A talent that is not Common

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We all have that one artist or group that gave us that pivotal moment in our affair with hip-hop. A track or beat that caught you, captured you and captivated you in such a way that you were left wanting more. Intrigued by his poems and interested in his content I began to follow, closely, as the plot unfolded and his stories were told. Here is my reflection on the works of Common.

‘‘This is the start of something big, me think I knows you’re gonna dig it. It’s time to plant the seed, hip-hops the tree and ima fig it. Figure it out, the mic, i’m rippin’ it like a ligament.’’
‘‘A Penny For My Thoughts’’


In light of Common’s recent album release, Nobody’s Smiling, I got to thinking about the importance of music, or more specifically: the power and influence hip-hop has in our lives. We live in a world where music is used as a tool to define who we are, what we like and what we value and believe: it’s a form of expression.  I find it humbling when artists realize they are in a position to connect and speak to the masses and use that gift  as a platform for a greater purpose.

What are the artists of today really saying? What is the message they are choosing to send out to the world? On reflection, if we were to listen to music with virgin ears and with no knowledge of an artist’s reputation or past endeavors, but only having the present moment to really hear them for the first time: what would their music say about them? How would we characterize them as personalities and how would we interpret their music…or message?

This is not to take away from the feel good tracks that we all know and love, we need the club tracks and the catchy hooks. They bring us endless amounts of enjoyment and act as soundtracks to some of our most illustrious memories.

Hip-hop is one of the few genres that is really able to bring a community together, to ignite a chance for change, to give a voice to the voiceless. Are there enough people making that count? Are there enough artists taking that endowment and handing it back to the people in ways that only serve to empower and inspire? Music is a message to the world: what message are you sending? Music is a legacy, to live on in your name for years that will go far be beyond your physical being. What legacy are you leaving?

Common, for me, is an artist full of integrity. An artist that will leave a legacy of truth, significance and inspiration through the purest form of hip-hop. A creator with symbolic statements and messages that are folded in supreme lyricism then wrapped up in a mind blowing beat and tied with talent before being orchestrated for the world to hear. To me, he is not only and incredible storyteller and lyricist, but he is a watchful being that is mindful with his purpose and wise in his ways.

The Source wrote a piece about Common (then known as Common Sense) in 1991 under ‘‘Unsigned Hype.’’ Twenty three years ago, near the beginning of his journey

The combination of these talents creates a package with the potential to attract a wide variety of audiences without losing the hardcore crowd.

A sentiment that, for some, stays just that – a sentiment. However Common has been able to prove this because it’s built in the manner of a conscious rapper; his timeline is testament to the description given by The Source many years ago as he continues to maintain substance and longevity from the 90’s to the present day

Speaking of Unsigned Hype, make sure you tell everyone you know about The Source’s new Unsigned Hype competition, which you can enter HERE


‘‘Yo man, brothers out here saying you should come on a gangsta tip, and other brothers saying you should come on a smooth tip. You know what, be yourself and just take it EZ’’
‘‘Take it EZ’’

The intro to ‘‘Take it EZ’’ from the debut album, Can I borrow a Dollar? is a track that was originally released on Common’s UnAmerican Caravan demo in 1991. The intro summarizes Common’s stance and approach within the world of hip-hop and the same concept and outlook and principle of this intro can be adapted in order to guide a list full of battles we face.

When just starting out, at anything, and in any situation it can sometimes be too easy to feel the pressure of what’s hot and trending at that point in time. Instead of creating a new path we can just look towards the majority and examine what they’re doing and follow suit. Common found his style, grew with it and then mastered it and has been able to maintain his own unique voice. No one can do Common like Common can do Common. It’s sometimes easier to conform rather than to create in a way that truly feeds your soul.

‘‘About my people she was teachin’ me/ by not preaching to me, but speaking to me.’’
‘‘I used to love H.E.R’’

Beef aside, one of my all time favorite and most listened to hip-hop tracks is, ‘‘I used to love H.E.R’’ from the album Resurrection, produced by No I.D.  This is storytelling, lyricism, relevance and hip-hop combined and, at its finest. Common didn’t like the way hip-hop was going at that point in time and he expressed it so flawlessly and witty it was hard not to pay attention.

Common raised a point and sent a statement out about a genre close to his heart. Hip-hop has always been so close to many people’s hearts. Everything it stands for: the culture, the people, the movement, the genre has, and still has, a significant place at the core of  many peoples stories. Common understood the dangers of mistreating her. He had something to share and a belief and he wasn’t going to compromise either one.

‘‘Fu*k hip-hop jingles , rhyming big words and not saying shit.’’
‘‘Making a Name for Ourselves’’ 

Taken from the album,  One Day It Will all Make Sense. Common is a rapper that is fully in tune with the world around him, he always has been and years later he still is. We only need to listen to Nobody’s Smiling to hear his sensibility to ideologies and appreciate the relevance today. He is a man that understands he is in a position to send a message that others cannot, to give back. It’s evident and beyond understandable artists want that hit record, but can you make the hit and make it bigger than that alone too? Common addresses concerns and puts the spotlight on issues that have been left in the dark. He uses hip-hop in its original entity: he tells untold stories, his story, her story, their story, our story – a story that we all need to know about.

“Recognize the voice in the wilderness, Common Sense, 92 and I’m still in this.’’
‘‘Time Traveliin’’

Like Water for Chocolate has to be the first album I think of when it comes to Common. So much goodness and a few Common classics in one body of work: a legacy. Crafted in the Soulquarians years – let’s just take a second to really appreciate that, alone – ­ Like Water for Chocolate is an album that speaks volumes. Common managed to make a mainstream album, but not jeopardize or sacrifice his virtue, his desire, or his work. Demonstrating that you can do both and people appreciated, and still do, appreciate this within hip-hop.

Common’s career began in the earlier stages, his album and journey shows us how hip-hop developed and prospered. Common managed to maintain the important credentials yet grow and develop as an artist, but the fundamentals and the things that matter within hip-hop, the values, remained the same. Common is a humanitarian with a cause. An artist, who documents the struggles and wrong doings as well as highlighting the greats and exhibiting utter brilliance. 

‘I know you’re still shining, from heaven you watch me, watch me put this Grammy on the stand you got me’’
‘‘Rewind That.’’

A moment of magic in Nobody’s Smiling that conjures up a lifetime of moments within hip-hop. So let’s bring it forward to today: In one track ‘‘Rewind That’’ from beginning to end we move with him, from Chi to New York, from No I.D, Twilite Tone and the phenomenal, J Dilla. He remembers how it started and who was with him. These precious slices of hip-hop that unfold in his lifetime are played out to us in a matter of minutes, but we get it. We feel the weight of an entire hip-hop career in a few moments.

Common has a gift with words; he is filled with tales, expressive and unafraid in emotion and bound by a moral conscientiousness. He is hip-hop.

Natasha can write thousands of words about rappers but has trouble descrbing herselfin a signature, follow her on Twitter –   @NatashaArtwell