Over the course of his illustrious hip-hop career, Common has evolved from an artist known for his immense underground following into one of this generation’s most respected rappers. Unlike the majority of his peers over the past two decades, Common has staked his claim as one of hip-hop’s finest by shying away from traditional rap themes surrounding the glorification of materialism, violence, and misogyny, and instead choosing to emphasize a socially conscious message.
Eight years and five albums after his debut album in 1992, Common’s first major-label release Like Water for Chocolate marked an important transition his sound, shifting from the jazz-rap aesthetic present in early 1990s Golden Age rap to the sample-heavy production found throughout the past decade. In retrospect, Like Water For Chocolate offers a remarkable blend that seamlessly showcases Common’s distinctive and essential styles into one cohesive work.
“Time Travelin’ (A Tribute to Fela)” provides a fitting tribute to afro-beat pioneer Fela Kuti—a Nigerian legend who not only is renown as an innovator in his own musical realm, but also as an important social activist who used his artistry to promote his message. As the album opens with this tribute, it offers a proper entry point into the depth found within Common’s lyrics, which ranges from the political to the introspective. This thematic scope appears time and time again throughout Like Water For Chocolate, whether through atypical heartfelt love profession of “The Light,” to an ode to former Black Panther leader Assata Shakur in “A Song For Assata.”
The philosophical insights on “The 6th Sense” display some of his best lyricism on Like Water For Chocolate, as Common contemplates not only on his own music, but on hip-hop as a whole, asking, “I start thinking / How many souls hip-hop has affected / How many dead folks this art resurrected / How many nations this culture connected.” And it is lofty phrases like these where Common stands at his best, as he gets lost in the beauty of personal and cultural examination, allowing him to describe such musings in a masterful manner. This tends to be the rule rather than the exception on Like Water For Chocolate.
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