Old School Review: CAN I BORROW A DOLLAR? by Common

In 1991, Common (at that time, known as Common Sense) was listed in the Unsigned Hype column of The Source and the young MC immediately garnered label attention and signed with Relativity Records. In 1992, he released his debut, Can I Borrow A Dollar? to little to no success (the album only sold 2000 copies). It is an underrated effort but by no means, a great one.

Before 1993, Common’s rhyme style was heavy on sing-song, quick tongue, pop culture, and goofiness. For example, “Take It EZ” features some memorable bars:

I be kickin it with the doubly-dope rhymer
I’m trippin-and-dippin-and-slippin with the rhyme like Sli-mer
[Who ya gonna call?] Ghostbuster
I’m pee-wee we stole, and I’m just a
Hustler, I tried to scheme for a sec
But the record got wreck, tried to write a bad check
So I checked myself, before self got buck
wild, tried to live how I had to fluctuate
To a snake, and metriculate, yo I had to elevate
You can tell it’s great, cause I’m state
of 87, the South side of Chicago

[…]

And it’s phat, sorta like Oprah before she lost weight
I put my rhymes in good hands, hey like All State
And I’m all in a state of ease, utopia
I’m the Spiderman, givin bug MC’s arachnaphobia
Holy-molia, it’s totally awesome
The survey say, I gets moe skins than Richard Dawson
But I won’t catch mono or no type of disease
Cause when I flex, for sex, I do it on the ease

Miles away from the Common we know today. Miles away from the Common who made Resurrection. In fact, Common’s immature moments came from here. “Heidi Hoe” features some scathing remarks that are as misogynistic as “B*tches Ain’t Sh*t”. The song also features a homophobic yet quite frankly hilarious line (“Homo is a no-no/ So f*ggots stay solo”). Still, the fact that it came from a conscious hip hop MC is startling. But one must understand that the man was still young, only 20 years old when the album came out. So do forgive him when he says, “Just dog the b*tch”.

It is an interesting view of the rapper’s earlier raps and an important part of his career. And there are some great songs on this album like “Take It EZ” and “Breaker 1/9”. No I.D. (formerly known as Immenslope) and Common have a memorable duet in “Two Scoops of Raisins”. Unlike most Common albums, there is no actual subject matter. Everything Common says on this album is mostly braggadocio and there are far too many high pitch spots that get distracting. But the rhymes themselves are fun to listen to.

Can I Borrow A Dollar? is not a bad effort. Lyrically, Common is at his funniest and some of his best punchlines are present on this album. The production, however, is largely a disappointment. While “Take It EZ”, “Breaker 1/9”, and “Just in the Nick of Rhyme” have strong production, the rest ranges from average to bland as a young No I.D. is clearly in his learning phase. And that is the best way to describe Common’s debut: a learning phase.

Rating: 7/10

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