Answer The Call (Common, Black America Again review)

Even if I didn’t have a stake in world affairs, I’d find the US election results incredibly difficult to stomach. There have always been bullies in the world, and I’ve seen my share of them in my short time on this revolving space rock, but dammit if there isn’t some emotionally charged shit floating around on the internet lately.

Testing the boundaries of politics and communicating about the larger issues is key, and as always, it seems artists are more than capable of leading the charge and delivering the message best. That’s where this week’s music review comes in, a topical topic.

Common – Black America Again
released November 4, 2016
********* 9/10

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Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr., better known by his stage name Common, is an American rapper, actor, film producer and poet. Common has been active as an artist since the early 1990s and launched his first album in 1992 with Can I Borrow a Dollar?. Maintaining an impressive underground presence, it wasn’t until he released the gold record Like Water for Chocolate in 2000 that he began to receive critical acclaim and commercial success. That was then, and now eleven albums deep, he continues to be a force for change in the hip hop music scene.

Common now has his own record label, Think Common Entertainment, but he has worked with Kanye West previously under the GOOD Music imprint as well as MCA/Geffen for a few years. It was with GOOD Music where he produced his second gold record earner Be in 2005. And THAT was eleven years ago.

Since then Common has moved over to Artium/Def Jam, allowing Universal to help with mass distribution of his albums. And life has been good to him. He’s been able to break through into film in both acting and producer roles, and even as a poet through invitation by First Lady Michelle Obama.

He has been linked to veganism, vegetarianism, and now pescetarianism. He is a major supporter of animal rights and is also linked with the Knowing Is Beautiful movement, which is in support of HIV/AIDS awareness. Common is also actively avoiding anti-gay lyrical content in his music.

What the heck does this have to do with the album Black America Again though, you ask? Well, everything really.

This is a beacon of light in a post 2016 American election, especially for minority groups and the incredibly and profoundly alienated. To be honest, I have been having a hard time with all of the stuff unfolding around us, and yes, maybe I’ve been caught up in the media hype machine, but I have real friends who have very legitimate concerns about how things in the USA could shake out. And I live in Canada. Black America Again is a politically charged record that directly addresses themes of racial tension, sexism, violence, and dehumanization.

But it’s soft and spacious, and incredibly moving too.

Common is quite confident that black Americans will push through this weird state of affairs and accomplish more than they ever have, and as is common with Common (bad pun, I know) he leads this mantra with sex positive messages, making love, and raising spirits through hip hop – amongst flourishes of jazz, neo-soul, R&B and sweet sweet harmonies. And did I mention the list of collaborators yet?

Bilal, Stevie Wonder, PJ, Marsha Ambrosius, Elena, Syd, BJ The Chicago Kid, John Legend, and Tasha Cobbs are all featured at various points with an incredible sense of spacing and consideration – it’s a declaration of unity and taking a stand against ignorance fueled hate. And it works quite well. He’s rightly determined that it is the responsibility of all to work together and learn to get along especially given the current landscape for black people.

It’s not exactly a riotous effort, but I don’t think that’s what we need to move forward. Common has respect for his roots, esteem for his contemporaries, and hope for the future. The war cry is authentic, dear readers, but we all have to answer the call.

Common doesn’t guarantee safe passage through the storm, but he does paint a picture of how things can be, and the fact that he is so encouraged by this vision is incredibly comforting and productive in laying a roadmap for the future. Black America will get through this, he asserts, and I for one believe him. My own role in the matter might be limited, but knowledge of the world is the first step in providing support to the cause. It’s worth it friends.

Tim!

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