In the early 1990s, young Lonnie Rashid Lynn was an unknown Chicago rapper going by an odd, but fitting, stage name: Common Sense. After being featured in The Source's famed Unsigned Hype section, Common Sense was soon scooped up by Relativity Records and working on his solo debut. That album, 1992's Can I Borrow A Dollar? was a slightly typical slice of hip hop of the time, but it showed a promise that would soon flourish. Hard beats against classic R&B, jazz and hip-hop samples, mostly courtesy of producer Immenslope, better known as No I.D., perfectly complemented the young MC's brash and bold rhymes and hungry flow. Though he hadn't quite found his way, it was clear he was on to something. Of course, 20 years later, we now know him as über-successful rapper/actor Common. Let's take a look at how Common's debut foreshadowed that hip-hop force that he would become.
Outside of being the vehicle that introduced Common to the world, Can I Borrow A Dollar? isn't particularly notable. It peaked at #70 on the Billboard R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart and launched three little-mentioned singles, "Take It EZ," "Breaker 1/9" and "Soul by the Pound." But what it is an interesting study of a young artist trying to find his voice. Adapting the syllable-twisting style that groups like Fu-Schnickens and Das EFX had ridden to success, young Com was full of young man swagger, rhyming about typical young man things (how fly he is, running through women and so on and so on forth). But even trying on a different style, Com's lyrical dexterity and witty wordplay were evident. Take opening track "A Penny for Your Thoughts," on which Com namechecks Mork & Mindy, Walter Peyton and, of all people, Liza Minelli as he lets you know that his rhymes are indeed far superior to anyone else's who would dare come test his skills.
As well, newcomers to this album used to Com's more laid-back approach in his later years, are in for a rude awakening. Put quite frankly, 20-year-old Com doesn't give a f--k. As mentioned at the beginning of "Take It EZ," this version of Common teeters between gangsta posing and smooth sensibilities. His lyrics, as full of four-letter words as they are with intricate insights, can be abrasive to those looking for something of a more conscious variety, especially if those listeners are of the female persuasion. Songs like "Heidi Hoe," "Puppy Chow" (which featured Miss Jones on the chorus) and "Tricks Up My Sleeve" (which featured his then girlfriend Rayshell) show a Com that had more in common with Snoop Dogg than De La Soul when it came to the ladies.
That being said, the real highlights of the album were the moments that Com and No I.D. melded together seamlessly. Flipping well-worn samples like they were brand new, I.D. was on fire here. Whether it was turning easily recognizable bedroom jam "Between the Sheets" into believable hard knock banger "Breaker 1/9" or coaxing DeBarge's "I Like It" to fit with the banging bass of "Soul by the Pound," the producer forced Com to rise to the level of the beats, resulting in inspired collaborations.
In the 20 years since Can I Borrow A Dollar?, Common has managed to reinvent himself over and over. While that path has seen him go from underground phenomenon to mainstream success, from rapper to actor to author, it's amazing to be able to see the evolution. What his debut captures, though, is a moment where Common was perhaps a bit hungrier and ready to make a name for himself. It might not be what we remember him for most, but it is definitely what set him on his journey and the beginning to which we owe the brilliance that would come after.