Like Water For Chocolate
Common is self-conscious with a conscience, ignoring today’s rap paradigm of slang-heavy street tales, big pimpin’, and bling-blinging accounts of outrageous fortune, in favor of a straight-talking narrative that eloquently chronicles the bleak environment of urban America, the black struggle against injustice, and the complexity of emotion in a tangible, down-to-earth fashion that sidles along a perfect political/cerebral rap equilibrium: less preachy than Dead Prez, less wrapped in symbolism than Public Enemy, and less passive than Spearhead.
With the warm, yet gritty flow of Pete Rock and the poetic wordplay of KRS-One, Common deftly raps mind-elevating yarns. The apologetic and artful pining-for-love song, “The Light,” speaks volumes about rap music’s misogynist tendencies, the cheeky and descriptive “Payback is a Grandmother” has Common switching up today’s gangsta-glorification of stealing by having the listener empathize for his robbed grandma before Common attempts (AND courageously shows the ramifications of) lyrical revenge, and “A Song for Assata,” a tribute to a Black Panther Assata Shakur, details the horrors of police brutality and masterfully recounts and supports the fight against oppression (“She discovered freedom is an unspoken sound/And a wall is a wall that can be broken down”). This is all given an undeniably human feel due to Common’s deprecating humor (“I went from bashful, to asshole, to international”) and self-consciously wrapping his powerful words in a mask of distortion and reverb. Like Water For Chocolate reads like the “High End Theory,” a modern jazz-rap romp to elevate minds through experimentation both lyrically and sonically. Unlike Common’s obvious jazz-hop influences, Guru and A Tribe Called Quest (“The Questions,” featuring Mos Def and the dearly-missed Monie Love, reads like a note-for-note rewrite of “Bonita Applebum”), Common and his producers, the Soulquarians (whose members include D’Angelo and ?uestlove of the Roots), focus on the various ebbs and flows of long passages of music instead of reconstructing tiny breaks. A soul music influence appends gorgeous harmonies, sultry organ, and solid backbeats, resulting in a funky accompaniment that audaciously steals the spotlight from one of the year’s most dangerously intelligent state-of-the-hip-hop-nation addresses.
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