I’m sure I’ve heard a hip hop album quite like this, and I mean that as a compliment. I’ve heard music by some of the participants but I don’t know if I’ve quite heard something this clearly hip hop (as opposed to neo soul) which had such a neo soul feel, and lyrics which mostly defy (what I think of as) hip hop conventions.
Common is noted for his lyrics which are quite distinct from most other rappers I’ve familiar with. (Obviously that’s to his credit.) He explicitly references his own hypocrisy (and perhaps that of other rappers) on one of the tracks here, which I can’t decide is a good thing – it probably is – or whether it undercuts the general vibe of the whole thing. (I get that reveling in contradictions is a time-honoured approach to rap lyrics now, but I still find it a little weird that he plays the part of a pimp to show that he might be a hypocrite.) Regardless, the lyrics give you a lot to think about it. I don’t know if they are better than other hip hop lyrics but they are certainly unique and thought-provoking in ways others’ lyrics often aren’t.
He and his producers are lacking a little, for me, on the production side. Though I generally like the vibe, I don’t find much of it particularly catchy or immediate. Someone claimed the Ol’ Dirty Bastard album I just finished listening to didn’t have enough “beats”, a criticism that I didn’t quite get. But listening to this, I can sort of see that kind of criticism. The interest definitely seems to be more in the rapping than the underlying tracks.
Like I said, I do like the overall vibe, though, and I have a growing appreciation for this whole scene that seeks to connect hip hop to its R&B and jazz roots. I’d much rather listen to this than to that G-Funk stuff. (I wanted to write “garbage” but thought better of it.) The vibe and lyrics feel appropriate here, even if I don’t find the individual tracks themselves that compelling.
Like most hip hop I listen to, I’m at a bit of a loss with how to grade it. Common is thoughtful, reflective and unique. I have not heard another rapper like him to date. I wish the album was more musically interesting, and shorter (always shorter!), but at least he exists, right?