Previously, I wrote about Common’s ascendancy into stardom via his million and a half projects (a little hyperbole, I suppose, but close to the truth). Since then, rumors have spread about his retirement from rap and concentrating on his “SAG card.” With the dearth of profits from actual album sales, artists like Common now have to find alternative means of income. Then, it comes no surprise that I found some delight in Thisismethen, a collection of Common’s best hits pre-Like Water For Chocolate. His raw rhymes mixed with that earthy backpacker aura still emanate from this pristine set, and yes I do mean pristine as uncorrupted.
What we also get to witness is an abridged version of Common’s rap career. He starts off rhyming like every other non-gangsta early 90s rapper; his signature flow still hasn’t developed in songs like “Take It EZ,” and “Breaker 1/9.” His adolescence comes through in his polyamorous and pre-mature raps, on tracks like “Charms Alarm,” and “Heidi Hoe.”
On the next few tracks, we see a slightly more enlightened, slowed-down, and cultivated Common, who raps about the state of hip-hop and existentialism in his seminal pieces “I Used To Love H.E.R.” and “Book of Life.” We also get bits of that syncopated yet perfectly on-beat flow, but Common hasn’t cultivated it yet. Common propels himself into the brotherhood of memorable MCs, but he’s not yet recognized in the forefront.
That is, until “Retrospect for Life,” featuring Lauryn Hill, a song in which he simultaneously reaches the level of flow, subject matter, and soul he’s known for, a contrast from his earlier party-boy songs. Even on “Reminding Me (Of Sef)”, he can rhyme over a party track and still espouse that staccato flow in a eulogy to his friend Yusuf.
Common’s Thisisme Then gives us a glimpse of his growth and envelopment into his music. Common purists revere these songs, but if you’re a fan who never had the Common experience before he joined up with Kanye West, then this is a good place to start.