Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Common

  • One Day It'll All Make Sense [Relativity, 1997] B+
  • Like Water for Chocolate [MCA, 2000] A-
  • Electric Circus [MCA, 2002] B
  • Be [Geffen, 2005] ***
  • Finding Forever [Geffen, 2007] A-
  • Universal Mind Control [Geffen, 2008] **
  • The Dreamer/The Believer [Think Common/Warner Bros., 2011] ***

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

One Day It'll All Make Sense [Relativity, 1997]
With no notable penchant for ear candy or mass ass appeal, this Chicago rhymer carves out an unpretentious artistic space that couldn't have existed before hip hop--no singer-songwriter's everyday ruminations come such social content or physical form. Common raps about black life as most black people live it and black manhood as most young black men grow into it, and while his flow isn't primed for the dance floor, it's complex and full-bodied in a way few, you know, white artists could imitate, much less make up. Nor is that the only way he's complex--guy spends considerable time dancing in his head. B+

Like Water for Chocolate [MCA, 2000]
See: Rising to the Top. A-

Electric Circus [MCA, 2002]
Sometimes brave men march off into the swamp and get seriously lost, so let's hope Captain ?uestlove and his s?uad remembered the DEET. Vocal flow's not the problem, and set to the beat-smart fusion lite of Like Water for Chocolate, the humanity of the well-meaning poetry would probably outweigh all the forced similes and sentimental lapses. Outfitted in this music, however, Common's pretensions stand up and do jumping jacks. There are pleasurable rhythm elements, and under the circumstances, the Stereolab cameo is kind of an up. But those are parts. The whole is keybs like golden nacho goo, guitar sticking out like chips, please-not-more codas, and everywhere the angelic twaddle of singing swingles doo-doo. B

Be [Geffen, 2005]
Few of the best moments belong to the main attraction, who's not as wise as they tell him he is ("It's Your World [Part 1 & 2]," "The Food [Live]"). ***

Finding Forever [Geffen, 2007]
Beat scholars call this producer Kanye West's J. Dilla tribute, but us hip-hop GED's wonder when the late legend ever put his hand to R&B so smart and smooth. R&B rather than hip-hop is how it signifies. From "Windmills of Your Mind" to "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," the samples subtler and more surprising than last time, and let me also mention the Ethiopian jazz and the Animals' Nina Simone cover in between. In fact, the best music here is so deep it's more powerful than the rhymes. These are strongest at their most forgiving--"The People," "Misunderstood," "U, Black Maybe"--and most R&B in their articulations of what a dog he still is. Which are we to believe, the romantic "I Want You" or the postromantic "Break My Heart"--or the carnal D'Angelo collab "So Far to Go"? A-

Universal Mind Control [Geffen, 2008]
Conscious rappers have afterparties too ("Gladiator," "Universal Mind Control [UMC]"). **

The Dreamer/The Believer [Think Common/Warner Bros., 2011]
Still on a major label, he's damn well gonna act it ("Raw [How You Like It]," "The Believer") ***

See Also