Who is the greatest MC of all-time?
Invariably the reply to this question would be one of the following: Tupac, Biggie, Nas or Jay-Z. However, in a world where both Biggie and Tupac are dead, and artists such as Nas and Jay-Z are systematically sacrificing their artistic integrity with "back-to-back LP's that sound the same", MCA has signed an artist who outshines them all.
"The perseverance of a rebel I drop heavier levels
It's unseen or heard, a king with words
Came out to hustle but I seen street dreams deferred
Dark spots in my mind where the scene occurred"
Indeed, ever since he brought us the urban sonnet "i used to love h.e.r," Common has captivated fans of true hip-hop with his exceptionally poetic lyricism. Dedicated to an entire genre, this now classic track was featured on his critically acclaimed second release Resurrection. However, much like his equally lauded third album One Day It'll All Make Sense, it failed to set the sales charts alight. Significantly, until recently The Roots were in a very similar position: widely acclaimed as the finest hip-hop group in the world they had never really made a significant impact upon the charts. A year later and they've had a top five album and a grammy winning single, without having to sacrifice their artistic beliefs. The cause of this turn around? They were signed to MCA Records. Now signed to the same label, with his integrity preserved, the future looks bright for Common.
"I just wanna innovate and stimulate minds
Travel the world and penetrate the tides
Escape through rhythms in search of peace and wisdom"
It is often said that you can judge someone by the company that they keep. If this is the case then one look at the albums credits will convince you that Common is an artist held in the highest esteem. Indeed, the album's production is almost entirely handled by a new collective known as "The Soulquarians" a.k.a. Jay Dee (A Tribe Called Quest, Slum Village, Q-Tip, De La Soul & the Pharcyde) D'Angelo, ?love (of The Roots), The Roots themselves, and James Poyser (Eric Benet, D'Angelo, The Roots, Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu). The one time that they are not in control is when the legendary DJ Premier (Gang Starr) provides Common with the magnificent lead single "The 6th Sense."
So what about the album then? Well, from the moment we hear the somewhat abstract opener "Time Travelin'" right up until we once again greet Common's father for his customary conclusion "Pops Rap," the quality on this set never falters. Highlights include the funky "Heat," the battle rhyme of "Dooinit," the '70s retro feel of "A Film Called (Pimp)," the laid-back groove of "Nag Champa (Afrodisiac For The World)" and the rolling piano of "Thelonius." Elsewhere, D'Angelo borrows a vocal hook from The Family Stand as he provides the chorus for the exceptional "Geto Heaven Part Two," whilst the spiritual tones of Cee-Lo permeate the organ, Rhodes, and string drenched six minute epic "A Song For Assata."
Mindful of retaining ones roots in the face of commercial success, Common, much like The Roots before him, is on a mission to achieve greater exposure so as to bring real hip-hop artistry to a market firmly in the grip of the sample-laden, commercially motivated, "Jiggy Thug" era.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't want millions
More than that money saved I wanna save children
Dealin' with alchoholism and afrocentricity
A complex man drawn off of simplicity
Reality is friskin' me
This industry'll make you lose intensity
The Common Sense in me remembers the basement
I'm Morpheus in this hip-hop Matrix exposing fake shit"
Working in combination with exceptional musicality and production Common's almost conversational flow demands to be heard. One can only hope that MCA will ensure that he receives the recognition he truly deserves.