this must be the place....goin strong , yeah baby!!!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Reposting: Common's "Be"

Coming at you live from the Chi, tis I, RJ Jones, and I am happy to be a part of this motley online crew. Thank you Dan for inviting me, hello all buddies o' mine and wassaaaaaaaaaap. To those who don't know me personally, sorry, I'll be back in ATX some other time, let's hang out.

That being said,.. we talk about music on here, right?

I was listening to Common's "Be" in the car a couple of nights ago. Intro: I am an unabashed Kanye West supporter until we talk about 808's and Heartbreak, which I am calling his worst record by a longshot. But he's basically my man. He's responsible for most of my favorite hip-hop tunes with either a producer or rapper credit: "Song Cry," "Never Change," (Jay-z)"Dipset Forever," (Cam'ron) "Flashing Lights" all the way back through his own catalogue -- The soulful style against intuitively danceable beats just hits me hard. I gotta agree with Dan, that "Let The Beat Build" track from The Carter 3 is damn solid. So it's no surprise that I think "Be" is really, really good... but it occurred to me, listening to tracks like "The Corner" especially, that some of Kanye's freshest work is on this record. Apart from "Go," a single that I could care less to hear again today (it didn't really age too well on these ears), maybe this is a pretty underheard Kanye set.

Who is to blame for this set being underheard other than the hot and cold MC known as Common Sense to some... I think some of the headz out there will agree, he's not consistently on top of the game even if he is putting out a hit record. He's been left for dead more than once through his career. "Be" was a brief resurrection period where Common seemed to get some of his fire back, and I wouldn't be surprised if that was Kanye's doing.

Let's go back to The Corner, track two on "Be." From the first bars of this song, I'm amazed. I don't know what that trick is called where the beat seems to be playing in reverse for a bar or two and then a vocal loop hits for a measure to drop you into the song, but I effing love that ish. Kanye doesn't do that trick enough. He probably saves it for when he knows the groove is going to really hit hard. If I was in charge of that move I'd be bobbing my head violently, and that's my white boy trying to be cool I guess. On Common's side of responsibility here, the lyrics are really great too, featuring a rhyme scheme so entangled you'd think MF Doom gave him some writing tips. And while I'm no gangster by a longshot, I've been to the hood a time or two and I imagine some of the things that are mentioned are pretty true. Do you ever wonder if a rapper is telling the truth? Like, take Jay-z, and a lyric like "The name is mine I'll take blame for that / The pressure's on but guess who ain't done crack / Ha, pardon me I had to laugh at that." So, dude has done his hard drugs but gets the apparently southern-Christian princess otherwise known as Beyoncé. Yeah that's totally an aside but the point is I wonder if rappers talk about what really happened to them sometimes and the things Common talks about are pretty commonplace (yeah I wrote that before realizing it was a dumb pun) in any hood. So, yeah, good song.

I really like the intro track on "Be" for the beat and the string sample. It's almost a soundprint of the golden era style that can't do anything but make you feel pretty sunny. I'm no DJ but I have done my fair share of picking out songs to play at parties. The "Be" Intro track is a guaranteed good vibes selection.

Some people are really glad Kanye has abandoned the whole chipmunk sample gimmick, but "Faithful" is a really luscious production. Even though he's pushing that move from the beginning of the track, the voices seem to have a really cool dynamic phrasing to them. I'm not sure if that's Kanye's doing or the original source's fault, but it's a keen selection and it sounds amazing. Lyrics good here, no complaints. I was going to say that the conceit making God into a sex object was interesting and unique but I honestly am not sure that's true.

Like I said before I could really do without "Go!" but "Testify" is a little clunky for my liking, so I pass it up for a different reason than "Go." It's an alright example of rap storytelling.

"Chi City" is a song I'm proud of, and I think it captures the sprawling feeling of the... city.

Another well-known track from the record, "The Food" has aged nicely compared to "Go!" and I still really like this song. The hook is clever, it has fun wordplay that everyone can grasp, and the verses are really nice too. This song is really consistent... And really, this whole record is too. Probably because Kanye had an idea of what to do with it and just went for it for most of these tracks.

When Kanye comes out of the woodwork to really drop a verse on "They Say," he does amazingly well. It's not a totally stellar track compared to some of the others on this record, but it's got its moments. The keyboard sample is nice, it covers the whole song in audio stardust as it twinkles away from the hook. Kanye's verse at the end really owns. I think this is an example of Kanye nailing it. Some people will say he can occasionally slip into awkwardness with his words. I totally agree with this sentiment, but when he's on, he's on. And I kinda think he knows he did well cuz he's all celebratory into the hook after his verse. This is a cool effect.

I'd be commiting hiphop heresy if I didn't credit the record's minor star, J Dilla, who has basically become a hero since his passing, with working some real magic into "Be". Where Kanye is pretty pop-forward with his beats, J Dilla is not afraid to cut a sample in a weird way so it lingers on too long (see "Strap" from Ghostface's Fishscale record, possibly one of the best tracks on that helluvan-album) or let sections of a beat / song element drop in suddenly. He does really well with "Love Is..." which fits right in with Kanye's vibe on the record while showing a J Dilla imprint, making it just different enough to merit mentioning his work. The way that the keyboard samples just jump right into the mix before the first verse is the best marker to show it's Dilla, I think. This song, though, is the only one I really have gripes with in terms of Common's lyrics. It's his verse near the end where the beat drops out totally and he throws in a curveball to change the story of the flow without warning. It's really jarring. Oh well. Can't win 'em all.

I'm sure some of the Rancho guys are familiar with this album, but for whoever hasn't checked out "Be," or isn't convinced that Kanye is totally amazing yet, put this album on your to-do list. I'm certainly willing to admit that hiphop occasionally falters and that it is a genre with limits that seem to suggest that it might run out of ideas anytime, but occasionally there are records like "Be" that reinvigorate my interest in the style.

How's that for post number one?

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