Tag Archives: Common

52 Best Albums & EPs Of 2011 (Part Five) – Maffew Ragazino / Prose / Quelle Chris

Maffew Ragazino – “Rhyme Pays” (Cash In Cash Out Records) – Brownsville, Brooklyn representative Ragazino stormed the underground Hip-Hop scene with a brilliantly orchestrated online promo campaign and then dropped this polished set that bristles with thoroughbred NY attitude. Backed by production from the likes of DJ Clark Kent, Vinyl Frontiers and Sha Banga, Maffew took his first step towards his name being added to the long list of BK rap greats.

Prose – “The Dark Side Of The Boom” (BBP) – Following up last year’s excellent “Force Of Habit” album, UK duo Steady Rock and Efeks delivered another accomplished set of quality homegrown Hip-Hop that put a slightly moodier twist on their trademark boom-bap sound.

General Monks – “Each Step Becomes Elevated” (Wandering Worx Entertainment) – Teaming up with Gold Chain Music artist TriState for this release, West Coast emcee Planet Asia further solidified his reputation as a lyrical giant amongst midgets, with the duo launching verbal missiles over hardcore production alongside the likes of Ras Kass, Krondon and Montage One.

Muneshine & Vinyl Frontiers – “Larger Than Life” (Vinyl Frontiers) – Canada’s Muneshine definitely shone on this EP of upbeat bangers which found the Toronto wordsmith dropping both reflective rhymes and sarcasm-laced lines over the Vinyl Frontiers’ soulful production.

Praverb The Wyse – “Professional Hobbyist” (Praverb Dot Net) – An honest account of both the triumphs and frustrations facing underground artists who are forced to fit their musical aspirations around the day-to-day grind, this album from Virginia’s Praverb was a breath of fresh air from an emcee unafraid to really let listeners into his world.

MCM – “The Gospel : The Missing Gems Of MCM (1994 – 2011)” (I-Innovate) – As frontman of 90s UK Hip-Hop favourites Caveman, MCM’s place in British rap history is secure. With sporadic periods of solo activity since the group’s break-up, this epic collection of over thirty tracks mixed new MCM material with unreleased treats from the last two decades. Featuring production from the likes of DJ Devastate, Si Spex and DJ Nappa, “The Gospel” brilliantly showcased MCM’s positive lyrical message.

Raekwon – “Shaolin Vs Wu-Tang” (EMI) – Aside from a few sonic mis-steps, The Chef’s most recent solo opus continued the momentum gained from 2009’s “Cuban Linx” sequel. Dropping his usual blend of coded crime rhymes and street-related wisdom over mostly solid production from the likes of Kenny Dope, The Alchemist and Bronze Nazareth, Raekwon once again proved himself to be a true master of his craft.

Common – “The Dreamer / The Believer” (Warner Bros) – This particular Windy City wordsmith may no longer be the posterchild for underground rap that he was during the 90s following the release of his classic “I Used To Love H.E.R.”, but Common can still tap into that same pure Hip-Hop spirit when he chooses to. After 2008’s limp “Universal Mind Control” the Chicago native had a lot to prove, so he teamed-up with longtime collaborator No I.D. to record an album that balances commercial sensibilities and progressive lyrical messages with moments of raw rap attitude.

yU – “The Earn” (Mello Music Group) – Capturing a variety of moods reflecting the struggles, dreams and aspirations of a young man attempting to find his place in the world, this sophomore solo effort from the Diamond District emcee is as inspirational as it is entertaining. A modern-day masterpiece.

Soul Khan – “Acknowledgement” (Brown Bag Allstars) –  The first in a four-EP series the Brooklyn-based emcee began early in 2011, this DJ Element-produced project found the former battle champ exploring the idea of self-worth in rousing fashion, delivering confident verses brimming with personality over a selection of drum-heavy, sample-driven soundscapes.

Quelle Chris – “Shotgun & Sleek Rifle” (Synergy Works) – Stalwart of the underground Detroit scene Quelle Chris has something of an eclectic musical background that covers Hip-Hop, rock and electronica. With this project, the Wasted Youth member embarked on a beautifully blunted musical voyage, blending the grimy feel of a basement tape with the soulful shimmer of interplanetary cosmic funk. A truly unique listening experience.

Ryan Proctor

Believe That! – Common

Lengthy Power 105.1 interview with Common discussing his new album “The Dreamer / The Believer” and recent autobiography “One Day It’ll All Make Sense”.

New Joint – Common

Common – “Sweet” (WMG / 2011)

Chi-town’s favourite son thumps his chest King Kong-style on this track from the forthcoming album “The Dreamer / The Believer”.

New Joint – Common

Common – “Blue Sky” (WMG / 2011)

No ID-produced track from the Chicago emcee’s forthcoming album “The Dreamer / The Believer”.

New Joint – Stylah / Lowkey

Stylah ft. Lowkey – “The Light” (Stylah.TV / 2011)

The two London emcee’s put their own twist on the Common classic for Stylah’s forthcoming album “Crash Course 2”.

Back To Basics – Common

DJ Reflex interview with Common on LA’s Power 106 discussing the forthcoming No ID-produced album “The Dreamer, The Believer” and promoting the new single “Blue Sky”.

Classic Material – Common

Common recounts putting together his critically-acclaimed 2005 album “Be” for the latest episode of Reebok’s “Classic Albums By Classic Artists” series.

New Joint – Common / Nas

Common ft. Nas – “Ghetto Dreams” (Universal / 2011)

Video for the recently leaked cut from Common’s forthcoming album “The Dreamer, The Believer”.

New Joint – Common / Nas

Common ft. Nas – “Ghetto Dreams” (Universal / 2011)

No I.D.-produced track from Common’s forthcoming album “The Dreamer, The Believer” featuring a fiery verse from Mr. Jones.

If this is indicative of the vibe of the finished album then it looks like, thankfully, 2008’s lacklustre “Universal Mind Control” was just a temporary blip in Common’s outstanding catalogue.

New Joint – Kyza Smirnoff

Kyza Smirnoff – “Black Maybe” (New Sound Era / 2011)

Mr. Sayso flips the well-known Common track and drops plenty of lyrical gems in the process.

Re:Discovering… – Grav

Grav

“Down To Earth”

(Correct Records / 1996)

I don’t actually remember the day I picked up this album from Harlem-raised, Chicago-based emcee Grav, which is unusual for me because I tend to have a memory like an elephant when it comes to recalling the finer details of my musical purchases throughout the years. I know where I got it from (Luton’s now defunct Soul Sense Records), but who I was with and details of the day are hazy to say the least. But the fact I can’t immediately bring back vivid images of my decision to dig into my not-so-fat pockets for this Windy City emcee’s one-and-only album is no reflection of the quality to be found within its fifteen tracks, but it does hint at the fact that this was an album that popped up out of nowhere from an unknown artist that, at the time, obviously wasn’t at the top of my wants list.

In fact, had it not been for the fact that “Down To Earth” was released on the short-lived Correct imprint, I might not have paid the album any attention at all whilst scanning the new releases on that day back in 1996. Wax historians will remember Correct Records as the label that, prior to this release, had dropped former Beatnuts member Al’ Tariq’s solo album “God Connections”, a project that this particular Hip-Hop junkie bumped in heavy-rotation throughout the autumn of ’96 (and yes, I’m still mad The Source only gave that particular release a criminal two-and-a-half-mics in the mag’s legendary Record Report section).

It was the easily recognizable orange Correct logo on this album’s back cover that prompted me to ask one of the Soul Sense staff if I could hear a few snippets out of curiosity. What boomed out of the shop’s speakers would go on to become one of my favourite long-players from the 90s independent era.

A solid, confident collection of boastful rhymes and heavy beats that leant heavily towards the raw boom-bap of NYC, “Down To Earth” found Grav (a.k.a Mr Massive) positioning himself as an accomplised emcee with a boisterous but likeable microphone persona.

At the time, Common was still really the only underground artist from Chicago to have gained universal props from all corners of Planet Rock, with other Chi-town acts such as All Natural having yet to drop their future releases that would draw further attention to the city’s busy subterranean rap scene of the time. So Grav’s “Down To Earth” (recorded in both Chicago and at NY’s legendary Powerplay Studios) was something of a novelty to a Hip-Hop head familiar with the stylings of Queensbridge, Compton and The Bronx, yet still largely unaware of what the Midwest had to offer.

Whilst “Down To Earth” boasts sterling production from Common collaborators No ID and Dug Infinite, what has made Grav’s debut something of a curiosity in recent years is the fact that over half of the album’s full-length cuts were produced by a young Kanye West. A world away from the sped-up soul samples that became his Roc-A-Fella trademark and the somewhat pretentious hugely-orchestrated productions of last year’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”, Kanye’s production here was rooted in the dusty wax found in Chicago record store basements, encapsulating soul, jazz and funk samples placed skilfully over headphone-ready, dome-nodding drums.

On the ominous “Sick Thoughts” Grav comes off like a low-key Dungeon Dragon era Busta Rhymes as he delivers lyrical body blows to his competition, whilst the funky “City To City” finds Al’ Tariq joining his labelmate for a potent display of witty fast-paced wordplay over a pulsating sample lifted from Eddie Henderson’s 1978 jazz fusion classic “Cyclops”.

“Thought It Was On” is a humorous account of a failed relationship that wears its Slick Rick storytelling influences on its Ecko Unltd sleeve, whilst “One Puff” is the obligatory weed cut that was a staple of so many 90s albums, with Grav speaking on a smoke-out session gone wrong (“My brains’s pounding over and over again, Since when was weed a hallucinogen?”).

The Odyssey-sampling title track features Jurassic 5’s DJ Nu-Mark on turntable duties, whilst the closing Andy C.-produced “C’mon” is a dope mixture of menacing bass and melodic chimes that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on a Godfather Don release.

Looking at the album’s liner notes in 2011, it’s interesting to see names such as Rubberoom, Juice and Rhymefest being given shoutouts, artists that in 1996 would’ve meant little to anyone outside of the Chicago rap scene, but who in subsequent years would all achieve varying degrees of success in the wider world of Hip-Hop.

Ultimately, “Down To Earth” has stood the test of time well. Built on a foundation of production techniques and lyrical styles that are quintessentially mid-90s, the album doesn’t sound overly dated or cliche today.

With acts such as All Natural, Molemen and, of course, Kanye West, all doing their part to push Chicago rap further into the global Hip-Hop conscience, this one-off album from Grav could perhaps be considered the link that bridges the gap between the early-90s work of Common Sense and the later material released by the aforementioned Windy City artists.

As Grav himself might say, that’s word to all my Dunzillas!

Ryan Proctor

Grav ft. Al’ Tariq & Lil’ Ray – “City To City” (Correct Records / 1996)

Educated Rapper – Common

Footage of Common freestyling onstage at Howard University.

Shine On – J. Dilla

Trailer for the forthcoming Dilla documentary “Still Shining” featuring Pete Rock, Busta Rhymes, Phat Kat, Common, Q-Tip etc – definitely looking forward to seeing this.

New Joint – Murs / 9th Wonder

Murs & 9th Wonder – “I Used To Love Her (Again)” (SMC / 2010)

The talented West Coast lyricist’s remake of Common’s 1994 classic from the 9th Wonder-produced album “Fornever”.

Chi-Town To BK – Common

Footage of Common performing at Brooklyn’s 2010 Fort Greene Festival.

Rhymin’ In Space – Common

Common freestyling at NASA’s recent tribute event for the first man in space – yes, really!!!

Used To Wish I Could Break With… – Rock Steady Crew

Short trailer for the “Bouncing Cats” documentary narrated by Common and Mos Def and featuring the legendary Rock Steady Crew.

Soul Power – Common

Common talks to HipHopOfficial about the albums he likes to throw on at the crib to impress the ladies.

Lights! Camera! Action! – Common

Common provides some ‘blooper’ material during a freestyle for 2-Cent.Com.

New Joint – Common

Common – “Inhale” ( Geffen / 2008 )

Taken from the forthcoming “Universal Mind Control” album.