Album: Like Water For Chocolate
Rating: 8.5 / 10
Common is one of the very rare emcees you find in modern hip-hop who actually stands up against practically all of his peers and takes a very unique perspective on life. This Chicago-based emcee is widely recognised as one of the most insightful, literate and skilled emcees in the whole of hip-hop. Not only does he possess this creative gift, he €™s famous for integrating laid-back jazzy rhythms into his quirky lyrics and beats.
Having released several critically acclaimed LP €™s, including his gangsta rap denouncing, critically acclaimed breakthrough album “One Day It €™ll All Make Sense” in 1999 Common released his latest LP “Like Water For Chocolate.” Featuring the stellar production team of the Soulquarians (D €™Angelo, Jay Dee, ?uestlove and James Poyser), and several leading jazz/soul/hip-hop stars, “Like Water For Chocolate” is a highlight for hip-hop.
After the African sounding, Ray Hargrove trumpet assisted fest of ‘Time Travelling’, Common proves he can be intelligent, thoughtful and literate €“ and he also proves with ‘Heat’ that he has some impressive lyrical muscles to flex. Although super-producer Jay Dee provides Common with a beat that is pretty much non-existent, and slightly tedious, it barely matters, because Common absolutely rips the sh*t out of the mic with his on point lyrics.
We then find Common making his stand against commercial hip-hop, attacking several prominent industry figures on ‘Dooinit’ (Master P and Will Smith come to mind first). My favourite has to be the dissection of Master P as the fake thug, wack rapper, businessman over €˜musician €™ that he really is :.
You wasn’t saying you was a thug before Pac came,
Ten years ago you had a high top trying to be like Kane ,
Then Snoop released and it became a G thang,
Claim sets, your city ain’t got gangs,
Niggas hate you; they ain’t paying you no attention,
In a circle of faggots, your name is mentioned,
With six degrees, I separate MC’s, from a business man that’s good”
With most hip-hop albums, there is nearly always a single that finds favour with the public. LWFC is no different. Jay Dee redeems himself with the delightful, love ballad ‘The Light’. While this may have certainly suffered from overplay in the US, living in the UK as I do €“ I haven €™t had the pleasure to listen to this smooth, keyboard led, relaxed lead single that much. Jay Dee, as well as Common, really delivers with this song. Common has always been one to defy modern hip-hop trends, as he shows with his treatment of women :
€It’s important, we communicate,
and tune the fate of this union, to the right pitch,
I never call you my bit*h or even my boo,
There’s so much in a name and so much more in you €
His flow here goes through his usual quirks €“ it generally stays in time with the beat, but occasionally strays hopelessly off course. But the lyrics, and truly delightful production redeem. ‘Funky For You’ is another one of these tracks that make Common such an intriguing personality. Assisted by the equally quirky vocals of Bilal and refreshing hook assistance from Jill Scott, Common kicks interesting lyrics over a truly funky beat (provided by Jay Dee again).
After the slightly weak, Mos Def assisted, commercial rap inquisition fest of ‘The Questions’, leading hip-hop producer DJ Premier decides to bless us with production work on ‘The 6th Sense’. Over an uplifting and inspirational piano loop, Common kicks his intellectual theme once again as he digs deep with his searching lyrics to explore hip-hop and his own life :
“I just want to innovate and stimulate minds,
Travel the world and penetrate the times,
Escape through rhythms in search of peace and wisdom,
Raps are smoke signals letting the streets know I’m with ’em.”
This is my favourite track I think €“ the brilliant beat… the meaningful lyrics… Primo and Common should work together more, their styles mesh perfectly!
MC Lyte teams up with Common for the hilarious, mocking, conversation brilliance of ‘A Film Called (Pimp)’. You-know-who produces this jazzy track, which accentuates the creativity and message of the lyrics. Then Common reiterates the fact that he will never lose his positive (and unique) message and stance on hip-hop, he will never jeopardise this for commercial success, with the slow self-exploration of ‘Nag Champa’. More occasional off beat rapping here, but the message and lyrics of the track make up for it. The cherries on the cakes come with the Cee-Lo graced, political outcry of ‘A Song For Assasta’ and the urgent storytelling of ‘Payback Is A Grandmother’.
Common does pretty much everything right with this LP. His lyrical skills are as sharp as a razor, not to mention his musings, philosophies and opinions on himself, the modern world, and the streets €“ whatever. His opinions are always clearly and intelligently presented, and certainly explore further than pretty much any other emcee around. The production on this LP most certainly helps €“ with the super relaxed, super jazzy, and super good production team of the Soulquarians behind the boards. I €™m not really a fan of Jay Dee, but his trademark sound generally comes up trumps on this LP. These two elements combine perfectly €“ Common is a class lyricist (a top 10 emcee), and his intelligence and originality mesh well with the mature production. Skits/Interludes are kept down to one interlude, and filler is non-existent. A couple of tracks don €™t quite make the cut (namely ‘Cold Blooded’ and ‘Geto Heaven Part 2’), but apart from that there are no other real faults here.
“Like Water For Chocolate” blends together soulful, jazzy beats with Common’s occasionally eccentric rapping, but his intelligence, originality and brain shine through nearly all the time. He attacks commercial hip-hop, gangsta rap, makes political statements, records sensual love ballads, explores himself, explores society €“ and is the light at the end of the tunnel for hip-hop. Brilliant.