Common’s Be vs. Drake’s Nothing Was The Same. Which Is Better?
One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?
“Finding The GOAT Album” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click.
In the early 2010s, Common and Drake made for one of Hip-Hop’s most surprising feuds of all time. As the case in Greek mythology, this tete a tete began in a distortion between a woman, and two egos. Short lived, the tension shocked fans, as both artists were more known for sensitivity and accessibility than controversy. Notably, both acts have albums well into their careers, that were key works of self-rediscovery. Common’s Be, the MC’s sixth album, closed the tent on the “circus” and delivered him back to “The Corner”—over some of the best production of his career. With a Grammy still polished in his hand, Drake’s third studio LP seemed to draw on his mixtape hunger and drive, and apply his proven gift of album-making. Nothing Was The Same went back to the turning point, at least in Drake’s mind, and made an ambitious Rap-driven body of work exactly there. Both works garnered critical and commercial success. Each opened new doors for the men who made them, and allowed them to step beyond their traditional boxes—even in coming back. With very different tones (and released almost 10 years apart), only one can go forward in Finding The GOAT. Your vote makes that call (Click one then click “vote”).
Be by Common
Common is a proven master of reinvention. After reaching a new plateau with Like Water For Chocolate, Common trusted his hot artistic hand. The MC enveloped his bohemian lyrics with a live band for the Electric Circus. While the daring album produced hits, Comm’s status as a purist Hip-Hop hero was challenged. More than two years later, Common returned with Be. Without much warning (only a Chappelle’s Show shot in the air), Rashid Lynn reappeared in the midst of the Kanye West meteoric rise. However, the album simply did not attach Common’s wagon to ‘Ye’s horsepower. Instead, Be allowed Common to step out of his own corner, and project his artistry on the mid-2000s populist problems, his own city’s vibe, and flip some mean street narratives. With a Grammy nomination, a new plaque, plus the restored trust and faith of a culture, this may be the most important pivot between Common the B-boy and Common the Oscar winner.
“The Corner” would return Common to the concrete. Although the South Side MC had never been a gangsta rapper, he was always able to rap about hanging out, swilling beer, and being relatable to the figures of the block. Having watched that change a bit in the early 2000s, this song—assisted by Rap pioneers The Last Poets, delivered Comm’ to his turf. Kanye West made that drop-off sound nothing short of incredible, with his chirped-up Soul, and sharp arrangements. Throughout Common’s career, the MC had the ability to command attention in long-form, story-driven songs. “Testify” would reach new terrain. With a femme fatale, suspense, and the art of the reverse, the soulful record was Film Noir-meets-a Dateline crime special. Common basked in the opportunity, and could artfully and unabashedly rhyme about things beyond his wheel-house. With Kanye on the mic, “The Food” somehow was a 2005 rendition of a record that sounded like it could have belonged to One Day It’ll All Make Sense. With a revamped sound, and refreshed demeanor, Common was making a pilgrimage back to the place where he was his best. But Common had hardly dropped his MCA years sound. The J Dilla-produced “Love Is…” not only retooled the perceived sonic misfires of Circus, it forecast where the MC would go through the rest of the 2000s. Be reassessed. It refined. The album restored Common to one of Hip-Hop’s most human, gifted voices. With Kanye, Dilla, James Poyser, and Karriem Riggins at the table, Common made an album that seemingly nobody saw coming. When Hip-Hop was especially unforgiving, Be was a reminder that art is a series of advances, experiments, and retreats. No 15-year veteran seemed to be using the opportunity more righteously than Comm’ Sense.
Album Number: 6
Released: May 24, 2005
Label: G.O.O.D. Music/Geffen Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #2 (certified gold, July 2005)
Song Guests: Kanye West, The Last Poets (Abiodun Oyewole & Umar Bin Hassan), Bilal, John Mayer, John Legend, James Poyser, DJ Dummy, DJ A-Trak, Derrick Hodge, Karriem Riggins, Luna E, K. Lewis
Song Producers: Kanye West, J Dilla, James Poyser, Karriem Riggins
Nothing Was The Same by Drake
Drake had cemented his status as Hip-Hop elite following Take Care. Although the late 2011 album would take the Grammy for “Best Rap Album,” the multi-platinum work was a far cry from Drizzy’s mixtape-era spit. Also a singing superstar, with pop culture in his palm, Aubrey Drake Graham had to tend too a lot of audience pockets. In late 2013, Nothing Was The Same was an intended return to his roots. Now with the grandeur, resources, and mood-lighting of Hip-Hop’s mainstream poster-child, Drake would use his third studio album to restore his Rap-first, sing-second balance of the late 2000s, with the subject matters, pressures, and sounds of scale. As So Far Gone was Drake bum-rushing the industry with friends in high places, Nothing Was The Same was a five-year check-in with the same artist at the top, isolated, inspired, and once again out to prove that he could body bars with the best of ’em, even in cozy sweaters.
Drake used his story as much as his feelings on the third album. A master of flashing images and attitudes with which listeners could identify, “Started From The Bottom” would be an anthem. Mike Zombie’s pounding drums would awaken Drake—melodically to break down why this was no buy-in. Unabashedly simple, the song was a set-up for others. Immediately after, “Wu-Tang Forever” was a triple entendre. Drake took Wu (and T La Rock’s) line, and made it sexual. At the same time, Drizzy used the verses and the moment to travel back to 1997, for a special time in music, and his life. Lastly, Drake created a decidedly hard song, that was still about love. This was a Wu-Tang Clan inspired feat, pointing to artists like Ghostface Killah and Method Man, who had done it so uncompromisingly. With Cappadonna providing background vocals, the high-profile album cut became performance art. Although he would be a song visionary—as with the last two albums, he also could retain that intimacy. “From Time” was a Drake personal journal as evocative as any. Rapping it out for the world to hear, Drake discussed his father, his city, and the wounds that fame and money don’t entirely band-aid. But just as he could open up, Nothing Was The Same had some closed-off tones too. In many places, the acutely self-aware star spit at critics and peers that dismissed him, or his manhood. “Pound Cake” returned Drake to a key figure in his come-up, Jay Z. The two would lower the album’s window with some of the most stripped down rapping of Drake’s recent years. Like the song would say, the multi-threat decided to go back home with his abilities—find the joy and competition in rapping, and limit the distractions. As the culture was still making sense of the Toronto, Ontario takeover since 2009, this was the kind of album that was promised in his mixtape greatness.
Album Number: 3 (solo)
Released: September 24, 2013 (certified gold, October 2013; certified platinum, Octobet 2013)
Label: OVO/Aspire/Young Money/Cash Money/Universal Republic Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #1
Song Guests: Jay Z, Jhene Aiko, Detail, Majid Jordan (Majid Al Maskati & Jordan Ullman), Cappadonna, Rachel Craig, Noah “40” Shebib, PartyNextDoor, Trae Tha Truth, Dacoury Natche, Adrian Eccleston, Grace Gayle, Chilly Gonzales, Brian Hamilton, Hudson Mohawke, Paul Jefferies, Shawn Lawrence, Owen Lee, Omar Richards, Patricia Shirley, Not Nice, Jennifer Tullooh, Deborah Vernal, Mike Zombie, Dionne Wilson
Song Producers: Noah “40” Shebib, Boi-1da, Jake One, Mike Zombie, DJ Dahi, Chilly Gonzalez, Nineteen85, Majid Jordan (Majid Al Maskati & Jordan Ullman), Hudson Mohawke, Vinylz, Allen Ritter, Sampha, Jordan Evans, Marvin “Hagler” Thomas
So what’s the better album? Make sure you vote above.
Related: Finding The GOAT: The Albums