Wednesday, August 8, 2007
The Questions: If the Revolution Won't Be Televised, Then Why Are You Making Videos?
So, according to SOHH Common has finally received a long overdue number one spot on the charts with his new album Finding Forever. Yeah I think that title sucks too, and I'm gonna celebrate by explaining why I won't be purchasing it.
Before I write this post let me disclose some information about myself. I used to be, and still am a bit, one of those people who automatically liked music less when it was very popular. Over the years I've come to recognize that popularity and artistic quality really have no relationship whatsoever, not an inverse one. So when Common came out with Be I was just plain excited that he was finally going to be getting the attention he deserved, I wasn't even a little mad about it being popular.
Then I listened to it.
In 9th grade (a time I generally try to avoid remembering) a friend gave me De La Soul's Stakes Is High which was the first rap album I ever really loved. The only rap I had really listened to before that was the Black Eyed Peas, and while I still kinda get a kick outta those first two albums we are NOT discussing them any further. Point is, there was this incredible emcee on track 3, "The Bizness" named Common who simply fucking ruled. When he dropped an album the following year, Like Water for Chocolate, my best friend bought it and we listened to it like crazy. After not too long I copped it myself, as well as Resurrection and shortly thereafter One Day It'll All Make Sense. I learned a lesson that many people had known long before me: Common is GOOOOOOOOOD.
When Electric Circus dropped, I was hyped. But here's the thing: unlike most people, I actually LIKED Electric Circus. To this day I feel it is extremely underrated. Yes it was too experimental, yes it was indulgent, and yes it didn't have enough good songs. But I was still feeling a lot of it, and personally I appreciated (though maybe didn't always like) ?uestlove and J Dilla's attempt to really challenge the norms of production. Not to mention, lyrically, Common reached a whole new level, despite the fact that this album had a lot less lyrics than his previous. The track "Between Me, You & Liberation" is one of the most amazing hip hop tracks I've ever heard; it contains three verses: one dealing with a girlfriend confessing to having been raped, one about pulling life support on a dying family member, and one about his best friend coming out of the closet to him. I've heard few tracks that compare to it.
Then comes along Be. Suddenly, J Dilla, who had production credits on almost every track from Common's last couple albums, is barely present, replaced by Kanye West. I'm going to get into this in a later posting, for now that's all I'll say. That worried me of course, because while I think Mr. West is a fantastic producer, it said to me that Common was trying to push Be as his breakthrough album into true rap popularity. TRL and the whole kit and kaboodle you know? That in itself didn't bother me so much, the guy deserved the fame and the money that more popular rappers had. But, as I said earlier, then I listened to it.
To me, Be was a slap in the face to long time Common fans. Kanye delivered cheesy production that SCREAMED it was trying to be "positive rap" and Common himself delivered some of the corniest verses I'd ever heard him spit. Be came off as an attempt to recycle every decent song he had previously made and repackage it for a new, younger audience. I think it's safe to say that there's probably not a single line on that album that he hadn't already said better on a previous one. Check out the lyrics for the intro track on Be and then check out "The Sixth Sense" from Like Water for Chocolate and tell me Common isn't just recycling old rhymes. It felt like a 'fuck you' to all his fans. He didn't care that we had already heard this shit, that he wasn't saying or doing anything even remotely new. What he cared about was delivering his music, actually I should say delivering his PERSONA, to an audience that had previously dismissed him as unworthy. Be was like Positive Rap: 101, for teens!
My opinion of him continued to decline when one of my best friends and I had the opportunity to meet and actually chill with him for a night. My friend, who you may know as dnA from Too Sense, and I both worked at a summer program for inner city kids, urban youth, or whatever term I'm supposed to use to cover up that it was primarily poor black kids. The program director knew Common, and he did a fundraising concert for us, which in itself is pretty awesome of him. However, in person he was completely full of himself, convinced that every one of the kids and people there should be hanging on to every word he said. When he talked with the kids, he never seemed to be listening to them, just impressed with himself for being there. We were trying to raise money to perform a musical in Senegal, but for some reason he kept talking about how great it was that the kids wanted to "help Africans." That wasn't the damn purpose of the trip, in fact the ones who were really being helped were the kids right in front of him, the trip was for THEM. He then proceeded to perform for about TWENTY FIVE MINUTES. That's right folks, he performed all of 4 songs. All of the tracks were of course from Be and while Common is definitely a good performer it was a total let down. The people who had bought tickets looked like they might riot. He then disappeared as quickly as possible.
So I've written all this to say simply: Common has let me down. I want Finding Forever to be good, I really do. But, I've listened to the album, been bombarded with the singles, and am so far utterly disappointed. I leave you with this video single The Game produced by the god-like DJ Premier off of Common's new album. It features Common repeating the mantra "Raised by game, where brothers ain't phased by fame." Yes in the actual verse it has a slightly different, and I'd argue better thought out, meaning. But as Common repeats this mantra I can't think but how ridiculous it is for him to be saying it. Almost as ridiculous as how LITTLE the second half of this music video fits to the music (seriously, those people are NOT rocking out to THIS track). Also, while I like his criticism of "My Super Sweet 16" on the track, it's hardly edgy and guess who's video they're playing right after the shows done airing?
The Questions is going to be a periodic feature on the site in which I bitch about stuff that confuses and infuriates me (such as your concept of wuv).