Old School Review: LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE by Common

“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” This is how we as humans know the simile (mostly because we don’t have time to actually think about it and we just accept it since it came in a movie). For the artist, the simile means something different. It’s not about probability. It’s about experience. And sometimes, a truly artistic achievement would be an album that exposes different sides of an artist in a presentable and elaborate fashion. It is beyond saying, “I feel angry” or “Being rich is cool” or “I miss you”. The artist has to let down a bit and explain himself, not having to worry about opinion, typecasting, or repercussions. He has to present himself as a whole staying genuine and listenable.

For years, Common has been that artist. The artist who despite his “conscious” rap typecasting proves to be more than just that. As Common admits, “By Rakim and Short I been inspired”, even he is wary of his “conscious rapper” label. After all, he has made some songs that could align him with many hardcore rappers out there today. But Common understands these contradictions. And in Like Water for Chocolate, he brings all aspects of his life in a cohesive package that is engrossing and unforgettable.

When Common moved to New York to join the Soulquarians, the decision was met with skepticism by his long-time supporters who felt that ?uestlove and J Dilla would take him away from his jazzy, Chicago roots with No I.D. But all mouths were shut when J Dilla (who helmed most of the album’s production) made atmospheric, funky productions that gave Common greater focus and new perspective. ?uestlove and D’Angelo paired up for a couple of great tracks and DJ Premier turned in a monster as usual (“The 6th Sense”). But J Dilla is the real champion here. 

On song called “Funky For You”, Common ditches convention and ends most of his bars with a sound. In “Dooinit”, he feels gangsta enough to say “Let his Bentley and his weak crew be his cushion/I catch him on the streets, in front of the bodyguards and rush him”. Whereas One Day It’ll All Make Sense felt jarring at times when Common expressed different sides of his personality, Like Water for Chocolate feels far more focused thanks to the unified sound. Such adventurous decisions could have proven far too inconsistent given other circumstances.

Going back to Common’s statement about being inspired about Rakim and Short: there is a song about pimpin’. Unusual for a Common album, post-Can I Borrow a Dollar?. “A Film Called (PIMP)” tells a tale about a pimp trying to convince one of his former girls (played hilariously by MC Lyte) to come back. Maybe Common doesn’t condone the lifestyle but he does find something interesting about it.

But a Common album would not be a Common album if there weren’t any reflective statements. “The Light” is the best example of Common’s clever and remarkably deep lyricism:

Because of you, feelings I handle with care
Some n*ggas recognize the light but they can’t handle the glare
You know I ain’t the type to walk around with matchin shirts
If relationship is effort I will match your work
I wanna be the one to make you happiest, it hurts you the most
They say the end is near, it’s important that we close..
.. to the most, high
Regardless of what happen on him let’s rely

I am willing to admit that when I first heard this track, those bars did not register in me at once. Perhaps I was too young to really understand what he was saying. But now growing up, the bars about commitment made more sense to me because I could relate better at this age. You could say that these rhymes can actually constitute for the term, “grown-man rap” since one could only understand at a certain point in their life.

Not all Common fans admit Like Water for Chocolate as one of their favorites. Some still feel that Common strayed a little too far. But for me, Like Water for Chocolate represents Common at his highest artistic peak. It is a work that represents every facet of his personality and shows far too much diversity to be typecast. Like Prodigy says in a sample in “The 6th Sense”: “This is rap for real; something you feel.”

Rating: 11/10

Favorite Tracks: Heat, The Light, Funky for You, The 6th Sense, A Film Called (PIMP), Nag Champa, Payback is a Grandmother, A Song for Assata

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