Common

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8min390

WE live in a world where rhetorics of something being timeless and classic are made with haste. Where loving something is akin to ass kissing and disliking it is associated with hate.

I remember six years ago today, when Kendrick Lamar’s album Good Kid M.A.A.D City came out, a lot of noise was made about this being a classic. And for once, the noise and the adoration around an album was valid. After years of it being released, I still feel the same way about it as I did in 2012. Good Kid M.A.A.D City sits up there with Hip Hop’s deity.

Lamar had already proved his worth in the game, with masterpiece mixtapes and a debut album, Section.80, but Good Kid M.A.A.D City is the album in which his gospel spread throughout the world as it was his major label debut after having signed with Aftermath and Interscop earlier in 2012. “I couldn’t tell you what type of sound or where I will be in the next five years as far as music…Back to the neighbourhood and going back in that same space where we use to be, got me inspired. So this album won’t sound like Section.80.”  He said this in an interview with XXL prior to the album’s release.

If Section.80 was a young man sketching out his manhood through spirituality, society and everything in between, then Good Kid M.A.A.D City was a man with a tight grip on who he is, having made peace with his childhood and the evils of his youth.

His story telling refreshed Hip Hop, at a time when rappers weren’t painting beautiful pictures through their narrative. We hadn’t seen a conceptual album from someone in the commercial space in a minute. On the same album, he had a 12 minute song, Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst. That was and still remains a novelty. It was like listening to a conscious rapper such as Common, yet gangsta as Ice Cube, who raps with the exuberance and skill set of a Pharaohe Monch.

In the hype and height of promoting their new albums, most musicians will insist on how the project will be appreciated by various people, as a show of its diversity. But very few deliver on that promise. Good Kid M.A.A.D City was satisfying for the lyricist, rhyme scheme obsessed fan; enjoyable to someone who likes sing-alongs and catchy hooks and the production was neat and had sufficient bounce for a club. Money Trees with Jay Rock, Swimming Pools and Backstreet Freestyle are perfect examples.

This is the one and only Kendrick album that saw him work with Canadian superstar Drake, in Poetic Justice. The two complement each other pretty well, it’s a pity they never collaborated again because of subliminal shots they started serving each other on tracks, after Kendrick’s verse on Big Sean’s Control.

According to Acclaimed Music, a site which aggregates a number of critics’ lists from all over the world into all-time rankings, Good Kid M.A.A.D City was the most acclaimed album of 2012, the third most acclaimed of the 2010s and the 141st most acclaimed of all time.

The album earned five nominations at the 56th Grammy Awards but surprisingly and controversially Kendrick left empty handed, with Best Rap Album going to Macklemore-a result that caused revolt from fans who believed Kendrick was snubbed.

Accompanying the music, were hilarious skits on this album. Whether it was his mother leaving him voicemails on his phone, asking for the car simultaneously arguing with Kendrick’s dad about his fixation to dominos or conversations with friends after breaking into someone’s home.

Kendrick is a great artist who is very observant. In his last album DAMN, he had a track titled Duckworth, which tells the story of the connection between his father and his boss, Top Dawg that stretches far back as his childhood. That he never added that story to Good Kid M.A.A.D City says a lot about the reverence he has for his creative process. He’s a special artist of our time that’s way ahead of his time.


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8min830

In your music collection there’s at least one album created between 1998-2003 at the Electric Lady studios. That was the period which the studio homed the music collective The Soulquarians, the gods of the Neo-soul sound.

In 1998 D’Angelo moved into Electric Lady Studios in New York to record his Voodo album. He roped in drummer Questlove to work on the follow-up to Brown Sugar and because of the long studio hours, the drummer simultaneously moved the recording of the Roots LP Things Fall Apart to Electric Lady.

Questlove and D’Angelo’s chemistry was sparked by their love for classic songs from years gone by. The core of the Soulquarians was completed by composer James Poyser, Detroit genius producer J Dilla, Common and Erykah Badu. Although they never want to be tied to the genre, the Soulquarians are heavy influencers of the Neo-Soul sound we know today. Their influence can be heard in some of today’s artists such as Robert Glasper, Rayvn Lenae, NxWorries and MoRuf.

Not suggesting that these musicians no longer work together, because they do, but here are some of the classic albums that were produced in that period of them working together in one space sharing their gifts.

D’ANGELO-Voodoo

YEAR: 2000

The 13 track album which was overshadowed by D’Angelo’s strip down and steamy down video in Untitled (How Does It Feel), which left a lasting effect on a lot of women. But it was a masterpiece from the music genius which had a funky soulful Hip Hop feel thanks to J Dilla’s sick sampling. D’Angelo featured Red Man and Method Man in Left and Right. Such was the level of artistry here that Q. Tip had initially laced a verse for the song but it was deemed lukewarm hence D’Angelo roped in the New York duo. The album bagged a Grammy.

 

THE ROOTS-Things Falls Apart

YEAR: 1999

This was a follow-up to their Illadelph Halflife project which came out in ‘96. It’s this the project here that earned them critical acclaim from industry fundis and probably that ‘legendary’ tag too. It was the group’s novel experience at selling over 500 000 copies. The Roots won the Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group at the Grammys for You Got Me featuring Erykah Badu. Stand out songs here include Act Too (Love of my life) and Step Into The Realm.

 

COMMON-Like Water For Chocolate

YEAR: 2000

Common just sounds extra nice on J Dilla beats. Dooinit is one of the finest tracks where Common rips the beat and some rappers with the energy of Julius Malema at a rally behind the mic.  While songs like The Light and 6th Sense remain classics till this day, Payback Is A Grandmother, Film Called Pimp and Song For Assata were gems that many never paid close attention to. There’s a great balance of social commentary, love, lyricism and musicality throughout the album.

ERYKAH BADU-Mama’s Gun

YEAR: 2001

Mama’s Gun is probably the album that made a lot of the young fans of Badu fall in love with her music. It’s unbelievable how an album can be so cohesive with a cocktail different sounds. Cleva is a beautiful Jazz joint that doesn’t sound out of place alongside the sticky Jay Dee drums on Didn’t Cha Know. So many musicians consciously and subconsciously use this album as blueprint to creating a Neo Soul project. This is a classic-I can visualize myself listening to this at 60. Orange Moon and Bag Lady are just some of the classic joints in this album.

 

COMMON-Electric Circus

YEAR: 2002

Some people said this album was Common’s regress after Like Water For Chocolate which came out two years prior. But this project was simply ahead of its time. It was great body of music by the Chicago rapper. It had influences of Rock, electronic and funk soaked in the Soulquarians sounds. Common once said that he wasn’t feeling Hip Hop at the time of creation and his choice of sound was influenced by Jimi Henrix and Pink Floyd. Stand out tracks here include Between Me, You and Liberation, Heaven Somewhere, Ferris Wheel and Soul Power.

 

What’s your favourite Soulquarians influenced album?

 


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7min162301

Make up sex is awesome but does the same energy translate into good music?

Following Solange’s karate kid antics in the elevator in 2014, Beyoncé’s revelations on Lemonade and Jay-z’s explanations on 4:44, it would appear that the Carters have overcome whatever issues they had in their marriage. Predictably , they are not the type of people to let a good crisis resolution go to waste, thus they dropped a surprise album on June 16 in order to add a couple of zeros to their already overflowing bank accounts, cementing their position as king and queen of American urban music.

The album opens with a ballad-like slow jam titled Summer in which the Carters lyrically paint pictures of sex on the beach, or on a yacht, surrounded by crystal blue waters without a care in the world. Luxury and marital bliss is the stuff that a big girl’s dreams are made of and Beyoncé flawlessly delivers with her sensually subliminal lyrics; I want you to come inside right now…so you know just how I feel, with Jigga expressing teenage boy like excitement with his adlibs. The whole joint feels like a honeymoon anthem which is meant to convince the listener that everything is love. I thought the whole album was going to carry this mood but on the following three records in the project, the Carters make it clear that they are on another level when it comes to the cheddar cheese.  On the bouncy joint accurately named Boss, Jigger goes off on his haters, stating Niggers rather work for the man…than to work for me…just so they can pretend…they on my level…that shit is irking to me. Throughout the project the Carters make it clear that they are building a legacy for generations to come, which is a refreshing reprieve from the typical hedonistic tendencies of modern day Hip-hop.

The Pharell-produced Nice has to be my favourite joint on this project. It has a playful demeanour about it, with a funny moment in the song where Beyoncé gives Spotify the middle finger; Patiently waiting for my demise…cause my success can’t be quantified…if I gave two fucks about streaming numbers…when you pull up my name on Spotify…fuck you…fuck you…you cool…fuck you. I couldn’t stop chuckling by myself as I was walking to the shops to get some cigarettes.

Listening to the joint 713 it dawned on me that this might be the first time in Hip-hop history that we get husband and wife conversations on an entire Hip-hop influenced album. The Carters’ consistent Hip-hop references in the album feel organically refreshing, with Beyoncé pulling a young Snoop Dogg impression on 713I’m representing  for the hustlers all across the world…still dipping in my low lows girl…I put it down for the 713…and we still got love for the streets followed by a Jigger’s impression of Common I never knew a… love…love…love like this…got to be special for me to write this…queen…I don’t mean no disrespect -its disgustingly cute.

This is a strong project from the Carters, they manage to mix Hip-hop and R&B without sounding too pretentious, which was a pleasant surprise for me as someone who generally can’t tolerate sentimentality. There are no true radio bangers on this album, which is surprising considering the mainstream appeal of both artist. Perhaps the first single of the project, Apeshit might dominate the charts but I doubt it. The video drips with opulence but I think it will go over the heads of Trap-lords who are the main target of the song sonically. Niggers wanna see racks and Lambos, not the Carters mean mugging in front of the Mona Lisa because niggers don’t read. But regardless, Hovah and Queen B are gonna stay winning, best believe that.


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7min2000

In the sixth episode of the second season of Atlanta, Darius drives out of town to a mansion owned by the peculiar and wealthy Teddy Perkins, to pick up a piano he found on the internet.

Before getting into the reason for his visit, Darius and Perkins have a brief chat about music. “Rap…I found it never quite grew out of its adolescence,” says Perkins. He goes on to say that rap is insufficient as an art form, to which Darius subtly disagrees. This brief conversation came to mind as I listened to the Nasir album by Nas.

The times we’re living in, allow us to witness the first batch of active, middle aged emcees that aren’t just putting music out, but also competing on the charts with the younger emcees. The likes of Common, Jay- Z, KRS-ONE, Eminem and others are prime examples; thus indicating Hip Hop’s growth as an art form. But the downside of these grown men being behind the mic, is that as fans we inevitably compare them to their younger selves. It’s an unfair comparison I admit, but what can I say, fans are fans and they are the life blood of the art form.

…I didn’t like Bonjour but after a few more listens the joint grew on me like pubic hair…

I’m an avid consumer of this Hip Hop thing and I was disappointed with the 44 year-old Nas’s execution on Nasir. Mind you, I wasn’t comparing him to that 20 year-old from Queens that released Illmatic in 1994. That would certainly be unfair because that album is one of the greatest bodies of work of all time. This project doesn’t even compare to his last one, Life is Good.

I liked the idea of this album; how he talked about his Pan-Africanness, Police violence on black people in the US and on his personal life. But I don’t think he came proper with his flow and bars. Nas could’ve done more.

Not For Radio I didn’t enjoy because of the dragged-out flow which sounded like a poem on a good beat. At times, he was off beat which made me cringe. Certainly not a good way to open the album.

On Cops, he sounded like the Nas we’ve grown to like post- Illmatic. He doesn’t necessarily kill the beat with the raps, but the weight of the truth in the song holds the joint. While Kanye spat what could be his finest verse in a long while.

Throughout the album, Ye’s beats are something to marvel at- much like the other albums he’s produced that have come out in the past four weeks. After this offering though, my conclusion is that Mr West should release a beat tape, just for control as they say.

At first, I didn’t like Bonjour but after a few more listens the joint grew on me like pubic hair.  In the song Nas is flexing about the good life he’s blessed with, travelling to beautiful parts all over the world, yet dropping knowledge on how to spend money and creating a better future for your offspring.

Everything is also a beautiful song, but Kanye’s presence could have you thinking it’s a Ye joint featuring Nas. Adam and Eve isn’t my favourite, but he came correct and was on par with the beat. The album gets better with each song. It’s just unfortunate that it is only seven tracks, which demands more of an artist because you can’t come out not half-stepping in any of the songs, as oppose to a 13 track album which gives one more time and room to build momentum and play around some ideas. Nas grew more palatable as the album went. Simple Things is a good joint that’s far from being simplistic.

The album’s replay value is unsatisfactory, one is left to nit-pick and wanting more. But this isn’t the worst Nas project, but it’s far from Nas’ best.



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