wilderness
I write it, and still get invited to white Christmases
When I was born, three wise men came to visit us
One a hustler, one a king, one a prisoner
They cracked the bottle then started giving gifts
You from Chicago, we want you to deliver this
Show the walking dead who the truly living is
Separate the fake from who the real reals is
Hot tub time machine, back to the Sybaris
Hats from liquor stores to avoid syphilis
Frivolous spending, drunk nights with storybook endings
I guess it’s my addiction to women
I was in France, Hennessy blending
Writing my own scripts like I’m Tennessee Williams
Now it’s new beginnings like a born again Christian
On the mic, victorious, story is redemption
I’m sitting at the top, I’m not alone
I’m standing here with my soul
Feed our souls with two fish and five loaves
Teach a man to cook it for survival
My dad said it rained on my arrival
Now a storm of the brain make these guys drive slow
Like I was 5-0, but my creed’s Apollo
On the rock and roll with the coldest live show
For those before I came, I made the song cry for ‘em
Lyrical gymnast, you set the bar low
This is that Kilimanjaro, like Twitter you can follow
It may be hard to read like hieroglyphics
Written on the walls of Cairo, check my youth revival
Truth inside flow, I stand like Em did with Dido
Crashed parties, any live yo
Is libel to get banged like things that rival tribal slang
From the, killed the game and watched it die slow
Ali MC, I fight for more than the title
Concept songs ground an album. They determine it’s identity. In the larger scope, they are a testament to where the artist is in his creative journey. The concepts explored on The Dreamer/ The Believer, the substance in Common’s lyrics, the conviction of say the John Legend assisted closing track; are of the quality we know we can depend on him surfacing with each subsequent album we sit in anticipation for. But if there are some knocks against Common’s newest effort it is that conceptually his themes have grown redundant. Basically we are seeing one of the most innovative artists in this music, refine what he’s always done to the mundane framework of a game which revolves around singles. What saves TDTB from falling lame (ala Common’s poorest disk: Universal Mind Control) in light of this truth, is that there is perhaps nobody Common could have teamed up with but NO ID, to pump out an assortment of soundscapes tailor made to compliment him. Which is to say, if Com is not going to experiment, if he is going to play it safe to what he’s known, nobody knows him like his brother; NO ID was the (A) game. On top of the production though, it of course is always going to take passion and craft, which Common brought with ferocity here. …The vision might not be as tight as we once knew it delivered by the ‘Black Buddah Genius’/ there might be something ambiguous and all together scattered about his lyrical composition, but his faithful can remain rest assured that he still, hasn’t played out. 🙂