Common — Be

Be: Common’s triumphant second-wind in his career, which saw him regaining his focus in messages and ability to lyrically explore/connect ideas. Further assisted by the production efforts of a younger Kanye West and J Dilla, “Be” re-established Common as a premiere lyricist in the genre of Hip Hop after his string of “soulquarian”/90s albums had come to an end, and fans had felt way too disconnected to understand the ambitious vision of “Electric Circus” – his last studio album prior to this one.

“Be” was a textbook showcase of strong Hip Hop fundamentals – Beats, rhymes and empowerment. Audiences hear Common rap over tasteful soul samples throughout the album; vividly painting stories of Chicago’s ghettos and how it affected himself and the black-youth. Promoting listeners to find new inspirations instead of alcohol-dependency and circumstance-complacency through lyrical motifs which praise his daughter, music, sobriety, role models, god and family. I think Common even addresses how the then-prevalent “Bling-era” of rap had negatively affected black culture on a few songs too.

However, the lyrical content of “Be” never feels too cliché or boring and actually encourages a lot of repeat-listens; Common seems to have meticulously laced each song with layers of double-entendres and wordplay. Of course, there’s the style of Kanye’s early soul-sampling and J Dilla’s production talent too, but I think the strength of those two factors should be credited to Common’s ability to marry vulnerability and self-reflection harmoniously in his flows and lyrics – thus creating one of Hip Hop’s most honest and empowering albums, and further setting a new standard of “conscious-rap”.

Listen to the full album below:

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GIL

Before the Cilvia Demo EP dropped, Isaiah Rashad was originally gonna drop a mixtape titled “Pieces of a Kid”. The rumoured mixtape was never released but fans made their own versions instead with songs released by Zay on SoundCloud and others scattered elsewhere. The finished products are 2 well-known mixtapes – Welcome To The Game and Pieces Of A Kid – which to me, could’ve possibly gone down as one or two of Hip Hop’s greatest mixtapes ever.

Instead the fan mixes we’ve got left are just pieces of a hype that could’ve been. Not to take anything away from Cilvia Demo at all, but had Isaiah dropped a mixtape, there may have been a much bigger hype around him, like Joey Badass before he dropped B4.Da.$$ , when he had 2 cult-classic mixtapes under his name already: 1999 and Summer Knights  

Nowadays, the Pieces Of A Kid mixtapes and the story of what they could’ve been, are only really known to Isaiah’s rather small fan-base. I listen to the tapes every now and then and try to imagine what they could’ve been too but instead, I’m more intrigued about how Zay’s pre-TDE SoundCloud leftovers actually formed one of Hip Hop’s most consistent, honest, conceptual and unique 50 minutes.

In less than 2 minutes on GIL/Sounds From Friday Morning, from both mixtapes (and Zay’s Soundcloud), Isaiah performs one of the most heartfelt and personally-relatable songs I’ve ever heard. He expresses, what-could-only-be years of personal turmoil and feelings through juxtapositions and contrasting ideas, with a sense of intoxication in his vocal delivery, Zay also uses clever euphemisms and metaphors to lessen the severity of his depressing topics.

Along with the chilling instrumental too, all of the song’s elements translate to a song which perfectly encapsulates Rashad’s alcohol and narcotics-dependency, depression, social influences, social detachment and youthful restlessness. All in less than 2 minutes.

Other songs from the mixtapes and Zay’s SoundCloud like Part III, 2x Pills, Part II, Hurt Cobaine and ’95 are also worth noting too. Although, both mixtapes are really worth giving a listen. Download Pieces Of A Kid here or Welcome To The Game here. Check out Zay’s SoundCloud, Cilvia Demo EP and The Sun’s Tirade too.

ODB’s Genius

When I first heard Ol Dirty Bastard’s (ODB for short) cult-favourite album: “Return To The 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version”, I was completely taken back by the album’s cover-art and its intro. Truthfully, I was drunk by myself on a Saturday night when I first heard it too, but I ironically found myself laughing really hysterically by the end of the intro itself and also thoroughly enjoying the rest of the music.

Much like ODB’s real-life personality and stories, the character he plays throughout the album are also just as ear-grabbing and attention-demanding as his true-life counterpart, perhaps ODB was just playing himself. However, I think it’s really interesting and worth noting on how ODB’s 1995 debut album intro predicted much of the personalities we see in mainstream rap today too, in 2017.

ODB is introduced to us on the album by a character named Russell Jones played by fellow Wu-Tang Clan member and album producer The RZA, who also has the same name in real life. Perhaps The RZA’s playing himself too but I doubt it since there’s a clear difference between Russell Jones and The RZA’s real voice. It could be possible The RZA’s just satirizing himself though since members of the Wu-Tang Clan had such a negative image associated with them at the time, they still do now too but most of Hip Hop just praise their work to the point of overshadowing it, so perhaps he’s just overdoing his character’s delivery to expose how ridiculous the Hip Hop audience had painted himself to be.

The RZA’s character constantly stutters and mumbles as he tries to introduce and hype up ODB to an audience of eagerly cheering and screaming fans. The drums and synths start irregularly and pause, they rise and die out as the RZA’s still introducing ODB. Then Ol Dirty himself finally appears but the crowd gradually grows silent as he performs a monologue and shares his story of a woman who ‘burnt’ him with gonorrhea. He has a pianist playing for him as he further explains his story, states he killed her, professes his regret and love for her, then tributes a Blowfly song to her aptly, yet inappropriately titled “The First Time Ever You Sucked My Dick” (all in that said order).

The crowd loves it by the end, then ODB snaps out of his character to say he was just messin’ around with us this whole time; “How y’all feelin? listen to the album cuz it’s BANGIN” and cuts to a dialogue-sample of the English-dub version of “The 36th Chamber Of Shaolin”, which by the way, is in my opinion one of The RZA’s better kung-fu film dialogue samples being hidden in introductions and interludes. Since we can assume ODB is the 2nd speaker, his response to “We have only thirty-five chambers, there is no thirty-six” is “I know that, but, I want to create a new chamber”. The 1st speaker then replies: “Oh? And what would that be?”, then Ol Dirty responds with the next song in the album: “Shimmy Shimmy-ya”, which is therefore the 36th chamber.

I think ODB’s unyielding genius of character on this album would only reveal itself in the following decades after its public release. It seems like ODB almost predicted exactly how much Hip Hop audiences today would adore an idiotic rapper, who raps about immature and grotesque subjects in such an ignorant approach and low standard of presentation. Rappers like Kodak Black, for example, show such a striking similarity to ODB’s character, that it almost seems like they’ve been paying homage to him via imitation all this time. Seriously, Kodak Black’s comical string of legal issues honestly seem like something ODB himself would get into, let alone his character.

Audiences love Kodak Black too. I think that might be the strongest point I can make about ODB’s intro on his debut album, and how it predicted the rappers of 2017. Kodak Black’s fan-base show so much support to him that it makes you wonder how Kodak’s music even affected them to the extent of their high gratitude. Regardless, ODB’s still a legend and this album of his has been on heavy rotation for a past couple of weeks. I just wanted to share an observation of mine I hadn’t seen anyone else comment about.