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Common's Wright To Be

Posted by doktakra on May 5, 2010 at 2:03 PM

When I heard that Common would be appearing at the NBA Store today to promote his new movie, Just Wright, I called him a sell-out on Twitter.  I immediately received replies from people who disagreed -- including someone who worked on the movie set -- and claimed that he had the right to pursue an acting career.


In retrospect, maybe "sell-out" wasn't the right word. It was just easier than saying, "I can't believe my one-time favorite, underground rapper has become an aspiring Hollywood actor who's now irrelevant in hip-hop and no longer cares about putting out quality music."  That, and "sell out" fit within the 140-character Twitter limit.


I've been with Common (Sense) since the very beginning, and I didn't suddenly turn on him for no reason.  I still remember hearing "I Used to Love H.E.R." and being blown away by the beautifully crafted concept of "Hip Hop in its Essence and Real."  The cool kids in my (mostly white, suburban) middle school who were into rap had no idea who Common even was -- for a while, his lyricism and intellectual wordplay on Resurrection, my all-time favorite album, was almost like my little secret.


I picked up his witty debut, Can I Borrow A Dollar?, found some of his early '90's demo tapes, and bought One Day It'll All Make Sense (1996)a deep and nostalgic trip through his past, on the day it was released.  When Common became more widely known and recognized after Like Water For Chocolate (2000) -- I was shocked that my girlfriend at the time thought he was hot -- I performed his commercial hit, "The Light," at my high school talent show.


As a sophomore in college, I stared at the cover of the poorly-reviewed, electronica and rock-inspired Electric Circus, briefly considering leaving it sealed in the shrink-wrap to preserve the good memories of his past works, before finding the courage to to open it.  My friends and I went to a few of his shows when he toured in New York, and when I talked to Common after a performance, he sounded genuinely proud and excited to take hip-hop into another direction -- one that I, and many others, didn't appreciate.  I thought I'd never hear the same poetic prophet and self-righteous rhyme artist I grew to love.


A few years later, seeing Common and Kanye West perform "The Food" on Chappelle's Show was like hearing from an old friend I thought was long gone.  But while Be, and the subsequent Finding Forever were some of his best and most vibrant albums, Common expressed a growing desire to get into acting.  The writing had been on the wall for a few years, after he'd written jingles and appeared in commercials for conglomerates Coca-Cola and The Gap.


Many of his rap peers had already established themselves in Hollywood: former N.W.A.'er Ice Cube was putting out family comedies; Original Gangster Ice-T went from causing controversy with "Cop Killer" to playing a cop on Law & Order: SVU less than a decade later; LL Cool J had a couple of notable movie roles and would soon do his best David Caruso impression on NCIS: Los Angeles; and Snoop Dogg endorsed every imaginable product by adding "izzle" at the end of its name.


I never thought I'd see the day when Common would be following in their footsteps, but I didnt fault him for earning more money, as long as his music didn't suffer as a result.  Instead, when his long-awaited Invincible Summer came out in December 2008 under the title of Universal Mind Control, my biggest fears were realized.


I would've been okay had Common decided to become a full-time actor and left the rap game entirely, if it spared me from listening to a rushed, 10-track, 39-minute album filed with unclever sexual references and clichéd dance tracks like the gag-worthy "Sex 4 Suga."  Whether it was a conscious decision to appeal to a broader audience by sounding like Ludacris or T.I., or lack of time from filming his parts in American Gangster and Smokin' Aces, Common dumbed down his conscience-provoking style for unimaginative narratives -- “Check my dictionary / That ass is so defined” -- and ditched the smooth, jazzy production of Kanye West, the late J. Dilla, and No ID for the Neptunes’ pop beats.


The man who chastised hip-hop for getting "caught in the Hype Williams" and losing H.E.R. direction on The Roots' -- who casual fans now know as the house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon  -- "Act Too (Love of My Life)," shot a video for Universal's lead single with (who else?) Hype Williams.


On "Announcement," possibly his raunchiest song to date, Common alluded to his past glory in unexpected and heart-breaking fashion -- "I still love H.E.R., she be needing the d*** / When it comes to hip hop it's just me and my b****."  Whoa.  I had to rewind and listen to that part four or five times to make sure I heard him correctly.


Since the album's release, Common's landed a supporting role in Date Night and the lead in Just Wright, a romantic basketball movie with another rapper-turned-actor, Queen Latifah.  Meanwhile, he's promised "raw hip-hop" on his upcoming album, The Believer, which is slated to come out sometime this year.  Until, of course, another script comes his way.  

I really did used to love H.I.M.

Categories: Hip-Hop, Music Reviews

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