Just How Much Has Common Changed Over the Years?

4common.jpg There seems to be a bit of hand-wringing over Common's forthcoming Universal Mind Control. Many visitors to this site reacted with ambivalence or flat-out rejected his most recent videos. And all of the changes the album has undergone over the past year does little to inspire confidence. All of this begs the question: Has Common changed? And if he has, is it for better or worse? Or have we set ourselves up for disappointment because of the expectations we imposed on him?

Common is dope regardless, but let's explore anyway, 'k?

Yesterday, a visitor pointed out something regarding this nefarious EuroTech Busta Rhymes track that escaped the rankest corner of Hell with its head on fire, saying:

I had a friend put something in the air regarding stuff like this and Common's Universal Mind Control track. They may use these types of songs to gain a greater following in Europe. Especially since the Euro and Pound are so much more than the U.S. dollar.

Wait, would Common really...? No! Not our Common. That's crazy talk! But think about it. We are no longer at a point in Hip Hop where "I Used To Lover H.E.R." is even remotely acceptable to the hungry masses because the masses are no longer hungry. And it could be argued that neither is Lonnie. He doesn't need to "Borrow A Dollar" anymore. He is the post-"Sense", post Smokin' Aces Common, one that is able to parlay a partnership with Kanye West into mainstream viability. Arguably more conscious these days, but with an innate ability to convey those aspects of his artistry without offense. This Common is palatable to the masses, here and across the pond.

Some folks aren't happy about that. Buss this:

...he merrily goes around selling himself as a pitchman for everything from Smirnoff to GAP, while simultaneously yapping on and on about his true devotion to hip hop and love and art and The Corner and acting like these "brand partnerships" somehow represent something deeper than just a paycheck.

Ouch, Hamilton Nolan! I'm usually the first to cry foul when I catch artists promoting products that they would otherwise never drink, eat, buy, wear or drive, but none of Common's endorsements thus far seem that contrived. Not even The Gap. But pair all this with his recent videos and lines like "philosophy on top of ya" and the situation may call for deeper exploration. It was recently reported that Microsoft is sponsoring his upcoming tour. Not bad. But I don't get the t-shirt thing:

"I want to be timeless, I want to be international, and those are the things I feel like I'm working toward now," he said. "I liked creatively where they wanted to go. Actually Microsoft and I are about to do a line of T-shirts coming out in November. I'm designing them."

I've always maintained that change and growth are two different things. Some artists, the really good ones, are able to adjust to certain times and trends without losing sense of the thing that initially endeared them to us. Some just go with what's hot to make a buck, and they are tools. The key to artisitic evolution is exploring new ideas (even if they are trendy) and stepping out of your box, while still pushing your product to new creative heights without sacrificing your identity. And although designing t-shirts (of all things, I mean why not a video game?) with Microsoft gives me slight pause, we have to wonder just how much of Common's earlier work in any way indicated that brand partnerships were off-limits.

Or knee-jerk deference. Peep what he had to say about 808s & Heartbreak:

"I love it... Let me tell you, as an artist, you wanna be free. You gotta do what you feel. You can't just cater to the audience. You gotta say, 'Hey, y'all, this is where I'm at.' For him to do an album called 808s and Heartbreak, you know that's where he is at this moment. I heard some songs, and I think it's fresh. I think the people are ready for it."

Good Lord, this man is just cool with everything isn't he? Can I get him to be a spokesperson for SB?

All jokes aside, when it comes to music, particularly Hip Hop, the artist will be measured by his greatest work. For me Like Water For Chocolate set the standard. For others it was One Day It'll All Make Sense. To that end, I have faith that Common's output will be quality but I never hold him to the standard of LWFC because it will never happen. He will never be that good again and neither will his collaborators. Kanye and Pharrell have almost never been able to evoke the musical balance and range that made Common's partnership with Jay Dee so flawless, and knowing that could make the pill that is Universal Mind Control a little easier to swallow.

Common Sense: "Soul By The Pound" (Thump Mix)

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7 Responses

  1. For those that dislike Universal Mind Control, does that also mean you've got no love for Soulsonic Force, Kraftwerk, Newcleus, etc.?

  2. Good grief. I think Common has pretty much changed his steez with every album. Resurrection doesn't sound anything like One Day It'll All Make Sense or Electric Circus or Be. I think part of being a true artist is being able to experiment with different sounds that he or she might appreciate and want to expound on. What is wrong with exploring another groove? And I have no idea why it's so horrible to endorse a brand. As long as it's brand you actually use, what's the problem? Us regular folk endorse brands everyday, but we do it for free.
    Comparing Kanye and Pharrell to Dilla. Doesn't really make much sense to me, because the production of each are so different. I can't compare them.
    It bothers me that when an artist finally gets popular and is given an opportunity to expose more people to their work, it's a problem. Jeez. It's like the album hasn't even come out yet and we're ready for it to fail.

  3. I'm not a music head AT ALLI just know what I like so take this comment for what it 'tis worth! :0)
    I Love Common - LWFC is still part of my weekly soundtrack (along with tracks 2,9 and 10 from BE)
    I am not hyped about Mind Control simply because whenever this dude is in L.O.VE LOVE, it is reflected in his music (in the past, not so good) . Is he just going through his Mary J. phase (think Love & Live and Breakthrough) ? Will he "rebound" like she did with Growing Pains? Is Serena, Common's Kendu LOL?
    I sure hope so but I am not holding my breath!

  4. Common has changed, but I think it's for the better. Common can do no wrong to me.

  5. I don't know how the person you quoted heard the single Universal Mind Control and summed it up as Common possibly trying to cater to the "Euro" market (as if he wasn't always bigger over there than in the US as far as love and notoriety goes). That person is obviously young and/or hasn't been exposed to the early foundation Hip Hop artists. When I heard a few joints from UMC (especially the title song) it reminded me of Afrika Bambata, Mantronix and even Chill Rob G or early Jungle Brothers. In no way can anyone say they aren't Hip Hop! Common's new material is B Boy music!! "Let the poppers pop and the breakers break" type joints, it's classic Common if you really know who he is as an artist.
    Yes he's grown as an artist, yes he's become somewhat of a household name and yes he's flexing his Hollywood muscle but damn that was the point from the beginning right? Global domination!!! You said there's a difference between growth and change and the difference is growth is to evolve (which he has) and change is something you can just do and I've yet to see Common just "do" anything. He's a guy who studies, plans then execute so the steps are calculated whether the listener wants to accept it or not.
    As far as him acting, every recording artist or musician who's known for a great live show has a little bit of actor in them but not every artist is brave or passionate enough about acting to actually pursue it. Ice-T, Ice Cube, LL Cool J, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Fresh Prince (Will Smith) and a few more I'm forgetting felt it strong enough to explore that side of their artistic nature. Who are we to say if it's a bad thing for a recording artist to have talent outside of their music. Hell artist have to survive and true artists will always use artistic mediums to create income and keep themselves from working a regular 9 to 5.
    I don't get why cats put their favorite artists in a box and expect them to always meet their personal expectations. The world is bigger than one person so the expectations are too high with most good artists. Also why does he have to be "ok" with everything just because he thinks 808's and Heartbreaks is a free album that allows Kanye to express where he is at the moment? It's the truth but you have to be an artist yourself or associated with said artist to relate and appreciate.
    Last but not least "Like Water For Chocolate" set the standard for you but "Resurrection" set the standard for me and most Common fans for that matter but I don't expect him to ever make anything close to that album again. LWFC was growth so if you accepted that and gave it a chance give UMC the same chance.
    PS. I agree the "I'll philosophize on top of ya" line from Announcement is kinda wild coming from Common but maybe that's why he said it. Everybody expects him to be a evangelist because he's cultured with knowledge of self but every female who is extra earthy is a freak so go figure. Maybe that's the balance....LOL

  6. I think he has evolved, as anyone should. As far as his new project, I'm excited about it and I plan to wait and see what it holds. He's earned that.-QH

  7. If Common stayed the same, he will be like 50cent and insert any other lame rapper that comes with the similar beat and style every album because they figure thats the formula to get the hits. I love every change of common and love that he has grown.
    Yes, UMC is like Afrika Bambatta's song. . .um hip hop in its original forms!
    I am so happy for common's success finally a rapper who has resisted talking about bitches and hoes, get what he deserves recognition and guap!