A new track from Common off of his upcoming album, The Dreamer/The Believer. I’m excited.
Last weekend, the first track from Common’s upcoming album The Dreamer, The Believer was leaked. Called “Ghetto Dreams”, it’s produced by No I.D. and features Nas. For me, this track really hinges on its beat, which seriously bangs; the thumping kicks and staccato piano stabs (which are basically ideal for rap music) serve as the perfect palette for Common and Nas’ verses. It’s too bad the hook is so lame. Overall, though, it’s a promising sign of what the new album will sound like.
The blog Real Hip Hip Since 79 has posted the original studio recording of ‘The People’ from Common’s album Finding Forever. The main difference between this version and the final cut is the hook, here sung by Common himself. Dwele’s take, used for the album, is obviously more polished, but it’s nice to hear Common’s genuine, if shaky, effort.
‘The People’ is a classic, and was my favourite track on Forever. Common’s lyrics are mostly good. His rhymes touch on a variety of social justice topics (Assata Shakur, urban poverty, the failure of the American justice system), and are delivered with his usual verbal dexterity. The only lyrical flaw is the bridge, on which our boy compares Kanye to the legendary beatmaker DJ Premier (!) and raps about his daughter finding Nemo.
This minor shortcoming, though, is forgivable considering the track’s insane beat. Featuring a sample from Gil Scott-Heron’s 1978 song ‘We Almost Lost Detroit,’ the beat has a distinct, fuzzy, ’70s vibe to it. Its focal point is a saxophone and keyboard loop that exudes analog goodness. The result is a sunny and inspiring and funky melody – the perfect complement to Common’s uplifting tales of the struggle.
by Angie B. Fresh
[Ed: Angie B. Fresh is the host of ‘The Corner‘ on CFUV 101.9 FM in Victoria, B.C. She’s also the newest contributor to 4080 Records! Read on for her inaugural post: a passionate, articulate survey of the last decade’s best hip-hop. And if you know what’s good for you, tune in to her show every Friday from 5-6 p.m.]
Being a child of the late 80’s, this past decade has been the first I can remember from start to finish. And while I can’t speak for my generational peers, I will always feel as though the 00’s belonged to me. Rolling Stones called it the “decade of lost chances”, Time called it the “decade from hell”, but I look back on the double-zero’s as the decade of my musical awakening. Thanks to my brother, I was introduced to hip hop in my early teens and its been my passion ever since. On that note, I’d like to take a quick look back on the music that served as a soundtrack to my life.
In the interest of keeping this short and sweet, I picked one song per year. Consider first that Pitchfork Media‘s feature on the best music of the decade contained 500 songs. Picking just ten favorites was not an easy task, but here goes!
Common – The Light
For a long time after I heard this Grammy-nominated love song I only had ears for Common. Produced by the legendary Dilla, this soulful and sensual tribute is uplifting and romantic in the most genuine way. Common’s well articulated love and respect for his woman had ladies everywhere wishing they were Erykah Badu. “It don’t take a whole day to recognize sunshine”
Nas – One Mic
An instant classic from one of the biggest names in rap, One Mic still gives me goose bumps. The slow and subtle start, the crescendo into his rage-filled declaration of power, no wonder critics called in legendary. Two years ago I took a short road trip with a few fellow heads to watch Nas perform in Vancouver. Hearing the opening bars to this track live was an experience of almost spiritual proportions.
Talib Kweli – Get By
I can clearly recall the first time I heard this song; 7 years have passed and I still love it. Produced by Kanye West, it became Talib’s biggest hit to date as a result of its commercial appeal. The beat is deliciously funky with its piano loops, handclaps and Nina Simone samples, while the lyrics are positively righteous: “They need somethin’ to rely on/ We get high on all types of drugs, when all you really need is love, to get by”.
Little Brother – The Listening
9th Wonder’s beat samples Pete Rock and CL Smooth’s “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.)” while Phonte and Big Pooh lament the fact that no one listens to full albums anymore or pays enough attention to the lyrics. This is a song about hip hop by hip hop fans. “I got suspicions your ear’s to the street where we’re whispering/ are you listening?” I know I was…
Danger Mouse & Jemini – Ghetto Pop Life
Epic beats from one of the most versatile producers in hip hop, nay music, combined with the inventive and energetic flows of a very talented but underrated MC resulted in a near perfect album. It was hard for me to pick just one track off this album as the whole thing is clever, creative and fun so I opted for the title track. It’s a real shame that this project was so slept on because the kind of musical chemistry found with this dynamic duo doesn’t come along often.
Zion I – Bird’s Eye View
Zumbi’s lyrics in this ode to hip hop don’t really put it in the same realm as “I Used to Love H.E.R.”, however the sincerity of his unconditional love for the culture is obvious. And when his poetry is coupled with the beautiful synthy production provided by Amp Live- complete with subtle strings and pretty piano loops, what you get is a deeply soulful tribute. “She’s my heart, my mind, my spirit and my bones/ She’s the only one I know that would go across the globe/ Meet me in a foreign land, treat me like I’m home”
Lupe Fiasco – Daydreamin’
This was a tricky pick for me because of the commercial success it garnered. However I truly believe that good music is good music despite who listens to it. I was late getting into Lupe, but once I did I knew I was hooked. The master of metaphor, his slippery lyrical prowess is in full effect in this Jill Scott collabo. The concept is imaginative, the sound is wonderfully jazzy, what more could you ask for?
Blu & Exile – The World Is (Below The Heavens…)
This album came out of nowhere and then proceeded to blow my mind again and again the more I listened to it. If you were like me you were asking yourself where the heck this kid Blu came from (he was 22 at the time of its release). Exile has since become one of my favorite producers, (check last year’s “Radio” if you like instrumentals) and Blu one of my favorite MCs. Every beat is perfectly matched to its lyrics; every verse is revealingly heartfelt; this is an album I’ll be listening to for years to come. “Hell is what you choose to call the present/ That’s why you’re going through it/ I just choose to call it stressin’/ To tell you fools the truth, I don’t feel that’s what I’m destined/ So you can call it hell but bro, I’ll just say I’m below the heavens”
Q-Tip – Gettin’ Up
This sophomore release was a long time coming and worth the wait. Being a Tribe fan, I welcomed that familiar high-pitched voice back into my playlists immediately. The vibe is mellow and warm at points yet Tip sounds enthusiastic and energetic throughout. With help from the likes of Raphael Saadiq, D’angelo, and Norah Jones, Q-Tip put together a smooth sounding and perfectly timed celebration of life and love; you can’t help but get into the spirit. Welcome back Tip!
Tanya Morgan – She’s Gone AKA Without You
Hands down my favorite album of the year, Brooklynati had me wishing I could take up residence in this fictional locale and spend my nights watching the “Hardcore Gentlemen” perform their 15 year old hit 15 times (only people who have been to Brooklynati will get that one). “She’s Gone” has been described by some as our generation’s “I Used To Love H.E.R” (so I like Common okay??) and it’s just one of the many infectious tracks on the album. Production from Von Pea and Aeon will have you reminiscing about the so-called Golden Era of hip hop when well-cut jazz loops and soulful samples laid the canvas for thoughtful, witty rhymes. This is one you can pop in and listen to front to back and not have to hit that skip button.
That’s right. I managed to make it out to Ann Arbor, MI to catch Common and Slum Village play one of the dopest shows I’ve seen. Common, an artist I’ve been trying to see for years, literally blew my mind. It was definitely one of the most energetic and crowd-focused shows I’ve had the pleasure to being to.
The whole thing started off with a hilarious faux-battle. A radio host brought two random kids out of the audience, and surprisingly neither of them were emcees. And neither of them were very good, but they sure had a good time up there. The rounds were lackluster but rather hilarious. The winner’s big zinger was a non-rhyme that went something like “Look at your shirt/ it’s American Eagle/What are you, 14 years old?” The crowd went nuts.
Then enters Slum Village, Detroit’s own hip hop legends. These cats have been performing for nearly a decade, and were the primary vehicle for the dopest of J Dilla’s beats. The group has undergone several changes over the years, not the least of which is the replacement of Dilla with Elzhi. Poor guy has huge shoes to fill. Elzhi was absent for this show, so Baatin and T3 had to hold it down. To do this, they brought in a rather generic heavy-set rapper to round things out (no pun intended).
Their set had its ups and downs, overall. I sadly think I prefer their recorded sound better than their live set, but some of the tracks were amazing. They hyped up their upcoming release, Villa Manifesto, and debuted a couple of tracks off that release. However, the moment they started taking it back into the older stuff, hitting up Raise it Up and Tainted, the crowd went nuts.
After a brief intermission, Common came on and the house started getting out of control. Everyone was out of their seats and startng to dance. He eased his way into things, starting off with hits people are guaranteed to know. An energetic performance of Go was followed by what has to be the worst song Common has ever written. Hell, the worst song I’ve heard in a while. Sex 4 Sugar is a juvenile attempt at a popular track, and is so un-Common (see what I did there? uncommon/un-Common?) that I could dedicate a whole post to it. But he managed to pick himself back up again.
He kept things going, doing I used to love H.E.R, and probably made someone’s day when he pulled a girl out of the audience to serenade her with Come Close to Me. Chantelle, the young asian girl he pulled out, was excited but managed to keep things under control. Props to her for handling herself well. Common was showing a bit more cockyness than I expected as well, getting this girl to wipe his sweaty head down with a towel before he started singing to her. But hey, I guess he’s entitled to a bit of confidence these days.
My hands down, favourite, part of the show came up soon after. Common, at the end of one of his tracks, broke into this little hip hop medley. He kept chanting “hip hop, hip hop”, and then would break into a classic verse. He did the chorus from Bonita Applebum (one of my favourite Tribe tracks), then went on to do the chorus from Definition, did C.R.E.A.M., and did a verse from Pharcyde’s Passing me By. Then, for no apparent reason, he tacked on a disgusting Kanye West first about someone jacking his lexus. Totally out of place, but I guess you gotta give a shout out to your friends.
Common even brought Slum Village back out to perform with him for a bit, which was nice. Those guys deserve a hell of a lot of respect for holding it down for so long.
He kept up his attitude and his enthusiasm all the way through to the end of the show. He finally built his way up to Universal Mind Control, one of my least favourite tracks. But by this point he had wound us all up enough that people really cut loose. The whole auditorium was dancing and screaming.
Then the show ended, with a quick thank you to the audience and a big round of applause. And the oddest thing happened.
Seriously. The auditorium began to empty immediately. It was like 10:30 pm. Not late. It’s not a dangerous part of town. But no one, and I mean no one, even tried to ask for an encore. I stayed where I was for a few minutes, to make sure that Common wasn’t going to come back out or anything like that. But when I saw the throngs of people heading for the exit, I knew that there was no chance. The day was over.
Despite our hype, it doesn’t look like Common’s Universal Mind Control is getting too much love in the hip hop community. That doesn’t mean it’s not a commercial success for Common. In case you haven’t seen it, Common and Afrika Bambaataa have a little TV spot for Microsoft’s Zune media player.
All tangents aside, I’ve gotta say I just can’t get excited about this album. And the readers over at Check the Rhime seem to agree with me. Some of the comments are reproduced below:
ans says: December 2nd, 2008 at 4:14 pm
I gotta be honest and say that Common trying to come hard just plain doesn’t work. In Announcement, he actually says “When it comes to hip hop it’s just me and my bitch.” That is not a lyric I expect from Common, and it pretty much dissapoints me.
Just compare this, a verse from Announcement:
representen shaw town to the fullest
raps are bullets
see those rappers they be dunken
when comm be bucken in the kitchen f**ken
on the sink got my momma a mink
common is the link
thought the game was extinct
And there’s always this little gem from the same track, which I guess is targeting people like me who think he’s still cerebral:
Brah’s say are you a philosopher?/Yeah, yeah, I’ll philosopha on top of ya.
Or this, from The Sixth Sense, a killer track from a while ago:
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want millions
More than money saved, I wanna save children
Dealing with alcoholism and afrocentricity
A complex man drawn off of simplicity
Reality is frisking me
This industry will make you lose intensity
The Common Sense in me remembers the basement
I’m Morpheus in this hip-hop Matrix, exposing fake shit
That’s like Walt Whitman sitting down and writing a Harlequin romance novel. Just a complete and total sellout. If you haven’t had a chance to hear much of the album, here’s Announcement.
The Chicago Tribune is clearly on my side in this fight too. In fact, they take it a step further:
Designed as a feel-good summer album, its release was delayed for several months because of the rapper’s burgeoning Hollywood career. Arriving on the doorstep of winter, its tone isn’t just out of step with the season, but with the unprecedented sense of possibility in the African-American community.
The Chicago Sun-Times calls this album pandering. They talk about how Common’s always wanted to move units and gets fed up being pigeonholed as a backpack rapper. Here’s my favourite quote:
As superstar producers the Neptunes deliver some of their weakest, most cliched and most phoned-in tracks ever — heavy on the generic techno thumps, synth burbles and played-out vocoder backing vocals — one of hip-hop’s most accomplished freestylers drops one leaden rap after another. Most are about sex, although there also are a couple of uncharacteristic “ain’t I great” boast-fests via “Gladiator” and “What a World.”
Even other newspapers are getting in on the action. At least one has picked up on the fact that this album, and Common’s general trend towards the mainstream may be partly due to Jay-Z’s backhanded compliment from a few years ago. On the Black Album’s Moment of Clarity, Hova rapped: ‘If skills sold, truth be told, I’d probably be / lyrically, Talib Kweli / Truthfully, I wanna rhyme like Common Sense / But I did five mil/ I ain’t been rhymin’ like Common since”. And I guess this was the world’s most successful diss. Not only did it make Talib fall off, but it’s gotten Common all crazy as well. Money is power, I guess.
Even though he’s gotten bitchslapped by his own hometown papers, the folks over at Vibes and Stuff have posted a full review of the album that’s quite positive. In fact, they state that it’s a “necessary departure” from Common’s last two albums. Frankly, I disagree. Be and Finding Forever both had heavily commercial aspects to them, and nececssarily got the Kanye pop flavour as well. This let them cross over into mainstream appeal but Common still kept his lyrics tight and didn’t have to make tracks that sounded like someone having a seizure on a midi keyboard.
Now I’m not even saying that Common should only be restricted to making deep tracks, I get that club bangers have a place in hip hop and everyone’s entitled to a little artistic freedom. He shouldn’t be pigeonholed. However, I think there’s a big difference between making a club track and making a whole club album when you’re reputation is built on being a lyracist. And Rolling Stone gave it 3/5 stars, so I guess they’re on board.
The worst part is that I know he still has it in him. Changes, the one old-style track on the album is a anthem for Obama and not a bad track by any means. it’s more traditional Common, which I obviously like, but more importantly it just shows some thought and effort. The rest just sounds hastily cobbled together off of internet keystyles.
If you need any more proof, the final nail in this album’s tiny plastic coffin has to be the god-awful Sex 4 Sugar which is an awkward, cornball track and an embarassment to anyone involved in it.
Oh Common Sense, where art thou?
To commemorate Barack Obama’s historic election on Tuesday, Common has released a track from his upcoming album Universal Mind Control. Called “Changes,” the song was written to “inspire the young world to believe that change can happen.” Common also envisioned it “as a great inaugural song for Barack Obama.”
Check it out:
Common – Changes (Universal Mind Control, 2009)
Foreign Exchange, the group comprised of Little Brother’s Phonte and Dutch producer Nicolay, are preparing to release their second album, Leave It All Behind. In order to build hype for the project, they’ve apparently released a couple of teaser videos. I’m not exactly sure what exactly they’re trying to convey, but the short clips are interesting nonetheless. Check ’em out, courtesy of Hip Hop Is Deadly:
Next up is a tune called “Highway” by Kayda-Luz. I can’t remember how I found this track, and I don’t have a lot of information about the artist, but the song’s got a nice, laidback vibe that I’m feelin’ for sure. Dude’s got a nice flow as well, and his introspective rhymes are nostalgic and well-written – a tough thing to do, considering most songs in this vein are sappy and formulaic.
Kayda-Luz – Highway (?, ?)
Also makin’ waves is the video for Common’s new single “Announcement.” Although I’m a fan of “Universal Mind Control (UMC),” I was more than a little dissapointed when I first heard this track. It’s got an electro/’80s throwback feel to it (unsurprising, considering Pharrell produced it), but Common sounds bored, and he looks that way in the vid, too. In fact, Skateboard P almost steals the show on this joint. Have a look see:
Image yanked from Soulbounce.
John McWhorter is an “author” who writes for the New York Sun. He’s got a book coming out called About the Beat: Why Hiphop Can’t Save Black America and in an effort to stir up some attention about it he’s written an article claiming that conscious hip hop is a myth.
In his incredibly awkward (I’m talking puberty-level awkward) rant, he fundamentally misunderstands the argument in support of hip hop and conscious hip hop in particular. With a flawed understanding, it’s no surprise that he arrives at his arrogant conclusion.
Here’s what he says: “But conscious rap fans are making the same mistake as the suburbanists in Britain. They think of it as unquestionable that for black people, politics must be about challenging authority, taking to the streets, the upturned middle finger. The problem is that the days when this orientation fed or taught anyone anything are long past. They miss other kinds of black politics that actually help people in the real world.”
What he doesn’t understand is not that so-called black politics is about challenging authority, but rather that hip hop became a very useful tool for disaffected people to express their opinion. African American youth, in particular, were best able to use hip hop as a tool to make their voices known.
McWhorter picks lyrics from various hip hop songs and attempts to use them to prove his point. “For example, Pete Rock grouses that “library broken down is lies buried,” while Dead Prez tells us that high school is a “four year sentence” with teachers “tellin’ me white man lies.” Message: black people should be wary of education. Deep. “Politics.” Sounds good set to a beat.”
His hasty jump to an absurd and embarrassing conclusion is that these artists are telling black people to beware of education. However, in most circles the message is not that. The message is that the education system has been failing blacks. More importantly, it’s been failing individuals of any ethnicity who are forced to go through some of the under-resourced public schools, especially in low-income areas. He cites the charter schools in Harlem that are having remarkable success with their graduates. Perhaps, he’s actually not really arguing so successfully. If anything, the development of charter schools or any other alternative to the traditional crumbling P.S. 106 is exactly what dead prez or Pete Rock is talking about. Plus, as any student who’s ever seen a revisionist history book, libraries aren’t exactly always full of truth. There have been hundreds of examples of people trying to rewrite history to suit their needs or to erase their transgressions.
McWhorter picks and chooses particular lyrics that he feels would suit his petulant theory. He ignores the dozens of examples any true hip hop head could cite about conscious hip hop. Like KRS-One leading youth away from gangs through hip hop. Or hip hop activism trying to encourage black youth to vote. He could quote Common’s Retrospect for Life, where Com raps about abortion, an insanely difficult issue. Or Gang Starr’s What I’m here 4:
“A lot of shit has happened, since I started rappin
There’s been enough beef, and enough gat clappin
There’s been mad signs, for this brother to heed
and while some choose greed, I choose to plant seeds
for your mental, spirit and physical temple”
I could probably go for days and keep pointing out just how wrong this guy is. He accuses people that are “learning their politics from conscious rap” of being inferior. As any loyal reader of 4080 knows, I think we’ve pointed out more than enough examples to prove him painfully wrong.
And we all know that hi hop has done far more for politics and to raise social consciousness than Mr. McWhorter could ever hope to dream of. In the meantime, let him keep writing his books.
I’m really quite sad to say this. We here at 4080 Records have been long time fans of Common.
You can remember by our last post that we were very hyped when Common announced he’d be dropping his new album Invincible Summer.
Maybe it’s just me, but I’m definitely not feeling the first single Universal Mind Control (U.M.C). It’s featuring Pharell so you knew he it had to have some sort of electro-influence. To me, it sounds like the bastard lovechild of bad house music and a basement mic session. There’s something just, off, about it.
The style is reminiscent of Common’s Electric Circus album. It’s got a clubbier sound to it, and definitely an electro-focus. And I completely understand he wants to push the envelope. I’m just not convinced it works in this particular case.
Check it out for yourself and let us know what you think.
Or download it here.