Thursday, August 16, 2007

Extended Play: Who Says America Doesn't Have Common Sense?

My newest internet relationship, wait my only one, is with Doodlebug, who I met through She is lucky enough to be receiving Common at a festival in her native Poland, but asked for a playlist so she could be more familiar. In celebration of him having his first #1 album, I thought I would include my personalized liner notes. I really have too much time on my hands.

1) "I Used To Love H.E.R." (Resurrection) - Before he got all big with his more romantic offerings and Kanye productions, this was Common's most popular song. It still is regarded as one of the best hip-hop singles in history. This song came out in 1994 and is basically an opus over his love affair with hip-hop music. The laments he made about its state at that point actually ruffled a few feathers. Because of some misinterpretation he ended up in a beef with Ice Cube. It's a touchpoint for his career and he references the song in a couple of the other choices in this playlist

2) In My Own World (Check the Method) (Resurrection) - Resurrection didn't produce hits other than "H.E.R." It was mostly just a great cohesive album, maybe still his best. It served as justification for all the hype he received after he was mentioned in the Unsigned Hype column of the Source magazine, which at that point was a big deal. Biggie was also in that column. Common is probably the 2nd most popular name to come out of it. This track features No I.D. on the first verse and that was his producer for the first three albums and he was pretty decent by underground standards. You might recognize the sample cause Kanye references it in his first verse of "Jesus Walks"

3) Maintaining (Resurrection) - One of my favorites. I could have chose "Thisisme" but this one is more playful and we don't always have to be somber. Amazing wordplay . Just a young guy having fun.

4) De La Soul ft. Common - The Bizness - This was probably my first introduction to him because I got into De la due to the Tribe Called Quest. You can tell the whole song is just an exercise in emceeing but Common kind of steals the show just cause of his cadence and punchlines. This is one of the songs where he references #1: "I used to love her, but now I bone her"

5) Retrospective For Life ft. Lauryn Hill (One Day It'll All Make Sense) - This is a great album and randomly enough someone actually went through the trouble of making an alternative playlist for the album on a forum I was on years back. And the alternate playlist does make the album better. But this was his ploy to move off the momentum of Resurrrection. So he signed up Lauryn who was still in her Fugees days and still in the highest esteem. It's an excellent track that's a message to the child he aborted, based on a Stevie Wonder sample that Lauryn copped. Didi. Lauryn produced it as well.

6) Blackstar ft. Common - Respiration - You could not be a fan of underground hip-hop in the late 90s and not at least know this song, if not love it. Off of Blackstar's only album, this is a clinic in emceeing. Mos Def, Kweli, and Common all do their darndest with the city as the backdrop of their rhymes.

7) The Roots ft. Common - Act Too (Love Of My Life) - This is a track off the Roots breakthrough album Things Fall Apart. This serves as an unofficial sequel to "H.E.R ." where Common gives an update on the state of affairs he described in the original. The difference is that his skill has gotten better since this came out five years later. Also, he makes reference to those he takes issue with, but still in a respectful way. To dissect the many references he makes in the rhyme, to himself and others, could take another e-mail. But it just shows his versatility and creativity.

8) Common ft. Sadat X - 1-9-9-9 - This is the third of four straight songs of his free agent period. The Lauryn collabo did not bring in the sales his record company had hoped for and they severed ties. He made this song and it became an underground hit. Everyone thought he had signed to Rawkus, who released the single, and it made sense cause then Rawkus' phoenix was rising. It turned out it was just the lead single to their Soundbombing II compilation, a classic in its own right. But over the Hi-Tek track, we get more of the introspective and amazingly poetic Common. The metaphors and similes are in full display on this track. "Hold the mic like a memory"

9) Pharoahe Monch ft. Common & Talib Kweli - The Truth - The last of the free agent tracks before his own album on MCA. This was also a Rawkus release, part of a year long period that included the Soundbombing II compilation, Mos Def's first solo album, and Reflection Eternal (Talib Kweli & Hi-Tek). Another introspective clinic this time based on their interpretations of the truth. On his verse, Common meditates on his own struggles, a lot based in religion. And he does it all so well jumping from word to word.

10) The Sixth Sense ft. Bilal (Like Water For Chocolate) - The first single from his major label debut. This is one of 3 tracks that Bilal appears on and the beginning of a reciprocity that continues to his latest release. Common also loves to have live singers for his hooks and on this album alone Bilal, Jill Scott, D'Angelo, and Cee-Lo appear. Since then he's had Erykah Badu, Mary J. Blige, John Mayer, Macy Gray, Mya, John Legend, and even Lily Allen. This is the only track on the album that is not produced by the Soulquarian collective which included ?uestlove, D'Angelo, keyboardist James Poyser, and most importantly Jay Dee. Jay Dee carries most of the album but this DJ Premier track was a good choice to be a single for a breakthrough. It was a hard charging Common still being real but the beat was the most conventionally acceptable since Premier is respected in underground and commercial circles. I mean he has done Christina Aguilera. By the end you are agreeing with whatever he's saying because the mix of lyrics, beat, and Bilal's voice rouses something in your spirit.

11) The Light (Like Water For Chocolate) - This is his most soulful album and this song is the perfect example. As I said Jay Dee carried most of the album and this might be his legacy. The song is so deep that I wrote a whole blog about it. Simply put, he freaked an amazing Bobby Caldwell song and made the official b-boy love letter song. This might be the official hip-hop love anthem.

12) The Questions ft. Mos Def (Like Water For Chocoate) - Often derided in the reviews, I think a lot of people over-thought this track. Common and Mos Def don't display lyrical gymnastics, but just simply ask silly and introspective questions in rhyme form. I mean "Why do I need ID to get ID/If I had ID I wouldn't need ID" aren't going down as their strongest ever but wasn't rap started with rhymes about running out and getting Kaopectate after a bad meal? Relax a little.

13) Bilal ft. Mos Def & Common - Reminisce - Here is the reciprocity I was talking about. Jay Dee helms this beat as well as the three artists take their turns reminiscing about some love now gone. Common always manages to share something about himself even when he is at his most clever. His character comes through somehow even as he tells a pretty coherent story

14) Common ft. Jill Scott - 8 Minutes To Sunrise - Another narrative song, this time more in line with its inclusion on the Wild Wild West soundtrack. Common puts down a lyrical storyboard. It might have been a more enjoyable experience than the movie. Yeah it is actually.

15) Common - Tekzilla - By now, he was known. had gone gold based largely on "The Light" which became a love anthem for the bohemian set. But the hard driving Common never disappears and he scratches his underground itch on this track. This track was originally intended for Hi-Tek's first solo offering but they never cleared the sample. It was replaced by the decent "The Sun God" which features Common and Vinia Mojica. But I would take the imposing Common found on this record over the brightness found on the "Sun." Another narrative, this time with no hook, as he drops an unending string of bars. The other itch he scratches is one that has confused some writers. This song involves Common getting violent kind of like "Sunrise." Like Water For ChocolateSense and Like Water both include tracks where Common is out getting himself in scuffles, though each case seems like an act of self defense and/or honor/

16) Come Close (Electric Circus) - This was the single where Common seemed to be pandering to commercialism the most. The hook is sung by labelmate Mary J. Blige. The Neptunes helmed the beat, in their rise to their temporary dominance of the charts. It is obviously an attempt to replicate the success of "The Light" but its so obvious it received a backlash. The whole album is an experiment. Prince and P.O.D. are among the guests. It did not do that well. But this song on its own merits isn't half bad. You just can't judge it against its past.

17) I Am Music ft. Jill Scott (Electric Circus) - A Jay Dee helmed beat that provides a festive atmosphere for Commons personification of music. Really just an appreciative track but Common uses his allegorical powers to the fullest. It's a fun track.

18) Common ft. Erykah Badu, Pharrell, & Q-Tip - Come Close (Jay Dee Remix) - A proper sequel to "The Light" since this one actually features a Jay Dee beat like the original. Pharrell shifts from the producer's chair to the mic and doesn't do too badly. His aspirations were more under the radar then. But the beat bumps. Common sounds more comfortable and charming.

19) Erykah Badu ft. Common - Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop) - This might be the end of the "H.E.R." suite. Off the soundtrack for the movie Brown Sugar, his verse sounds like he's come to peace with hip-hop, a restless item he loves but will never match his ideals. It sounds like true love, recognizing the inherent deficiencies but appreciating the total package more fully. From "I used to.." to "Love of my life." Yeah I know it's not that deep.

20) Kanye West ft. Talib Kweli & Common - Get Em High - Will this single be the official beginning of Common's Kanye period when we look back historically. Most likely. He has the last position, but in track relays your strongest runner goes last. Common steals it.

21) The Corner (BE) - The love song as single, or at least the first one, was history. This album marked the changed. Jay Dee was now limited to two songs. Kanye took over the rest. And Common does well. He sounds his most fresh throughout the rest. And though the lyrics are still there, a little something is missing. The hunger and frenzy of his youth is diminished. But it's still phenomenal music cause he makes up for it with how much he has garnered over that span.

22) Go (BE) - With maturity, the love song moves down its natural progression. On Electric Circus the Prince & Cee-Lo collabo is more sexual in nature. With "Go", he calls on John Mayer to give him the version with allusions for the aware and clean enough for the radio.

23) Testify (BE) - The narrative that has been established firmly in his artillery, now updated Kanye style. I think this is the one song that surprised me the most. Kanye does an amazing beat and in the shortest period we hear a full story that was a pretty captivating video. Hell it could have been a movie. You always wish that he extrapolated the story cause its so short. But its probably perfect as is.

24) The People ft. Dwele (Finding Forever) - This is the first album where Jay Dee has not been alive. He still finds a production on here but it was something that was pieced together, a lot after he died. Kanye though, has reverence for Jay Dee and in interviews said that he tried to produce this album with his spirit. This track, down to the inclusion of Dilla fave Dwele, is the closest approximation someone could have come up with originally. It is really an amazing song and once again the get up and go Common that everybody loves.

25) The Game (Finding Forever) - Kanye does a more brooding track here and Common trades the light introspection with a hint of passion on this track. It sounds reminiscent of a 80s hip-hop track, like Run DMC or Schooly D would rock. The whole 80s thing kind of makes sense looking at how Kanye might be trying to bring back New Wave singlehandedly. It's a hot track though.

Bonus Track - A Tribe Called Quest ft. Common - The Remedy - This is from the Get On The Bus Soundtrack, a movie based on the Million Man March. Since it was such a black empowerment affair, the music buys into that spirit. Common gets his most passionate when he's talking about his family, his hometown, and his people. When I got his autograph, a white kid went in front of me. The white kid got a quick handshake and a signature. I got a more elaborate handshake, where he clasped my hand and my signature also had a two word message. I think he's accepted white people listen to him and he's even cool with them. But he's all about the black stuff. This is some of his manifesto.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

No Bluetooth Here: Survey Says

Even though the Devil is the master behind MySpace, sadly I have recently reawakened it as a huilty pleasure. The most delightful experience of my subservient decadence is reading the surveys various people post as bulletins. As crazy as it may seem, I love learning people's stories. It's why I am a sucker for cheesy sports profiles and captivating documentaries. I can actually watch PBS. Sometimes though, the really clever ones inspire me, sparking a desire to be clever and witty. I know most of the audience doesn't get my stuff. Sometimes I realize only I enjoy it. But I don't want to be on MySpace right now. So I'll do the survey right here.

The point of the survey is to go and put your music player on shuffle and see what happens. Now it is not specific. Should I shuffle my entire library? Or is it the item I am currently playing? Do I get to pick a playlist? I'm choosing the most latter. My whole library might yield answers like "1844 Overture" and my current playlist too narrowly themed to yield consistent answers. The playlist is the Ultimate Playlist, a collection of five star songs.

1. How are you feeling today?
Midnight (
A Tribe Called Quest )
Umm does it count that I'm starting this at 23:47 Eastern Daylight Time?

2. Will you get far in life?
4 Ever (Lil' Mo)
Okay it could mean that I'll go far forever or it could mean the farthest I get is marriage, which I admit would be kind of nice to be in.

3. How do your friends see you?
No I Ain't Gangsta (
Loon ft. Jamie Foxx)
So appropriate.

4. Will you get married?
Ante Up (Remix) (
M.O.P. ft. Busta Rhymes, Remy Martin, & Teflon)
Is this a reference to a phrase I'll hear from future wife, children, and various invoicing agents?

5. What is your life's theme song?
Back Up Offa Me
(Talib Kweli)
Yeah. What he said.

6. What is the story of your life?
The Rhyme (Jay Dee Remix) (
Keith Murray)
I'm just as confused as you

7. What was/is high school like?
Open Your Eyes (Bobby Caldwell)

8. How can you get ahead in life?
Losing My Way (Justin Timberlake)
Maybe I should go on a trip. Maybe I should be a travel writer.

9. What is tomorrow going to be like?
Star (The Roots)
Sounds promising.

10. What is the best thing about your friends?
Water (The Roots_
I guess this could mean they are essential and without them I would die.

11. What is in store for the next weekend?
Give In (
4Hero ft. Darien Brockington & Phonte)
I am so into giving into a weekend

12. What song best describes you?
If Its Lovin That U Want (Rihanna ft. Corey Gunz)
That is so on point except lets replace "boy" for everytime Rihanna says "girl"

13. How is your life going?
Stay With Me (Platinum Pied Pipers ft. Tiombe Lockhart)
Uhh yeah well the song is kind of fast paced and bubbly

14. What song will play at your funeral?
Number One (John Legend)
A playful song about cheating but I'd like to focus on the title

15. How does the world see you?
All N My Grill (Missy Elliott ft. Nicole Wray & Big Boi or MC Solaar, depending on jurisdiction)
Am I really that confrontational? And here I thought I needed to turn up the aggressivenees.

16. Will you have a happy life?
What You Want (The Roots ft. Jaguar)
I guess since it is what I want I will have it

17. What do your friends really think of you?
Chanel No. Fever (De La Soul)
I think this is meant to mean that I am hot. I have smart friends. Though I remain humble.

18. What song describes the person you're attracted to?
Soul Rebels (Reflection Eternal ft. De la Soul)
Rebels to the system that love themselves. Sounds earthy and backpacky to me. And yes I am kind of attracted to that type. Such a prescient shuffle.

19. What message would you like to tell the next generation?
I Can Love You (Mary J. Blige ft. Lil' Kim)
Yes. Yes I can.

20. Do you have a deep dark secret?
Funky For You (Common ft. Bilal & Jill Scott)
Exactly. I mean, What?

21. How can I make myself happy?
Hot Damn (Clipse ft. Ab-Liva, Pharrell, Roscoe P. Coldchain)

22. Will I ever have children?
Thisisme (Common Sense)
It is in me to bear and raise children. The shuffle has spoken!

23. What's some good advice for me?
Push Up Ya Lighter (The Roots ft. Bahamadia)
God strike me down if I manipulated the shuffle. I mean after some of the other answers don't you think I would have done that already.

24. How will I be remembered?
Heard 'Em Say (Kanye West ft. Adam Levine)
My wise words might actually be remembered. Or my wit. Or just maybe I will continually derided for overwrought stories and unnecessary dramatics. Or just my superfluous style of writing.

25. What is my signature dance song?
60 Bar Dash Freestyle (Sean Price)
Well it makes no sense. But if you listen it's got a good tempo and he speaks of a world I could my id would reside if it were actually a person.

That was a little fun. I need a life.
Now playing: Thicke - I'm A Be Alright

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

No Bluetooth Here: Modern One Named Divas

(You ever think someone was walking down the street talking to themselves till you realized that they had on a bluetooth earpiece? Okay right now imagine there is no earpiece. So then I am talking to myself. Get the idea? Really random ideas that come to my head for no reason whatsoever. Maybe if I write them down they will stop plaguing me.)

Banana was especially active in her musical choices on the way home. Usually she is content to listen to whatever CD was in the last time she was in the car. Or she just changes to the radio. Tonight though. She changed the CD, not once, but twice during our ride home. Initially she realized the Alicia Keys she put in was not the Unplugged version, but rather her rather good second album. Though she was feeling "You Don't Know My Name" she still switched because it was "Unbreakable" she was craving. Then it was the live version of "Diary" that was moving us. And just as Common and Mos joined her on stage, Banana abruptly said that she had the perfect closing song for our journey. Though we were only two turns from home, she said we had to listen to it until it was complete.

The song was actually "Real Compared To What", a track originally commissioned for a Coca-Cola ad campaign. A Soulquarian rework of a jazz classic, ?uestlove & James Poyser set up a rollicking affair for Mya & Common to vibe over. It's really energetic, maybe one of the best not heard songs ever that people might have actually wanted you to hear. If that made any sense.

It occurred to me though that Mya along with many of her compatriots in the R& B field have owe much homage and gratitude to one individual: Aaliyah. When Missy and Timbaland used to shout her out in every track they touched in that year or so after her death, I thought they were overdoing it. Even me, whose eyes got wet when I read the account of her death and developed a mini-sermon based on the tragedy for a worship I once ran, regarded the tributes as tedious after some time. But now it seems we have easily forgotten.

Since rhythm & blues has been recognized as a genre of popular music, the diva has been an important figure in its development and representation. Arguably, it is the most translatable figure from the genre. To some degree, there is universal recognition of the power of the R & B diva. The vocal stylings translate even to the background singers of aging rock groups like the Rolling Stones and the Police. Historically, a diva earned the right to only be called by one name after so many years of consistent performance coupled with an amazing voice. Aretha. Tina. Whitney. Even Mariah has joined that echelon.

But in the 1990s, as hip-hop started to spread its reach and incorporated itself more and more into other genres, R & B was affected the most. The simpler production methods found their way to the singers and so the music was less creative. The producer grew more prominent and the voice of the artist just became another element of his or her aural landscape. Aaliyah was the epitome of this blueprint.

Her biggest talent was probably the desire to perform. She worked her family connections, her sweet face, and great dance moves into a pretty lucrative career, though too short. Her voice was always light, but she was always able to wring enough emotion out of her notes, but she never over did it. Instead of the song weighing totally on vocal merits, now all she had to do was not mess up. The pressure to make something of the production was off the singer now.

She worked it perfectly. Here first Svengali was one R. Kelly who penned the ominously foreboding "Age Ain't Nothin' But A Number" and "Back & Forth." She achieved pretty good success, this girl in gangsta gear who never showed her left eye. When she really hit it big, it was with Timbaland and Missy, who were then unknown. In Timbaland's intricate jungle of sound, Aaliyah's voice was a merely a bird humming a melody against the digital crickets, baby cries, waterfalls that were just as prevalent. Her voice was perfect to capture the wisdom and honesty of Missy's sweet hearted melodies and simplistic yet magnetic lyrics. And she used that beauty to her advantage, growing into an astute steward of her sexuality, giving just enough and never seeming trashy.

With success, duplication is always attempted and rarely achieved. Over time, we have been given a plethora of artists following her blueprint. Brandy achieved some success. Mya did well there for a bit. Amerie. Now Rihanna and Ciara keep the baton going. And as much as I respect her entertaining drive, Beyonce too. Each of these artists possess attractive enough bodies and faces, display loads of energy when necessary, and won't really be remembered for their voices (Yeah and kids just cause Beyonce likes to do runs doesn't mean she can sing. Melismas do not make the the singer alone. Hers aren't even that phenomenal).

Notice the ones that actually have some sort of vocal talent actually come out with both names. Its almost like they dare you to look them up in later years while the Mondis (Modern One Named Divas) hope to get lost in the milieu later when their hits have run dry. Mary J. Blige. Faith Evans. Lauryn Hill. Christina Aguliera. Keyshia Cole. And I'm not saying they all have reached or will reach that echelon (Mary's in; Christina has a shot and I'm pulling for Keyshia) but at least they have a little more going for them. (And I did not include the more soul end of the spectrum like Jill Scott but I was thinking of the more conventional more mainstream R & B as opposed to the more soulful versions. She still has two names though. And so does Angie Stone and Erykah Badu and Amel Larrieux)

Funny correlation right. I know there are exceptions. Monica had talent and squandered it somewhere. And there is no way that Britney Spears is close to having a voice. If you made Aaliyah white, gave her breast implants, and gave her questionable decision making skills, you would receive Ms. Spears. I also want to make it clear that I still like their music. When I first heard "Oh" I played it 7 times in a row. Just pointing something out.

Okay. Now I do my best to induce slumber and stop scaring myself.