SHADES OF GRACE 


It’s one of life’s great ironies that peaceniks make attractive lightning rods, but there’s something about charismatic hippies that’s a beacon for haters. When Common Sense dropped hip-hop’s thieves-in-the-temple moment with “I Used to Love H.E.R,” foretelling the genre’s disintegration into materialism and death over a decade ago, the harmonious rhetoric did not go unpunished. Ice Cube, among others, threw stones.

Common (who has since dropped the “Sense”) isn’t your typical martyr, however, and the rapper’s pipe-hitting response to Cube (“Bitch in Yoo”) became almost as applauded as his original statement, and so it has remained for the “conscious” rapper ever since. Few MCs today boast more self-empowering, consciousness-raising lyrics or more heartbreaking, lush production – thanks to an internal collective consisting of Kanye West, No I.D. and DJ Premier, among others – but fewer still are given so many opportunities to contradict themselves. Common recently starred and modeled for constantly rotating Gap ads, and he now follows it with songs like “A Dream” (from the soundtrack of the Hillary Swank vehicle Freedom Writers), in which he raps over clips from M.L.K.’s speech. Go back in time and listen to Killa Com’s jaw-dropping attack on Ice Cube (“better off acting”) and try not to picture the countless magazine profiles focused on Common’s newfound movie career – not to mention the fact that Common’s currently appearing on the 2K Sports Bounce Tour.

Why is it still taboo to question the credibility of Common a decade and a half into his career? The answer: The dude is unfuckwitable. “Bitch”-style outbursts, corporate contracts and silver-screen ambitions still seem tame in a rap era that allows 50 Cent to get massive play off a single whose half-assed chorus snickers, “I’m laughing straight to the bank wit this.” In spite of everything, Common has refused to relinquish his soapbox. He has refused to apologize for his black-centric views in the face of reverse-racism accusations. Common will not refrain from saying exactly what’s on his mind, and though countless conscious rappers have found success emulating the style, perhaps nobody in the game has wrapped the lesson in such candy-coated accessibility or innately relatable songwriting.

This summer’s release of Finding Forever, with its brisk, driving through-line, answered any doubts about the 35-year-old losing his touch with age, a la Jay-Z or, well, Cube himself. Against everything we know about the fate of peacemakers, Common could be our first great gray-haired rapper.

music@orlandoweekly.com

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