Debunking myths:Common the not-so-conscious rapper

Dec 22, 2011 @ 12:52 pm | By TheFeministGriote | 8 Comments

There is no denying that 2011 is Common’s year. He starred in the romantic-comedy “Just Wright” alongside Queen Latifah, he was asked by the FLOTUS to perform poetry at the White House, he penned his own autobiography One Day it Will Make Sense, he is also currently starring in the AMC show “Hell on Wheels,” and now he is rounding out the year with a critically acclaimed album “The Dreamer, The Believer.”

With all these accolades Common has also had his image called into question this year as well as overall in his career. FOX news had a meltdown at the fact that Common was at the White House reciting poetry. Sean Hannity acted as if Common being at the White House was akin to Ice-T or Guccie Mane being there. To further debase Common, Hannity used a line from a poem Common recited on Def Poetry Jam back in 2007 completely taking it out of context to assert the notion that Common was some type of anarchist:

Burn a Bush cos’ for peace he no push no button, killing over oil and grease, no weapons of mass destruction, how can we follow a leader when this is a corrupt one?

FOX news wanted to vilify and make Common into the angry black-gun-totting-radical rapper  who wanted to kill the then President of the United States which was George W. Bush. That is simply not the lane that Common travels in. Earlier this week Common’s credibility was also called into question by the most unlikeliest person, Maya Angelou. Angelou appears on Common’s latest album on the song, “The Dreamer” according to the New York Post she was  reported as saying that she did not know that Common was going to use the n-word in the song that she lent her poetry to. Common of course retorted and said although he never told Angelou directly that he would use the n-word in that particular song, but that she knew he used the n-word in his music. Semantics. Here in lies my issue with Common.

For some odd reason many hip-hop lovers and those who tolerate hip-hop tend to bestow Common with some amorphous title that he is some “conscious-righteous” rapper. Those are great buzz words that mean nothing when they’re juxtaposed next to Common’s body of work. Long before he was telling women to “get up on this conscious dick” on Kid Cudi’s song, “Poke her Face” he was never the safe woman friendly alternative that everyone wanted him to be.

In the song, “A film called pimp” from his album “Like Water for Chocolate”  his 2000 LP, Common is a pimp trying to convince a young woman MC Lyte that she needs to be a part of his “stable.”

Thick lips, blond wig, nice tits, ass the size that I dig /Asked her the name/ one way to approach her /See she had game/she needed me to coach her/ Expose her to some paper/freedom and culture /The way a righteous pimp is supposed to

A pimp’s sole job is to negotiate a woman’s agency away and make her believe that her body is a commodity that has street value and that even though she is the one who sleeps with the johns, her pimp deserves to have all of her money. What is righteous about that? There nothing honorable about a pimp that the art of pimping needs to be glorified on wax. On that very same album Common closes it out with “A song for Assata” which is dedicated to the exiled revolutionary Assata Shakur.On his album “Be” Common’s struggle with his dual self also comes to light in the song “Go” Common talks about having unprotected sex in a bathroom with a woman who has a body of a dancer. Promoting unprotected sex ain’t righteous.

 She was a bad (uh), the type at the club niggaz would grab her/ Fantasized when I had her, in the bathroom sweatin’ with her ass up/The body of a dancer, we had chemistry cuz she was a Cancer/Thought forever it would last for, but forever move faster, so I had to/ Still I gotta pause when I think about her in dem draws/ And a ooh baby she liked it raw/and like rain when she came it poured

Then his most egregious act is having Maya Angelou on the song as I mentioned before, “The Dreamer” talking about “exquisite thick bitches,” it is safe to say I have made my point. Common is not the soft cuddly clean rapper that everyone thinks he is.His persona is schizophrenic. He gladly accepts the title of “conscious rapper,” but continues to straddle the fence of foolishness. In hip-hop its not hard to be labeled the “good guy” because all you have to do is not kill people on your records, slide credit cards down a vixen ass-crack in a music video, or not be pictured with a white styrofoam cup in your hand, and you are all of a sudden rated G. Calling Common a conscious rapper is a misnomer.

Grant it he is not Lil Wayne or Waka Flaka, but Common is no Dead Prez either. Common has not raised the bar of excellence. He is a dope lyricist yes, who has missed the mark on many of his albums. He is nice on the mic when he is focused, but I can’t allow 2012 to come around and for us to still be peddling this falsehood. He is not as bad as the other guys, but in all honesty what is that really saying?


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Categories: Mind Over Chatter

8 Responses to “ Debunking myths:Common the not-so-conscious rapper ”

  1. THANK YOU for breaking this down so thoroughly and eloquently! This post needs to be reread and repeated, yo.

    As a Chicagoan who hasn’t gone that deep into his discography (and actually LISTENS to lyrics in general to boot), I can attest to this: even back when he had Sense, dude was nearly bereft of consciousness. Ohhhh, but there’s no gunplay tucked into his bars, so he gets a pass. Um…I vote NAH, SON. (To wit: Lonnie has waaaaaay too many civilian peers on corners out here, and I’ve met a few.) I blame the bar being lowered to the floor on dope beats at this point!

    I will never in this life or the next comprehend folks putting Common’s name and consciousness in the same sentence. White House appearances and “beefs” be damned.

  2. For awhile, after I found Fort Minor, I was really interested in listening to more conscious rap. I don’t normally like hip-hop/r&B/rab and Common had come up as an artist I should look in to.

    As someone who mostly knows about Common through his acting – I have to say that he has a lot of commercial appeal. He’s attractive, unlike a lot of other hip-hop/rap artists, and his persona is non-threatening (similar to Ludacris and Tyrese – who have also made the jump from music to acting). And since i don’t listen to his music, I can’t speak speaking (or maybe even accurately), but I think sometimes it boils down to your videos, how people perceive your music, and then lyrics are a close second.

    If your videos are low key or “artistic” I think that might lead others to believe you’re more conscious than your lyrics suggest. A lot of people claim to listen to the lyrics, but if they did, there would be a lot less anti-women lyrics, and certainly less violence and whatnot in contemporary music. Or perhaps most people aren’t trained to notice those things, so that’s why they persist.

    Either way – I think Common is able to get away with what he wants is because he comes off as so unassuming, and nonthreatening.

  3. This was such an amazing post made me realize something that I already know. That would the common’s Style of rapping(mostly the lyrics)… I know this song so well [ Common- Go]. and I know this line so well {Fantasized when I had her, in the bathroom sweatin’ with her ass up/} nut never thought of it as negative. It’s like Tatiana mentioned earlier he has an amazing Persona.

  4. This is a great post! Common is labeled as an almost-preacher by a lot of people, but he wouldn’t be selling CD’s if he were. Rap has gotten so far in the gutter that he seems as if he’s pure when compared to others. I grew up on all kinds of rap and conscious rap featured violence and the n-word quite a bit, but it rarely objectified women.

  5. Honestly, I am never comfortable on what stance I take on hip-hop lyrics and message. I think I am coping out if I just mention a few hardcore gangster rap artists or misogynistic performers that I never listen to such as R Kelly, Lil Wayne, or Snoop Dogg. I can never forgive Snoop Dogg for coming out on stage with women in dog leashes. I will not buy or listen to any of them– no exceptions after the first listen. But I love the beats of Common, Young Jeezy and Jada Kiss. It is such an easy fantasy and way to relax that substitutes for me for going to the strip club. I will smoke dope and swear but never around kids. And the truth of the matter is, as you pointed out with Common, all of them have used some horrible lyrics, even if most of them are okay and conscious. Street cred and misogyny sells. I have Young Jeezy in my car right now. I would never play him on my home CD when around a women but in private I will listen to Young Jeezy for a few weeks after most of his new CDs. I also give women the pass on using the N and B word. But I don’t give men the pass. To me it represents power when women use the word. As for Common– I will give him a pass. He is conscious enough to me that I feel comfortable playing his songs with women around. Definitely!!!! I remember several years ago there was a very conscious professor at my college. He gave a lot of money to great causes and was a great guy. Very emotionally connecting with people. But he was not environmentally conscious and he supported a lot of politicians and causes I was against. When one does a lot of good for society but also a lot of bad– I get confused on what stance I should take. That’s how I feel about rap and hip-hop. I can boycott their concerts and videos and buy less of their CDs. But if I do buy, cop any or listen to any of their CDs, the truth of the matter is that I do support them with this action. I support the lesser of the evil. They make $$$ of me. BUT AT LEAST I HAVE THE GUTS TO SAY I ADMIT TO THIS AND THUS SUPPORT THEM EVEN IF SUPPORTING THEM IS NOT MY INTENTION.

  6. […] And I’ve mostly got no problem with this song, as it’s kind of just a swaggering proclamation of who Common is and what he’s here to do. But you know, I feel like if you’re going to be some kind of conscious rapper, your lyrics should maybe be held to a higher level of scrutiny. When Common raps about his ability to make “broads become Queens“, nevermind that i have no idea what it is that he’s actually saying here, I find the misogyny offensive. It’s certainly not the worst example of misogyny on the album, but it makes me wonder how someone who gave such a beautiful and moving speech at the Golden Globes last week could have been celebrated for his consciousness while saying such boneheaded things as this album contains (I’m hardly the first to make this point). […]

  7. I stumbled upon this post while listening to Like Water For Chocolate because I wanted to confirm that MC Lyte was Common’s foil on “A Film Called Pimp”. Forgive me for the comment being a few years too late, but I believe this discussion lacks a degree of nuance.

    First, MC Lyte has been around longer than Common. I believe she is considered the first female MC to release a solo LP back in 1988. She is also older than Common, and while a guest spot on a Common record is prestigious, MC Lyte certainly wasn’t hanging on to Common’s coattails in 2000.

    If you listen to Lyte’s verses after Common’s, it would be clear that they are undermining the pimps and hos trope. Lyte turns the violence and misogyny back toward Common’s character, claiming she is going to pimp his ‘skinny punk ass’ for six bills a day. She takes the upper hand and bulldozes their back and forth, while he backpedals into a more metaphorical, pimp as cosmic preacher bullshit position.

    So, you’re right to point out that Common is no major feminist progressive. Many of his fans would agree with that assessment. His music is popular and neither radical nor progressive. I think he knows that, too, and occasionally he tries to have it both ways, but in “A Film Called P.I.M.P” he and MC Lyte rely on her rap seniority to invert the pimp paradigm.

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