People occasionally recommend music as a soundtrack for reading particular books as if they were doing a wine pairing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone recommend a book to accompany a soundtrack, though, so it is my pleasure to give you this contribution from the Shuffler Department of Reverse Engineering: William Upski Wyatt’s Bomb the Suburbs is a tour of mid-nineties Chicago hip-hop and graffiti culture through a social justice lens, and often mentions a young Southside rapper by the name of Common Sense and, if memory serves, treats The Source magazine as something of a sacred text. Six years after that book was published, Common had shortened his name and released this, his fourth album (and first on a major). On “Cold Blooded” he raps like he is still that young hungry rapper, musing “I be dissin’ magazines, but then buy The Source“ and “Battle raps is where it began / I’ma end it wherever I land.” In the fullness of time, we’ve seen this manifest itself as an actor, author, model, and, yes, rapper, something of a poster child for the conscious rap movement.
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).
And, shit, in case you think I’m being too hard on him, please understand that I’m aware I could levy the same or similar criticism against a handful of other artists. Stick around, please, and give me that chance. I’ll get there in future Shufflers. Okay, but now that we’ve got that out of the way (I’m clearly just vying for a Webby in the Concious Blogger category), let’s talk about the music.
There are some pretty genius moments of flow here, set against a track produced by D’Angelo, Kelo and Questlove and the Roots, which is to say that it is super smoothed out. What’s funny is that there are a lot of Roots songs that, if one didn’t know a live band was involved, sound like maybe they were produced by Jay Dee, who it turns out did produce a lot of songs on this album, just not this one. If the golden age of hip-hop is said to have been from the late eighties to the early nineties, I think that this album and others are emblematic of a sort of second golden age, a time when hip-hop enjoyed a resurgence of creative energy. Whatever problems I might have with Common’s lyrical content from time to time, I respect his contribution to an exciting era. Like Water for Chocolate is hardly Things Fall Apart, but then again, what is?