25May/110

Common – “Resurrection” + remixes

Common Sense “Resurrection” (LP Version)

Common Sense “Resurrection ’95″

Common Sense “Resurrection” (Extra P remix)

Common Sense “Resurrection” (Large Pro remix)

For the LP version of “Resurrection,” the title track of Common’s sophomore album, producer No I.D. samples the piano from Ahmad Jamal Trio’s “Dolphin Dance” and places the loop on top of a forceful break. Neither the melody nor the rapping are trampled by the drums; each element sounds equally assertive and vibrant. I can imagine a drunk and raucous Common barging into the studio and quickly sobering once he hears the instrumental track, shifting his focus to reeling in the rhymes and puns cascading through his mind. The high-pitched nonsensical antics of his debut effort no longer suffice, as he is newly inspired to treat his vocation as both craft and art.

This is the mythology that Common offers to the listeners, that his “speech and thoughts” are quicker and more nimble now that he’s grown up a bit and halted his daily consumption of malt liquor. He is just coming down from his high, so he must “stagger,” possessed by the forward movement of the beat. Rhyme patterns begin to assemble themselves into patter, as if they were interdependent organisms moving in knowing response to the rhythm. By gradually lifting himself out of his alcoholic fog, Common reconnects with the wondrous physicality of words, both the sounds they make when spoken and the images and moods they evoke.

From Common’s perspective, the membrane between the abstract and corporeal qualities of poetic writing are permeable. He echoes Smooth B’s famous line “pure knowledge expands from my esophagus”1 by insisting that his vocals “unravel in my abdomen.”  Ultramagnetic MCs once borrowed terms from astronomy and physics and applied them in a decidedly unscientific context to describe the mysterious process of creativity. Common takes this a step further by skipping clinical terminology and going straight for a crude yet stylized depiction of bodily processes. Before travelling the globe as commodified art, his rhymes are no more than “slime that’s babblin’” which he dutifully arranges into “grammatics that are masculine.”

This is not to suggest that Common views the act of rapping as simply a glorified form of  acid reflux.  He revels in the labor of transcribing substantive thoughts, of giving logical form to a seemingly spontaneous overflow. This work is its own justification and form of gratification. His carefully structured “grammatics,”  are “masculine”, not in the sense of being boorish, unreflective, or belligerent, but because they are partly the result of the combined mental and physical labor of a mature adult male. Though the origins of his words are murky at best —they could be be divinely transmitted or biochemically catalyzed for all he knows— Common insists on molding them into a form that is no less useful than it is beautiful.

Common’s style has changed to reflect his transformation from itinerant man-child to reflective adult. His flow is still charmingly off-kilter but his voice doesn’t crack and he doesn’t indulge in random, distracting onomatopoeia. He attacks the track with conviction, without sounding too rigid. At times he sounds slightly congested or crams syllables but for the most part he delivers complex lines as smoothly as possible. He finds a degree of freedom in breathing and moving within self-imposed constraints. Making refined music is both liberating and purifying; he extends metaphors that compare his creative process to escaping imprisonment and bathing/baptism for impressive lengths.2

The transformation described in “Resurrection” is  intellectual and spiritual at its core; Common seems to have been introduced to Five Percenter/ Nation Of Islam texts that denounce vice and frivolity. These teaching reinforce his sense that his spiritual, mental, and bodily health are related. He recognizes that he is a work in progress and celebrates baby steps towards redemption like eliminating swine from his diet while pledging to reduce his consumption of beef. He is newly committed to living peacefully, forgoing a confrontational swagger for the life of the mind; learning is tellingly framed as a response to his most basic needs: ”My brain was bleeding, needing feeding and exercise.”3

Common has not fully exorcised his past tendencies, so “Resurrectioncontains traces of the idealized ne’er do well who narrated his debut album Can I Borrow A Dollar? He hasn’t quite figured out his stance on gender yet; he’s open to the idea that conceptions of masculinity need to be rethought but he still revels in chauvinism. He claims that if “poetry was pussy” he’d be Sunshine of of the film Harlem Nights, the hooker whose pussy is reputed to be so good, it would turn to sunshine if thrown into the air. It’s an odd comparison given his claim to masculinity, but we can also read the line as a suggestion that poetry4 surely isn’t “pussy” i.e. a weak or effete pursuit.

Even in submission to the enigmatic outbursts of imagination, masculine self-assertion results: “words of wisdom wail from my windpipe.” The subsequent iterations of “Resurrection” feature re-recorded vocals that sound even more self-assured, as well as an extra verse and a half  in which Common’s ideological metamorphosis is on full display. No I.D.’s uses the same piano loop for his remix but takes it out of the mix at key points to allow the vocals to confront the drums directly, while the two Large Professor produced remixes incorporate new samples and drums that highlight the urgency and maturity of Common’s new vision.5 Can he walk a righteous path while holding a beer? — Thun

 

Related Posts

  1. From his cameo verse on Gang Starr’s “Dwyck” if course. []
  2. He even pays homage to Special Ed, one of rap’s most obsessive adherents to “pure” rhyming. []
  3. While many fans decry the full-fledged embrace of vegetarianism and the bohemian/activist stylings of his later career, on “Resurrection” he seems comfortable in his skin as a man undergoing a personal transformation similar to Malcolm X in prison. []
  4. I, too, am not comfortable with the notion of conflating rap with poetry, as I feel that both endeavors are slighted by the conflation, but in this instance Common is fine with it. []
  5. For a discussion of the samples on the Large Professor produced remixes, peep Verge’s breakdown. You can even download the all of the remixes mentioned here, plus instrumentals and samples. []

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