Old School Review: 2001 by Dr. Dre

Recently, I was perusing through my iTunes playlist, looking for something to listen to. I stumbled upon my playlist for 2001 titled “The Chronic 2001” (this was the original name of the album until Suge, looking for quick cash and payback, released a Death Row compilation with the same name). I hadn’t listened to any of the songs in years and I figured, since my tastes have changed through the years, I’d listen through the entire album and make the final call.

Back in the late 90s, with the death of 2Pac, West Coast hip hop had fallen out of favor with the mainstream as the flashy-suit, synth-heavy era of Puffy set in stone. Subsequently, with the rise of Southern hip hop and re-emergence of East Coast hardcore rap, the once mighty West Coast had been the odd man out. All eyes were on Dre as he prepared his comeback initially entitled The Chronic 2001 as an indication of the new era for West Coast gangsta rap and G-Funk. It had been six years since the famed producer released his groundbreaking solo album, The Chronic, and many wondered whether Dre could match the high standards of the predecessor with his new album. Long story short: he did. The album received “classic” status from a bunch of reviewers like XXL and The Source and sold millions and millions of records while establishing Eminem as the superstar of the genre for years to come.

Years later, 2001 (as the album is now known as) is still held in critical favor and seen as another landmark moment for gangsta rap. Let’s see whether this is so:

Note: For all intents and purposes, most of the skits will not be reviewed. Simply because they are skits and most rappers don’t know how to use them (I’m looking at you, Ghostface).

1. Lolo (Intro)

2. The Watcher

I didn’t really think much of this song when I listened to it years ago. I don’t know why but this song is one of Dre’s most underrated gems. The bassline is funky but not overdramatic. It fits the atmosphere very well and sets the tone nicely. Dre made a sequel to this song for Jay-Z’s album, The Blueprint 2 but I felt like that track was overblown, production-wise. The simplicity of the original is more effective in my opinion.

3. F**k You (feat. Devin the Dude and Snoop Dogg)

So much for “Been There, Done That”. The misogyny of this track is at least somewhat entertaining and this beat comes correct. And Calvin Cordozar in his pre-Rastafarian glory, spits his piece nicely.

4. Still D.R.E. (feat. Snoop Dogg)

This is the second of Snoop’s four appearances on this album. I have loved this song before and I still love it now.

5. Big Ego’s (feat. Hittman)

Hittman was supposed to be Aftermath’s next star after Snoop Dogg and Eminem. Of course, that never happened for good reason. He just isn’t that damn interesting. As far as this song goes, it gets an ehhh out of 6.

6. Xxplosive (feat. Hittman, Kurupt, Nate Dogg, and Six-Two)

Ah, and here we have Kanye West’s favorite drum loop. The beat still knocks and Nate Dogg (RIP) sounds beautiful over it. Kurupt, however, sounds like his whole mentality while doing the song was to put as many cuss words as he could into all his bars just to make it sound hardcore. That’s a paddlin, G.

7. What’s the Difference (feat. Xzibit and Eminem)

The beginning of Dre and Em’s obsession with chamber music that would ultimately culminate into “The Real Slim Shady” a year later. Dre discusses his past beef with Eazy E and his reconciliation with the man before he died. Before his Pimp My Ride days, this was X to the Z on the cusp of his prime and he turns in a solid verse. Em’s verse doesn’t sound as good as it once did for me years ago. Then again, I was going through an “Eminem is the best rapper ever” phase back then, so I guess it makes sense.

8. Bar One

9. Light Speed (feat. Hittman)

The first truly forgettable track of the album is here. And boy, does that skip button look pretty.

10. Forgot About Dre (feat. Eminem)

This track used to be in my rotation constantly until I remembered all the lyrics and stopped listening to it. Surprisingly, I still like this track and Em’s verse. Matter of fact, this might be a Top 10 Eminem verse.

11. The Next Episode (feat. Snoop Dogg)

Short but sweet. Though it could have been longer.

12. Let’s Get High (feat. Hittman, Ms. Roq, and Kurupt)

The beat is pretty catchy but the verses are pretty forgettable. NEXT.

13. B*tch N*ggaz (feat. Snoop Dogg, Six-Two, and Hittman)

The beat does get pretty tiring after a while. But maybe the sad thing about this song is that this is the last we’ll ever hear of Snoop on this album. Perhaps the even more tragic part is that he is now known as Snoop Lion.

14. The Car Bomb

15. Murder Ink (feat. Hittman and Ms. Roq)

You know, if Dre held on to this track for another few more years, 50 Cent would have picked it up and sounded perfect over the beat. Cause the dudes on this track don’t.

16. Ed-Ucation

17. Some L.A. N*ggaz (feat. Hittman, MC Ren, Knoc-Turn’al, DeFari, Xzibit, Time Bomb, King T, and Kokane)

Dre must have invited every f*cking dude in Los Angeles that claims to be a rapper for this weakass track. And Ren doesn’t even get a damn verse. F*ck this sh*t. Avoid it at all costs.

18. Pause 4 Porno

Okay, what the f*ck is with everyone putting a f*cking skit about nothing but f*cking? This is really just a waste of precious CD space.

19. Housewife (feat. (you guessed it) Hittman and Kurupt)

This beat is the sh*t, son. I love it. The chorus is catchy. I think I might revisit this one in the near future.

20. Ackrite (feat. Hittman)

I give this sh*t an ehhh out of 12. It’s basically a Hittman track and there is (once again) nothing special about it. Dre really tried his hardest to promote this dude…

21. Bang Bang (feat. Hittman and Knoc-Turn’al)

Okay… here’s my problem: how can you make an entire album about gangbanging and shooting people and then make a song about how you shoot too many people? How can you talk about mindless violence and then all of a sudden, condemn it in one song? The f*ck is this? Who the f*ck sequenced this sh*t? And who the f*ck came up with this godforsaken, annoying-ass chorus that only appeals to the twelve-year-old wiggas demographic? I can’t stand this sh*t, man. I’m sorry. I don’t understand how rappers get religious within the same f*cking album. It’s beyond corny to me.

22. The Message (feat. Mary J. Blige and Rell)

Alright… aside from the fact this is supposed to be a tribute to his dead brother and the fact that Dre doesn’t even WRITE or PRODUCE this track, I like it. Amidst all the bullsh*t I have heard on this album, this is a nice little heartfelt moment. It isn’t cheesy at all or too emotional. It’s kinda funny though when Dre says he “realizes he ain’t no gangsta” despite the fact this is still a gangsta rap album. Like I said, I don’t like it how rappers tend to get religious within their own album. But I’ll let it slide since this track actually sounds sincere.

IN CONCLUSION…

10 years ago, this album was proclaimed a classic. Ten years later, I am laughing my ass off at that proclamation.

This album is far from perfect and I hesitate to even call it good. 22 tracks means that filler is abound and the weak guest appearances aside from Snoop, Xzibit, and Em don’t help either. It’s easy to see why Hittman, who is featured on an astounding ten tracks here, didn’t become a superstar despite the heavy amount of promotion Dre gave him. The only rapper who actually may have benefited from his appearances on this album was Xzibit (Eminem was already famous thanks to “My Name Is” and The Slim Shady LP) but even he already had a buzz going for him. The one aspect that is nearly consistent is the production. It isn’t as densely layered as the earlier G-Funk from his Death Row days. But it’s a bold new style and a positive progression and for that, I applaud Dre. It’s not easy to move forward from a once successful sound but Dre has shown that he has all the qualities of a hitmaker, including the ability to adapt to the fickle musical climate.

However, the subpar lyricism from Dre and most of his cronies severely brings down the quality of the album. Dre may have done the same thing before but the difference is this: The Chronic introduced Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, and Tha Dogg Pound to the world. Those guys became West Coast legends. 2001 doesn’t even give us decent MCs. And our host? Like Ice Cube once said, “Ayo Dre, stick to producing.”

Rating: 5.5/10

Favorite Tracks: “The Watcher”, “Still D.R.E.”, “Forgot About Dre”, “Housewife”

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The Review: BE by Common

If people hear something new, they call it a breath of fresh air. Usually the song will be of a new style or by an artist trying to experiment. For Common, however, his sixth album, Be, is a breath of fresh air because he is going backwards: ditching the experimental music for a traditional hip hop sound he hadn’t visited in years. It is a weird kind of regression/progression that brings the rapper back to his roots and still sounding relevant.

For this project, Common wisely hired Kanye West for his soulful beats that were popular with old school hip hop heads and mainstream listeners. And the man doesn’t disappoint here (in fact, he rarely disappoints). Everything feels lean, stripped down, and focused. No more heavy production to distract Common from rhyming at his best because now he had beats that gave him enough space. Common also made sure to make no bets and choose 9 of the best Kanye West beats to fit his style (the other two beats are J Dilla beats that are also worth listening to).

Throughout the album, Common is bent on reclaiming his legendary MC status after briefly losing it in his last album. His storytelling makes glorious returns in “The Corner” and “Testify”. “The Corner” poetically explains the woes of Chicago streets (“It’s hard to breath nights, days are thief like/ The beast roam the streets, the police is Greek-like”). The latter tells a tense tale of a husband accused of murder while his wife tries to testify his innocence.

Here, Common does not try to tread new ground, necessarily. Instead, he gives his individual spin on common topics. Street life is a cornerstone of hip hop but “The Corner” still sounds refreshing with Common’s unique vision. Andre 3000 may have been the first rapper to visualize God as a woman but Common takes it a few steps deeper (“Faithful”). And his classic braggadocio is plentiful here (“Chi City”).

Fans speculated that Be stood for Before Erykah (a ridiculous guess). From the intro, Common makes clear of what he intends to achieve with his album:

I want to be as free as the spirits of those who left
I’m talking Malcom, Coltrane, my man Yusef
Through death-grew conception
New breath and resurrection
For moms, new steps in her direction
In the right way
Told inside is where the fight lay
And everything a nigga do may not be what he might say
Chicago nights stay, stay on the mind
But I write many lives and lay on these lines
Wave the signs of the times
Many say the grind’s on the mind
Shorties blunted-eyed and everyone wanna rhyme
Bush pushing lies, killers immortalized
We got arms but won’t reach for the skies
Waiting for the Lord to rise
I look into my daughter’s eyes
And realize that I’m gonna learn through her
The Messiah, might even return through her
If I’m gonna do it, I gotta change the world through her
Furs and a Benz, gramps wanting ’em
Demons and old friends, pops they hauntin’ him
The chosen one from the land of the frozen sun
When drunk nights get remembered more than sober ones
Walk like warriors, we were never told to run
Explored the world to return to where my soul begun
Never looking back or too far in front of me
The present is a gift
and I just wanna be

Common understood that he strayed too far on Electric Circus, trying to be a rap version of Jimi Hendrix instead of the Chicago b-boy that everyone knows him as. And this time, he elects to be himself and that in itself is refreshing to hear.

Rating: 11/10

Favorite Tracks: “Be (Intro)”, “The Corner”, “Go!”, “Testify”, “Love Is…”, “They Say”

Old School Review: ELECTRIC CIRCUS by Common

If you are a fan of Common’s older work and/or a general hip hop fan, chances are you don’t like Electric Circus. It is a record that is without a doubt, Common’s most adventurous but also probably his most alienating. It is a more rock-influenced record and one that involves very left-field concepts. For example there is a song called “Electric Wire Hustle Flower” and God knows whatever the f*ck that is. Then there is a song where Common and Erykah sing a tribute to Jimi Hendrix. No, not sing-song. Actual singing. If you’re a Common lover who is curious about Common’s singing capabilities, just quietly assume that the sleepy man singing with Badu is not him.

Musically, it is close to being a masterpiece. While J Dilla brought funky, atmospheric beats to LWFC, ?uestlove brings multi-layered rock and soul instrumentation that feels majestic. And it is far from the typical hip hop fan’s taste (old or new). The Neptunes would start their working relationship with Common on this album, contributing the lead (and only) single, “Come Close” and “I Got A Right Ta”. But it is ?uestlove’s weird rock/soul production that reigns. Things go from  unusual to downright strange (“New Wave”). Even Pharrell and Chad get their country rock on in “I Got a Right Ta”.

The rhymes may be the biggest disappointment here. And Common rhymes lack the punch and cleverness that was present in ResurrectionOne Day, and LWFC. In fact, “Between Me, You, and Liberation” may be the only song that says something new. Common discusses his homophobia and his revelation after discovering that one of his longtime friends turned out to be gay. He also admits the prevalent misogyny in not just hip hop, but in his music as well.

But there are those sporadic moments where the old Common arises and shines for a moment:

I’m the only cat in hip hop that can go into a thrift shop
Connect, get up to the ghetto and get props
[…]
If you gonna get that glock don’t be scared to lick shot
Hip Hop is changin, y’all want me to stay the same?
Sorta like Barkley on how I see the game
I recognize game like a scout
Ayo, I’m bound to wreck your lady as I turn your lady out
I ain’t about that
Messing with no other man’s women
Because of jealousy then a man go under
Understand a man and his mental
Listening to Joan Mitchell
With the fan and the window
Can it be so simple then?
I rock Rockports, you rock Timberlands
I want a Rover, but I’m thinking long range
I ain’t switch over, I just made my own lane

Even in that quoted verse, there are still some lacking elements but it was probably the best example I could find. And the lack of consistency is what really brings Electric Circus from a great album to a could-have-been-great album.

So in truth, Common’s second album with the Soulquarians is a mess. It’s a daring, adventurous, and quite entertaining mess. But it’s still a mess. No way around it. And if the man claims to be the embodiment of music, there’s gotta be more to it than amazing production and inconsistent rhymes. Hell, even Lil Wayne claims to be music but are we really believing it?

Rating: 7.75/10

Favorite Tracks: “Aquarius”, “Come Close”, “New Wave”, and “Between You, Me, and Liberation”

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

Old School Review: ONE DAY IT’LL ALL MAKE SENSE by Common

Years ago, back in ’92, Common rapped,

“Cause after awhile, I’ma wanna get BUCKwild
And now months laters, I’ma say it ain’t my child
I’m sterile girl, we ain’t never did nothin
Cause only you and I know that the Common Sense is bluffin”

But in “97, Common sings a different tune. To give you some background information, Common and his girlfriend at the time found out that she was pregnant. And Common was not a financially successful rapper and he didn’t feel mentally prepared to raise a kid. His contemplations about abortion and his regrets are chronicled in “Retrospect for Life”. The song has two verses; one directed to his unborn child and one directed to his baby’s mama. Common acknowledges his mistakes (“Nerve I got to talk about them n*ggas with a gun/ Must’ve really thought I was God to take the life of my son”) but also explains his fears of letting his child suffer a turbulent life.

One Day It’ll All Make Sense is possibly Common’s most personal album, as he explains in the opening track. It is also one of his attempts to achieve some commercial success. One may speculate this as half-heartedness but despite the mainstream-friendliness, the album is actually quite a sincere effort. The production is much more expansive and the lyrics, while not on the same level as Resurrection, are still top-notch.

Common’s concept is to take you on a trip down memory lane and some songs do illustrate the point. “Reminding Me (Of Sef)” is a reminiscence of good times and a fallen friend. “G.O.D.” discusses finding God through personal experiences rather than through Sunday service. The “whodunit” trilogy, “Stolen Moments” recalls a time when Common got robbed and tried to figure out who committed the crime. The trilogy is surprisingly a well-constructed mystery whose twist at the end actually made sense.

But, like every other hip hop concept album, it is a loose concept as there are several songs that deviate from the concept. For the most part, however, these deviations are entertaining. “Real N*gga Quotes” may be Common at his angriest. “Making a Name for Ourselves” is an interesting one since it does not sound like something Common would do. In fact, his guest star, Canibus, seems more fit for a dark beat like this. But both make indelible impressions:

[Common]

I can tell by how you write, you the type to run in a fight
I hold mics while you hold spite
Like a broken hearted b*tch
Don’t give no f*ck who yo team or who you startin with
Cameoed or charted with, I house n*ggas like apartments with
Mic mechanisms, I dissect a rhythm
Move crowds with kinetic wisdom
It’s like a Malcolm X-orcisim, f*ck the rhythm, I hit him
I want him got not get him, auction his wack ass off, then bid him

[Canibus]

From a poisonous algorithm liable to kill ’em
My style will get in ’em, way up in ’em
My face don’t belong in The Source
It belongs on the shroud of turan, for certain
I grab mics and murder sh*t
It’s wickeder than Satan worshippers going to Catholic church services
You heard of this
The lyrical verbalist, trash herbalist
The wrath of my cold-blooded verses is merciless
Rap snap, get your ass cracked like bear traps
Contaminate your air sacs like tear gas
And I swear black, try to battle me, you won’t last
I’ll turn your ass into the artist formerly known as, you gay ass f*g
I’ll blow you to ashes with tactics
Strip you naked, then make you hug a cactus, you bastard

A couple times, the deviations feel lacking and at times pointless. “Food for Funk” features semi-decent verses while “All Night Long”, the very first Common-Erykah Badu collaboration, gets boring. It’s moments like these that tarnish an otherwise consistent album whose conventional tactics don’t feel compromising. Back then, fans accused Common of straying from his roots. But in reflection, this is Common’s career statement. As an MC and as a man, this is his most insightful record. This is his transition record from the young b-boy Common Sense to the wise MC Common.

This album is also noteworthy as the last album No I.D. and Common would record anything together for 14 years. Common would then move to New York to work with the Soulquarians (a hip hop super-supergroup of conscious artists like The Roots, Mos Def, Erykah Badu, J Dilla, Talib Kweli, Bilal, among others). And in New York, Common would start his next era as an artist and make some of the most experimental music he ever made.

Rating: 8.75/10

Old School Review: RESURRECTION by Common

Somewhere between 1992 and 1993, something just snapped in Common. Rather than continue the quick-tongued goofy raps from Can I Borrow A Dollar?, the man chose a fresh start instead. No more simple braggadocio. This time, Common chooses to be smarter and construct his rhymes in a much more consistent flow. Witness the opening verse of “Resurrection” and it is clear to see that Common is going all out:

I stagger in the gathering possessed by a patter-in
That be scatterin
Over the global my vocals be travellin
Unravellin my abdomen it’s slime that’s babblin
Grammatics that are masculine
I grab them in, verbally badgerin broads
I wish that Madelline, was back on Video LP
I went against all odds and got it even steven
Proceed to read and not believin everything I’m readin
But my brain was bleedin, needin feedin, and exercise
I didn’t seek the best of buys, it’s a lie to textualize
I analyze where I rest my eyes
And chastise the best of guys with punchlines
I’m Nestle when it’s Crunch-time
For your mind like one time
If poetry was p*ssy I’d be sunshine
cause I deliver like the Sun-Times
Confined in once-mines on dumb rhymes I combine
I’m hype like I’m unsigned, my diet I unswine
Eatin beef sometimes I try to cut back on that sh*t
This rap sh*t is truly outta control
My style is too developed to be arrested
It’s the freestyle, so now it’s out on parole
They tried to hold my soul in a holding cell so I would sell
I bonded with a break and had enough to make bail
A misdemeanor fell on his knee for the jury
I asked No for his ID and the judge thought there was two of me
Motion for a recess to retest my fingerprints
They relinquished since, cause I was guilty in a sense

The punchlines are smarter and the rhyme schemes are much more complex. Common manages to work an extended metaphor in the last eight bars. But Common’s true moment of artistry comes in the next track and arguably his most famous one: “I Used to Love H.E.R.”. It starts off as seemingly a reminiscence of a past love who became richer and more materialistic. But piece the clues together and one understands that this “love” is actually an extended metaphor for hip hop. No ID’s jazzy and ominous beat evokes both nostalgia and loss as Common spits the greatest hip hop tale ever told.

On his last album, the two singles were the strongest tracks. But on this album, almost every track is excellent. I say “almost” because “Orange Pineapple Juice” seems out of place here as it features more of Common’s Can I Borrow A Dollar? style. Yet lyrically, Common stands at arguably his strongest ever. His raps are much more deeper and personal. He recalls times of lazing around with friends in “Nuthin’ to Do” and struggling with self identity in “Book of Life”. Common also confronts the criticism that he isn’t a hardcore rapper in the aptly-titled “thisisme”.

On the production end, No I.D. experiences his own resurrection, electing to produce more polished beats that were still heavily influenced by jazz. And there are those moments where the production truly sounds masterful. The funk gets funkier and samples are implemented seamlessly. And “Communism” is an effective jazz-funk composition that (in my opinion) is No ID’s best beat on this album that isn’t “I Used to Love H.E.R.”. Fans claim that Resurrection is No ID’s finest hour. And truthfully, it is very much a valid claim.

Resurrection is Common’s transition from Unsigned Hype to hip hop legend. This album is the reason why he is one of the most beloved rappers in hip hop history. Sadly, this album only sold around 2000 copies. So one of Common’s biggest irks remains unanswered: why is he not your favorite emcee?

Rating: 9.5/10

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