To commemorate my recent visit to Chicago, I decided to do my next Top Ten list on my favourite Windy City rappers: COMMON. (Besides, I already did a Top Ten on another one of Chicago's finest: KANYE WEST)
COMMON, formally known as Common Sense, may be considered a 'Conscious' rapper because his songs are usually about things other than drugs, guns, and sex. That being said, along with the more soulful, less club-ready beats behind his songs, it's a shame but not a surprise it took so long for the world to notice him. Thank God KANYE WEST is so popular.
COMMON has released nine albums in his career: Can I Borrow A Dollar? (1992), Resurrection (1994), One Day It'll All Make Sense (1997), Like Water For Chocolate (2000), Electric Circus (2002), Be (2005), Finding Forever (2007), Universal Mind Control (2008), and The Dreamer/The Believer (2011)
10. "Geto Heaven Remix T.S.O.I. (The Sound of Illadelph)" - album: Like Water For Chocolate (2000)
COMMON is a really soulful dude, tackling a pro-woman message here that is against the stream of the generally misogynist subject matter found in most hip-hop/rap music.
Love, your happiness don't begin with a man
Strong woman, why should you depend on a man
I understand you want a man that's resourceful
If he pay your bills, he fell like he bought you
The original "Geto Heaven" features D'ANGELO but MACY GRAY's raspy whisper works here too. T.S.O.I. (The Sound Of Illadelph) refers to the classic instrumental R&B track "TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia)" which is sampled for this beat.
9. "Faithful" - album: Be (2005)
Once again, COMMON deals with respect for women, about how fidelity of men over a KANYE beat.
I was rollin' around, in my mind it occurred
What if God was a her?
Would I treat her the same? Would I still be runnin' game on her?
In what type of ways would I want her?
The real treat in this song is the duet at the end where crooners BILAL and JOHN LEGEND almost compete in a gospel battle between their tenor and contratenor ranges.
8. "Ghetto Dreams" - album: The Dreamer/The Believer (2011)
Wow, this song is the polar opposite to the previous entries. Here, COMMON talks about a "ghetto n***a's dream" woman and proceeds to talk about stereotypical desirable traits you would find is such a person. What a beat though! NAS lays down a slick third verse to boot.
This the type of b***h that BIG said he would die for
It's the type that I'd ride or stay alive for
Tats on her back, looking all tribal
She knows shoes like she know survival
In an effort to teach all these new rappers a lesson, COMMON and NAS are going to release a duet album a la "Watch The Throne" called NAS.COM next year (BTW, I really like that album name).
7. "Resurrection" - album: Resurrection (1994)
Classic COMMON song with clever rhymes over an old school beat. Seriously, his rhymes are airtight throughout this song.
My style is too developed to be arrested
It's the free-style, so now it's out on parole
They tried to hold my soul in a holding cell so I would sell
I bonded with a break and had enough to make bail
I love the combination of COMMON and a laid back beat like in this song.
6. "The Light" - album: Like Water For Chocolate (2000)
This is the song that made me fall in love with COMMON (that's right, I said it). A sweet love letter of a song (again?!), rumored subject of "The Light" is ERYKAH BADU (who so happens to be in the video). She seems to be the alternative rapper's dream girl (look at ANDRE 3000 in "Ms. Jackson").
Few understand the union of woman and man
And sex and a tingle is where they assume that it lands
But that's fly by night for you and the sky I write
For in these cold Chi night's moon, you mu light
This was one of the first soul-sampled beats I've ever heard and it made me love the sound, hence, my attraction for KANYE and NO-ID produced songs.
5. "The Corner" - album: Be (2005)
Off his 2005 masterpiece album Be COMMON and KANYE were a match made in heaven. The lead single off the album had a slow but aggressive, almost tribal beat where COMMON preaches about the struggles of his fellow man in a slow but deliberate cadence.
The corner: where struggle and greed fight.
We write songs about wrong 'cause it's hard to see right.
Look to the sky, hoping it will bleed light.
Reality's a bitch and I heard that she bites
One can't help but to hang on his every word as you nod your head to beat.
4. "Invocation" - album: Like Water For Chocolate (2000)
One of my favorite beats ever(!) KANYE's mentor NO-ID really killed it with this one. Short but sweet, COMMON gives a wicked verse with a flow that perfectly accompanies the guitar laced music.
Envisioning the hereafter, listening to Steve Wonder
On a quest for love like the Proceed drummer
I strike like lightning and don't need thunder
Inhale imagination and breathe wonder
This song would be higher if it was longer because it always ends too quickly for me.
3. "Be" - album: Be (2005)
The title track to his prolific album, KANYE provides a splendid mix of strings and sampling to kick off the CD, may be the best intro to a rap album I've ever heard. This also may be KANYE's best beat ever, and that is saying something as he is one my favorite hip hop producers.
Explored the world to return to where my soul begun
Never looking back or too far in front of me
The present is a gift
And I just want to be
After 1:10, COMMON arrives fashionably late to the track and delivers a perfect verse. I wish this song was longer than 2:24 long.
2. "The 6th Sense" - album: Like Water For Chocolate (2000)
From the absolute king of "old-school" beats, DJ PREMIER created a classic of a jam and COMMON certainly stood up to the challenge with his flawless flow.
Some say I'm too deep, I'm in too deep to sleep
Through me, Muhammad will forever speak
Greet brothers with handshakes in ghetto landscapes
Where a man is determined by how much a man make
This is what "alternative hip hop" should sound like.
1. "I Used To Love H.E.R." - album: Resurrection (1994)
This is the song that separates COMMON from the chaff of hip hop. Unlike other rappers who claim to love things associated with hip hop such as the money, the gangster lifestyle, the women, COMMON goes further and says he's in love with "hip hop" itself.
I met this girl, when I was ten years old
And what I loved most she had do much soul
She was old school, when I was just a shorty
Never knew throughout my life she would be there for me
A 4:39 long metaphor, COMMON masks this song as a love song, describing his object of desire as an interesting and evolving woman but it isn't until the very last line that he reveals he's really been talking about "hip hop" this whole time. COMMON is a true maestro behind the mic and this is one of the greatest hip hop songs of all time (it's certainly a candidate at least). Even though hip hop was created in New York City, it took a young rapper from south side Chicago to write its greatest love letter.
Like a lot of rappers out there, COMMON has naturally tried on his acting hat but unlike a lot of this rappers, he is actually pretty good and has had a pretty extensive career (the exceptions being MOS DEF, LL COOL J and LUDACRIS. ICE CUBE doesn't count because I'm talking about good actors).
Girlfriends (2003) (TV Series) - Omar
One on One (2004) (TV Series) - Darius
Smokin' Aces (2006) - Sir Ivy
American Gangster (2007) - Turner Lucas
Street Kings (2008) - Coates
Wanted (2008) - The Gunsmith
Terminator Salvation (2009) - Barnes
Date Night (2010) - Collins
Just Wright (2010) - Scott McKnight
Single Ladies (2011) (TV Series) - Mayor Howard
Happy Feet Two (2011) - Seymour (voice)
New Year's Eve (2011) - Soldier
LUV (2012) - Uncle Vincent
The Old Life of Timothy Green (2012) - Coach Cal
Hell On Wheels (2011-present) - Elam Ferguson