Common Premieres A J Dilla-Produced Song About The State Of Hip-Hop In 2019
Since the release of his 1994 song “I Used To Love H.E.R.,” Common has had a complex and well-documented relationship with Hip-Hop. At first listen, the song played like Common Sense’s ode to a woman with whom he’d had a life long affair, which was a love-hate relationship. At the end of the record, however, Common revealed the woman about whom he rapped had actually been a metaphor for Hip-Hop.
Over the years, Common has added chapters to what has become an anthology about H.E.R. (Hip-Hop in its Essence is Real). The next installment came in the form of a verse he performed on The Roots’ “Act Too (The Love Of My Life),” from their 1999 album, Things Fall Apart. In the 5 years since he first broached the topic, Common had lost even more respect for Hip-Hop, lamenting on what he saw as its bastardization through over the top Hype Williams videos, and mainstream records produced by Puff Daddy. He also referenced a beef that had ensued with Ice Cube, over a reference Common had made to “boyz n the hood” on “I Used To Love H.E.R.” By the end of the song, Comm’ was able to express gratitude for what Hip-Hop had given him over the years, in retrospect, but it seemed begrudging.
Common’s next flirtation with H.E.R. came in 2002, by way of a verse on Erykah Badu’s “Love Of My Life (An Ode To Hip-Hop),” from the Brown Sugar soundtrack. Nearly 10 years removed from his original song, Common’s bitterness toward his first love was beginning to soften. The time that had passed gave him better understanding that Hip-Hop’s ability to make money didn’t cheapen the culture, and its evolution to embrace singing and other more mainstream-friendly elements did not necessarily dilute it.
Last night (June 1), at the 12th annual Roots Picnic, Common premiered the latest installment in his series about H.E.R. Backed by The Roots, rendering a track that was produced by J Dilla, Common showed the growth that can occur in a relationship over 25 years. In verse 1, Common acknowledges that Hip-Hop is all grown up now, and he has learned to appreciate it more as time has gone by. He recognizes it is now global, and in a reference to a line by JAY-Z about Common, shows how his own approach to the culture has paid off. On his 2003 song “Moment Of Clarity,” Jay rapped “If skills sold / truth be told / I’d probably be / lyrically Talib Kweli / Truthfully I wanna rhyme like Common Sense / But I did 5 mill’ – I ain’t been rhyming like Common since.” Rather than a jab at Common, Jay’s words were a lamentation of the fact that complex rhyming simply was not economically viable, for most. In his new song, Common raps “So, really, I wanna rhyme like Common Sense / You the one who gave me that confidence / You the one that showed me ’bout consciousness / And said ‘see beyond my metropolis.’” Since JAY-Z’s song, Common has gone on to win multiple Grammy Awards, an Emmy and an Oscar, and even found mainstream success, ironically with the help of Jay’s protege, Kanye West, all while staying true to himself.
It’s in verse 3, however, where Common shows his full maturation, appreciation and acceptance of Hip-Hop’s evolution. After an assist from Bilal on the hook, Common puts on a dazzling display of wordplay incorporating the names of some of today’s biggest stars, many of whom draw the ire of 90s Hip-Hop fans. He raps “You gave me a voice in the world / It’s been hard to choose another girl / They trip when you mumble; they trip when you sing / But, you gave us a chance to dream / In Young Thugs, you see a Future / You recognize Lil Boosie ain’t hear to shoot ya / At 21, you knew I was Savage / But you said ‘Common you will never be average.” He continues, “You rock 2 chains, keep your mind free / You see a Malcolm X in a YG / You told me I’m the man like Gucci / With a chance to rap and make movies / Gave mills to the meek to inherit the earth / Before me too, you said ‘Ladies First.’ / Things get rocky, you there ASAP / Rocky to Ferg, you there to swerve / I want you to get the love you deserve / We all made it on the mic with words.” Common goes on to salute several others, and ends the song with “I’m forever yours to the tick-tock / I’m still talking ’bout you, Hip-Hop.” It’s a grown man perspective on a culture that is all grown up.
Common’s appearance took place during a Roots set that was a full dedication to their Things Fall Apart album, in celebration of its 20th anniversary. Other guests included Yasiin Bey, Beanie Sigel, Philadelphia Freeway, Dice Raw, Jill Scott and a host of others. The Roots Picnic was held at The Mann Center in Philadelphia, for the first time, and featured performances by H.E.R., 21 Savage, The Joe Budden Podcast, Raphael Saadiq, Questlove Supreme, J. Period & Black Thought’s live mixtape, and much more.