Tuesday May 22, 2018

Jesal's Artist of the Decade Series - Common
Posted by Steve Juon at Tuesday, July 28th, 2009 at 12:00AM :: Email this article :: Print this article

RapReviews.com "Artist of the Decade"
by Jesal 'Jay Soul' Padania

I have, realising that this decade is nearly up, decided to start a series of special features. The aim is simple: to find out precisely who the "RapReviews.com Artist of the Decade" is. And reward them, of course. Expect everyone else to follow our lead.

Why start the process so early? Well, there is an awful lot to get through. We won't just limit it to the Artist. There will be Album, Producer, Song, Live Act... And that is just the RapReviews staff. We will also have an open public vote like last year – except a LOT bigger this time.

Whilst some will always complain that it won't compare to the 1990's, this has still been a very busy decade. It started off in a blaze of glory for The Neptunes, who dominated the charts in a near-Motown fashion. Then came the Nas/Jay-Z beef, which also ushered in the production careers of Kanye West and Just Blaze. Outkast went crazy, and went diamond. 50 Cent translated his mixtape success into astonishing sales figures and a run of hits that is practically unrivalled in rap. Kanye then launched his assault on the throne with a sequence of LP's that would impress almost anyone. Last year, Lil Wayne took his messiah persona and made history once more, whilst practically tearing up the rulebook. This is all without mentioning 99% of the rappers out there, plus the highest-selling hip hop MC of all time, Eminem.

But, dear Reader, establishing ONE artist/group/album that defines the decade, that DESERVES the crown, that we will look back on in years to come and think, "Yeah, that was a worthy choice..." – this is going to be a difficult process. It could even hinge on an album released before the end of 2009. Imagine if "Before I Self-Destruct" has five mega-hit singles and is a stonewall classic. Imagine that the "Blueprint 3" is as good as the original one! Imagine that "Relapse 2" is another "Marshall Mathers LP" or that Kanye completes his "College..." sequence in stunning style. Hell, what if Nas did an entire album full of J Dilla beats and called it "Dillmatic" or something? Imagine that...

This was the opening decade of a roller-coaster 21st century. I am the proudest of Brits, but without doubt, America has been turned upon its head, the epicentre of global drama. The highest-selling rapper was white, traditionally Caucasian sports such as golf and tennis have been dominated by black athletes and, most astonishingly of all, there is a Black President in the White House. Some of my closest family friends had their house swept away in the Hurricane Katrina tragedy, whilst the then-President Bush did nothing. You might think those to be clichés, but this is a decade that our children will ask us about. "Really, Dad? You remember 9/11? You were out in the streets celebrating Obama's victory? Where were you when Michael Jackson died? What the hell is an iPod? What music did you listen to back then?"

When they ask that final question, you had better be prepared.

Artist of the Decade - Common

It all started so well for Common. His decade begins with an absolute classic – "Like Water For Chocolate" – that was so good, it is probably, along with "Illmatic" and more than the other heavy-hitters, the biggest influence on me, full stop. But Common developed a worrying trend, with his pantheon always sequencing disappointing LP/great LP. That continued into this decade, and, as such, being a Common fan is a lot like being a Nas fan. You know you will always love him as an MC, but you had better be prepared for some disappointment. Couple that with his growing obsession with Hollywood, and it seems that a complete move away from hip hop, in all but name, might just happen.

"For now I appreciate this moment in time
Ball-players and actors be knowing my rhymes..."

That line, from "The 6th Sense," was an unhealthy precursor to his career this decade. He seemed in awe that really famous people liked his music. Who the fuck cares? Nas knows that he influenced everyone, but he takes it in his stride. You almost get the feeling that if Common was ugly like the rest of us, he would progressed further as a rapper without the distraction of the silver screen and famous friends... Still, his voice – certainly one of the most naturally blessed voices in hip hop history – and his lyrics always tended to prevail. Let's look at his albums in the Noughties, with unofficial scores that have the benefit of hindsight...

"Like Water For Chocolate" (2000)
Such a stunning effort from start to finish, if a touch long. Lyrically, it is exceptional. Vocally, perfect. The combination of an emerging J Dilla (then known as Jay Dee), Questlove, the Soulquarians, DJ Premier... Needless to say, the music was incredible. But, perhaps, more importantly, the subject matter was interesting. He stuck to his guns, and delivered "knowledge" – but not in a cloying, preachy way. There is just so much depth to this album, and, if truth be told, this is probably Common at the absolute peak of his powers. Rap doesn't get much better than this, and this is the album that Jay-Z referred to in "Moment of Clarity" when he said that truthfully, he would like to rhyme like Common Sense. (10/10)

Cool Songs: The Light, The 6th Sense, Geto Heaven, The Questions, Dooinit

"Electric Circus" (2002)
Sometimes in music, the name of an album enters the rap dictionary, if you will. It can be a good thing, like "he was on that Ready to Die shit" – or it could, in the opposite sense, be more like an "oh dear, he has had an Electric Circus-moment". Needless to say, Common's hip hop fan base did NOT take kindly to this LP. Ironically, the hipster press liked it more. The truth lies somewhere in the middle, but there is no doubt that this was a disappointment. Musically, it signalled the end of the Soulquarians – it was all downhill from this moment on. Lyrically and conceptually, Common was, for want of a better phrase, led astray. It isn't a BAD album. It just didn't work very well. There is nothing wrong with an artist wanting to experiment, but be sure you can follow it through. (5.0/10)

Cool Songs: Come Close

"Be" (2005)
After his "Electric Circus-moment" a lot of people thought that Common was finished. But, to his credit, Kanye West was not one of them. He took hold of his former idol and together, they modelled a comeback album based on "Illmatic." With nine beats from West himself, and two from J Dilla, this was a short burst of sunshine and clouds. It also, thank goodness, happened to be practically perfect in every way. Lyrically, heads were initially disappointed but actually, Common was fantastic – it just took a while to sink in. Musically, this may well be Kanye at his soulful best, and the result flies by. Although not as fascinating or deep as "Like Water For Chocolate," this album was probably much warmer, more accessible and, in the end, easy for ANYONE to like. (9.5/10)

Cool Songs: Pretty much the whole album

"Finding Forever" (2007)
Artists like Common sometimes feel trapped by their success. After "Like Water..." – which was well-received critically and commercially – he tried to go completely the other way, and got bollocked. Then, after his return-to-form, he did the opposite. Common (and West) took the template of "Be" and, perhaps in fear of creating another "Electric Circus," just replicated it, almost to the letter. The end result is that, although it is a superficially likeable album with some good music and lyrics, it is, beneath the surface, a shallow, hollow even, and pale imitation of his previous effort. For an artist that trades in soulful, emotional music, this was empty, with Common on autopilot. Of course, the death of his close friend J Dilla could not have helped – and there were still a few moments of quality – but this was still a real disappointment to many. As another critic cleverly put it, this was a Be-minus. (5.5/10)

Cool Songs: The People, I Want You, Southside, The Game, So Far To Go

"Universal Mind Control" (2008)
A shocking abomination of an album that started life as an EP, and should have stayed as such. At least with "Electric Circus" Common thought he was doing the right thing. With "UMC" goodness knows what was running through his head. It wasn't even enjoyable as a meaningless experience. It was a groupie sex moment from a rapper that wants to be an actor now. "Disappointing" doesn't even begin to cover it. (3.5/10)

Cool Songs: None

Notable Guest Appearances:
"A Dream" (from Freedom Writers OST); "Love of My Life" (Erykah Badu); "Get Em High" (Kanye West); "My Way Home" (Kanye West)


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