Friday, July 8, 2011

NaS Excels Where Common Fails on New Track


Maybe I'm in the minority here but let me first say that I much rather prefer the Electric Circus / Universal Mind Control / Be version of rapper Common over his latest incarnation, which has him exchanging hardcore rhymes with NaS over a banging street track courtesy of producer No I.D.

Let me clarify.

Any rhymes from Common are always soothing sounds for ears sore from the prevailing hodgepodge of random rap music that shows no signs of slowing its invasion of Hiphop. But when he kicks hardcore lines – specifically when he starts off the songs with lines like "I wanna bitch who looks good and cooks good" -- it comes off as forced at best and insincere at worst. Hell, we already know Comm has been linked to some top notch females so what's with these ridiculous demands? But I digress.

Common lacks focus on this track, which is obviously an effort to pay homage to the hood chicks of the world. As a result, the listener is left wondering if Common is just rattling off a list of random examples of inner-city females or if his rhyme is truly a reflection of his own ghetto dreams.

He almost sounds out of place with this subject matter.

(Listen below to Common's new song Ghetto Dreams Feat. NaS)

After the first bar, Comm goes on to seemingly celebrate a number of negative stereotypes associated with female denizens of the so-called ghetto:
Toenails acrylic,
Ass is a weapon and it’s hard to conceal it,
Baby in one arm, the other is a skillet,
Fried chicken, macaroni…
He then continues to highlight more stigmas that damage the image of the black woman, including but not limited to them having a primary interest in an “endless quest for the money, power and clothes.”

Curious stuff coming from an emcee who in the past has gone out of his way to celebrate positive images of black women.

But just when my eyes had almost completely rolled in my head (which, it should be noted, never stopped bobbing because of No I.D.’s sonic mastery), along comes NaS to save the day (or the song, at least) with an amazingly descriptive verse that is more in line with what I'm guessing the song’s title was meant for. 

For instance: 
For me getting women turned from sport to addiction,
Powerful women playing the roles of submission.
Lawyers on leashes, Congresswomen inflicting pain on ‘em...
I’m sadistic/ they liked it, they dyked it, devices, twisted.
However, NaS stresses that the above activities will only continue as long as he’s a bachelor, or as he puts it, “till I get a nice chick to get me on some nice shit/ cribs, raising kids, Labradors behind a white fence," admitting that his actions are temporary compared to the permanence of Common's tone in the rhyme.

NaS was born to spit on this style of beat. And Common -- rapping-wise -- excels on the track, too. But what prevails is the authenticity behind the actual lyrics as it pertains to the song's subject matter. Additionally, it would appear that Common can’t really relate to the ghetto dreams in his rhymes, which come off more like ghetto stereotypes.

In my opinion, the fact that Common deferred to NaS for the final verse on his own song (his new album’s lead single, at that!) speaks volumes about how comfortable Common felt with the song’s subject matter.

Unfortunately this is a quandary that accomplished rappers many times find themselves in – whether to expand, reduce, or continue with the themes about which they rhyme after attaining a certain level of success. That, in turn, brings a dimension of financial security the likes of which they have never seen, which is all but assured to change the rapper’s original outlook on life, which is often times the basis of their rhymes in the first place.

This phenomenon is unilaterally applied to rappers and Hiphop music in particular, which traditionally prides itself on “keeping it real.” Fans are intelligent enough to know that once said rapper experiences a high level of success (not unlike Common and NaS) it is tough to keep rhyming about the same topics, which the listener ultimately finds less and less believable the more these rappers talk about and glorify what has come to be known as the hood mentality.

However, NaS started his career with -- and in large part has sustained it through -- the unmistakable hood imagery that was and still is so prevalent in his rhymes. Conversely, Common, since his debut, has maintained with a more organic form of Hiphop that touches on a number of matters, compared to NaS’s patented "hood hop" style. (Which, obviously, is not to say that NaS is a one-dimensional.)

Of course I will reserve final judgment until I hear the new album in its entirety. This song may very well fit in perfectly with the album’s overall theme and concept.

And I understand and respect Common’s loyalty to No I.D., who is handling the album's production. Really, I do. In fact, some could argue that his reunion with No I.D. will bring common back to his Resurrection days that helped usher him into the mainstream Hiphop conversation.

But outside of remixes and random features, Common arguably sounds at his best and most comfortable rhyming over beats from Kanye, Neptunes and Dilla, all of whom are responsible for producing the bulk of his recent albums.

Am I nit-picking here? Sure. However, should Common [continue to] be held to a higher lyrical standard than most of his rapping peers? Absolutely.

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