Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Sliver: Common - The Light

In my efforts to make myself more motivated to make moves with this manuscript (did you appreciate the alliteration), I keep coming up with crazy concepts for my blog as if someone actually read it. The better to serve my ego. And maybe interest someone in Acccra. Inspired by a Jeopardy answer (or rather question), I intend Sliver to be a series that extrapolates on a single piece of a greater whole. I thought of using the name Exegesis, because that is what theologians do in reference to the Bible. But that is more about finding the true meaning behind scriptures. I'm not exactly trying to find meaning, just pointing out why something is hot on a bunch of levels. Whether it is a track off an album or a scene from a movie, it will be an in depth thing that's very small. The longest I can see it being is a suite of songs, maybe 4 or 5 if they're related somehoww. No more than that though.

For the first installment, I offer a study of The Light by Common. I know of three official versions to commercially available by at least vinyl: the original from the album Like Water For Chocolate, the remix featuring Erykah Badu, and the live version recorded with Erykah Badu and Bilal at Dave Chappelle's Block Party. The original and remix were produced by the late J Dilla then still rolling with the moniker of Jay Dee. The remix was a more slowed down adult contemporary version that was good in its own rights. The live version was a festive affair that turns into a funk jam with Bilal expertly wailing all over the scales with an expert band led by ?uestlove and James Poyser.

But the original is the launching pad for it all. Actually the second single from the album, it was the song that vaulted the Chicago bred emcee into gold selling status for the first time in his career. He was always known amongst the hip-hop cognoscenti as one of the best, but until this song, it had not translated into commercial success. But a respectful and playful love ballad proved to be his ticket. After a slight departure in Electric Circus, he has linked up with Kanye and is now platinum. The Light is still his most popular song. It's evident at each concert when the crowd loses its mind. Even the thug can spit those words and feel good about them, without feeling like the sappy cornball he really is.

Like most of Common's lyrics, they are as thoughtful as they are clever as he lets us in on a letter to his beloved. In his intonations and even word choices ("ticky ta ticky ta ticky ta ta ta") we are in tune with the letter as the pen hits the ink. Another big appeal for this song was the adult content that Common deals with in a respectful and honest way. He lays out his hopes and ideas about love, while also acknowledging the sexual tension that naturally develops. Yet, he is never crude in all his honesty of their passion. He also evokes a need for a work ethic and faith in Divinity ("Close to the Most High"). Throughout, his rhythm is so good, you could nod your head to his flow alone.

However, it must have been influenced by the amazing beat laid down by Dilla. As always an amazing driving bass lines and unbelievable alive snares accompany a piano based sample of Bobby Caldwell's Open Your Eyes. The true beauty comes when you listen to the Caldwell. The hook in Common's version is really a spliced up version of the second verse. When Common rocks his verses, he is actually rocking over the original version's driving piano hook. Most producers leave the hook from the original and make that the hook in the sample but the reversal is so subtly clever. Also in the original's hook, Caldwell sings "let me show you the light." In this way, since this piece is actually the foundation for each verse, you also realize the light is being shown in each verse. And to conclude, he somehow makes a coherent signature with the remaining unused parts of the second verse he uses for Common's hook. It really is magnificent.

So I know that was a raving mess, but man that's what that song can do, especially when you see how deep Dilla freaked it. I hoped you enjoyed the first installment. I'm sure I'll go raving mad on another song in like two minutes.

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