The Bitch In You Part II: Common Vs. Drake

 

Last week, I reviewed Common’s latest album The Dreamer/The Believer and mentioned a track called “Sweet”, which goes directly at the jugulars of “soft” rappers.  Of course, the blogosphere and myself made plenty of jokes alluding to the fact that Common didn’t have to do Drake like that, as the Louboutin seemed to fit in terms of the song’s sentiments.  Jokes became reality as Common himself confirmed that yes, Drake could take offense to the track as well as any other rappers he labels as soft.  Personally, I thought of a few rappers that could have taken offense to the song.  It seems that these days, there are too many MCs trying to be singers and too many singers trying to be MCs.  That isn’t to say that you can’t walk the line, but to say you’re the greatest or dopiest doing it when there are clearly greater acts in both categories is off-base and deserves calling out.  It takes an established MC who isn’t worried about the politics or the possibility of working with the more popular artists in the game.  

This happened.

Of course, the Drake stans’ first plan of action is to point out Common’s age (39), as if that has any bearing on anything.  If anything, the fact that Common, like The Roots, can still release a critically-acclaimed album after so long in the game without pandering to mainstream audiences by a bunch of mismatched guest appearances and keeping up with the trends, speaks to longevity and a hard-working MC’s ability to remain relevant by staying true to his core audience.  The problem with many of the 90’s-babies calling themselves hip-hop fans today is that they came along long after hip-hop had merged with pop.  They’re not used to the word-of-mouth classic LP.  Disposable and current wins the day and some of them don’t even realize that a lot of what they call “hot” today will not be something they can whip out five years from now and still have a connection to.   Damn shame when hip-hop gets to a point when the youth claim a rapper is no longer relevant solely based on age and don’t commend the ability to keep making solid music after all these years, whether it’s their taste or not.

Why you mad, though?

As Common admitted on Shade 45 with Sway (see interview below), I also must say that Drake is a talented individual: not the best singer and not the best rapper, in my opinion, but he has a good ear for the contemporary and knows how to create what will sell.  That being said, if we’re talking superlatives, in terms of “best” and “greatest” in this here rap game, longevity rules.  The fact is, through all the faux sensitivity and crooning, Drake will never have the depth to make a “Retrospect For Life” or if we want to go back to Electric Circus, a “Come Close”.  Drake has yet to achieve anything close to Like Water For Chocolate, One Day It’ll All Make Sense, or a Be and frankly I don’t see it in the cards.  The depth is not there.  I’m almost mad that Common even addressed the supposed beef, as an MC of Common’s caliber “calling out” Drake is puzzling, to say the least.  While the younger set will say he’s “hating” or trying to get attention, it’s quite clear that Common is well aware his fans are cut from a different cloth than Drake fans and that  “Sweet” is the result of certain things needing to be called out in the game and it takes an artist with some history in the game to see it and point it out eloquently…or to just kick in the door and let folks know what’s what.

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Album Review :: The Dreamer/The Believer by Common

Though I’m a fan of Common, let’s be honest…the problem that has plagued his career and consideration among top MCs is his inconsistency.  Though it’s unrealistic to expect an artist to keep doing the same things for twenty years, a problem can arise when you stray so far into outer space that you lose your core audience (Electric Circus, anyone?).  Common is, however, an MC who will always be welcomed back warmly.  The Dreamer/The Believer marks a triumphant return for the Chi-town giant.  After two relatively (in this writer’s opinion) forgettable albums (Finding Forever and Universal Mind Control), Com is back to the balance and inspiration found on the stellar Be.  

Production was placed entirely in the very capable hands of No I.D., giving the album a sense of cohesion you don’t hear too much nowadays when guys are splurging for one or two tracks from a “hot” producer and delegate the rest to various unknowns, which can make for too many cooks in the kitchen spoiling the sauce.

 Common seemed to apply some of the formula used on Be to craft a well-rounded album with something for everybody.  While the conscious Common is of course present and accounted for, Com also brings some edge on certain joints that’s just hard enough without contradicting himself.  On “Sweet”, Com goes directly for soft rappers’ jugulars, which can be viewed as a shot at a few specific people if you decide to take it that way.  It could also be general commentary on the current state of mainstream hip-hop.  “Ghetto Dreams” boasts a Nas feature and dropped this past summer, which would have probably been a better time for this album to drop, judging by the summertime vibe I get from a lot of it.  “Raw (How You Like It)” is just dope rhymes and no pretense.

While the familiar boom-bap of hip-hop’s roots is there, Common is also known for making beautiful music with depth, such as classics like “Retrospect For Life” or “G.O.D. (Gaining One’s Definition)”.  That, to me, has always been the appeal of Common’s music: still being able to spit with edge when necessary but to also be able to show spirit and free thought and put positive energy into the music as well.  “The Believer” with John Legend serves up some Black pride for the masses, while “The Dreamer” is a work of art that features the legendary Maya Angelou finishing with some spoken word.  I could really go through every track pointing out the artistry, but I’ll just say the album is worth a listen of your own.  “Gold”, “Cloth”, “Lovin’ I Lost” and “Windows” all make for an album that can be played front to back without a thought to skipping.


I could even see the art in the one song I didn’t like, which was “Celebrate”.  My beef with it lies solely in its syrupy hook, which does an injustice to the soulful loop and keys reminiscent of a Naughty By Nature party joint, namely “Uptown Anthem”.  Regardless, between choruses, the block-party feel of the song is still well-accomplished.  Common’s father, Lonnie “Pops” Lynn appears on the final track “Pops’ Belief” to drop some jewels.  

In short, Common won.  So in addition to getting busy on the acting tip in AMC’s Hell On Wheels, Common may very well have dropped one of the top five albums of the year.  Common’s an MC that more up and coming MCs should study.  He’s not an artist who has had to pander to mainstream audiences and dumb his art down in order to receive recognition.  He has put the work in over time to perfect his craft to a point that the product can’t be ignored and, though there have been some minor missteps, few can real argue against the influence and relevance of Common in the rap game now and in the long term.  Respect due.

Video: “Sweet” x Common

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The Random Review

The new music’s been piling up, so I decided to include a few reviews in one post.  Look out for that Common The Dreamer/The Believer album review coming soon.  I’m also working hard to bring you all a recap of some of my favorite mixtapes and freEPs of 2011, so you can get your late-pass downloads in before the end of the year.  Peace.   

  • The Pilgrimage ◊ Cappadonna – Cappadonna has always been one of my favorite hip-hop oddities.  Definitely one of the most abstract of MCs of the Wu-Tang camp (and that’s saying a lot actually), Donna’s blend of NYC tough-talk and Five Percenter ideology is something that is an acquired taste for a rare group of fans to truly appreciate.  Cappadonna still holds it down solo, despite the noticeable absence of Ghostface and Raekwon and the sounds of RZA on the boards.   Worth a listen for Cappadonna fans, but I’m definitely missing the days when he was embedded deeper within the Wu ranks and we could expect at least one Rae or Ghost feature and/or RZA as executive producer because that chemistry would have made this album more memorable.  Standout Tracks: “Dart Imports”; “A-Alike, B-Alike, C-Alike”


  • Well Done ◊ Action Bronson & Statik Selektah – Nothing much to say about this except echoing the title: well done.  Action’s had a good year, from multiple features to the Dr. Lecter album that dropped earlier this year.  Underrated producer Statik Selektah provides the backdrop for Action’s 90’s-era wordplay and Kool G Rap influences, bringing something that’s so nostalgic it comes off completely fresh and new in this day and age.  Support this disc.  Standout Tracks: “Terror Death Camp” (f. Meyhem Lauren, Maffew Ragazino & Ag Da Coroner); “Keep Off The Grass”; “Central Bookings” (f. Meyhem Lauren)


  • Break Of Dawn ◊ Goapele – Goapele brings a different look to the table and also happens to have a great live show.  It’s almost unfair to pigeonhole her as “neo-soul” because if you just got the music without the image (she debuted with locks, then shaved it all off and now rocks a very chic braided style), you would probably just call it R&B as it should be.  The dopiest thing about Break Of Dawn and Goapele’s music in general is that it’s unapologetically feminine…no rappers guest starring or tracks designed to appeal to people who aren’t ready to hear some love songs.  We need more of that.  There’s definitely some filler, as with most albums, but overall it’s a solid album made for chill in’ with the significant other.  Standout Tracks: “Milk & Honey”; “Right Here”

 

  • Camp ◊ Childish Gambino – I sincerely wanted to like this album…I really did.  And upon first listen, I found it enjoyable, but as with a lot of artists, I listened closer to what he was saying in detail…and that’s when the ceiling fell in.  Childish Gambino, also known as actor Donald Glover (best known for his role in the TV show Community), has some serious issues that become all too apparent on Camp.  I was thoroughly impressed with tracks like “Bonfire” and “Backpackers”, even likening him to a poor man’s burgeoning Kanye West in terms of his emotive delivery and left-field POV, but upon further review I found there to be all too clear to me that Gambino has some rather off-putting identity issues.  While he spends half the album complaining about not being considered “Black enough” growing up or currently by critics, the other half is spent over-expressing his penchant for white and Asian women on a number of songs where it doesn’t even seem necessary.  Hmm…the Black women weren’t checking for you as a youth based on your “white boy” diction so this is your revenge?  Come on, bro, grow up a little.  Just when you think he’s on the verge of self-awareness, he plummets right back down into the depths of self-hate…or at least into the depths of grappling with the idea of “Blackness” and seeming to lose miserably.  I’ll come back to the music when he’s sorted this out.  No thanks for now.  Standout Tracks: “Backpackers”; “Bonfire”

  • A$AP Rocky ◊ LoveLifeASAP No, you can’t be serious.  I know I’m late to the party, but the model-infested kegger you guys have been hyping for months claiming to be the party of the century turned out to be a 13-year-old band geek’s birthday soiree.  Did he just refer to himself as a “pretty motherf*cker”?  Yeah, he did.  I’m outta here.  It’s not that I went into listening to this fully convinced that this would be the mixtape of the year or anything; I find that I’m often not as impressed with things as the masses are (see: The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, Lil B…we can go for another paragraph here).  I went into it assuming this would be at least listenable.  What I got was a juvenile rapper with a knack for totally abusing the hell out of some dope production…and not in a good way.  Standout Tracks: …naw, bruh.

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Album Review :: Undun x The Roots

You’ve got to prepare to listen to a Roots album.  Off top, you know this isn’t gonna be the kind of album you’re gonna mindlessly put on while you’re getting dressed for the club or keep in the background while you’re rolling joints with friends.  Nah, you’re going to have to invest some quality time and attention to The Roots’ work.  This didn’t change with Undun, the band’s latest offering, the 13th studio album since they hit the scene in the early 1990s.

Undun is a concept album designed to chronicle the life of a fictional character named Redford Stephens.  One must question the decision to create a concept album in 2011, the a la carte era of music, where most listeners will simply purchase the tracks that sound good to them on iTunes or listen to the tracks out of order on a streaming music service like Spotify or Grooveshark.  The likely response to this question would be to consider the fact that The Roots is aware that fans of the band are not “most listeners”.

Honestly, I wouldn’t know this album was a “concept” album if I hadn’t known before playing it.  Each track really stands on its own and there isn’t too much cohesion…but I mean that in a good way.  There are some beautiful instrumental tracks toward the end that almost sound like music you’d hear between segments on NPR.  Before that, you get The Roots as you know them.  The usual players like Dice Raw, Truck North and Greg Porn make appearances, as well as folks like Bilal Oliver, who blesses “The Otherside” with a familiar Baby Huey-esque wail that accentuates and doesn’t overbear.  Phonte spits with Black Thought and Dice over the plodding piano on “One Time”, a track that’s almost instantly likable.  The introspective “Make My” features Big K.R.I.T. first up on the mic, lending a southern flavor that blends seamlessly.  While many of the tracks stand on their own, the entire picture is drawn when one listens to it in order, even as the songs vary in texture and don’t immediately seem to go together until you get to the end.  I’ll admit to not “getting” the picture they’re trying to paint in its entirety, but this is the kind of multi-layered project I’ll enjoy breaking down on future listens.

Though the group has become more popular since becoming the house band on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, The Roots has not done too much to distance itself from its core audience who were listening to them as far back as 1996’s Illadelph Halflife or even 1993’s Organix!  The Roots’ journey is one to be admired and reminisced upon.  Whereas MCs used to be underground for years at a time before they saw the light of mainstream appeal, many now take the quick road to stardom and unfortunately sacrifice the quality of the music in the process.  The Roots are a rare treasure, as they’ve flipped the usual script by not changing too much, but biding their time until people decided to give them a listen.  They’re a testament to hard work paying off by putting the time in to make your music the way you want to make it just long enough for people to say “what’s so great about The Roots”…and being pleased that they took the chance and hipped themselves to it.  Better late than never.  

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