Live: Common Keeps The Intensity High At Highline Ballroom

Highline Ballroom
Monday, December 19

Better than: Holiday store displays involving snow globes and marionettes.

On "The Sixth Sense," a DJ Premier banger and one of the greatest cuts to come out of the second golden age of hip hop, Common chided that "this industry will make you lose intensity."

That was 11 years ago. In the ensuing years, few other conscious-minded MCs have embraced the entertainment industry with the vigor of Chicago's long-standing ghetto poet laureate. He's had lots of character roles in major Hollywood productions and a prominent starring role in a Queen Latifah romantic vehicle involving the weird courtship of a basketball player; he's written a memoir; and he scored a recurring role as a freed slave on a critically acclaimed AMC series.

Yet despite his extra-curricular successes, Common's passionate musical and poetic side remains intact. "The Sixth Sense" was ultimately a grimy yet cerebral love story about hip-hop and the fragile urban culture it has the power to uplift. Out celebrating the release of his ninth studio album, The Dreamer/The Believer, at the Highline Ballroom Monday night, Common was at his finest.

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Live: VH1 Brings Out The Divas At The Hammerstein Ballroom

via VH1
VH1 Divas Celebrates Soul
Hammerstein Ballroom
Sunday, December 18

Better than: Whatever Ryan Seacrest is going to cook up for VH1 Soul.

Last night's VH1 Divas taping existed both as a performance and self-contained, 24-hours-out advertising opportunity for its broadcast. (Tonight at 9 ET!) TV tapings are always strange to experience first-hand, given the way they're designed for after-the-fact consumption; there are lots of long lulls in the action for the purposes of commercial breaking/set redesigning, and in "let's all get together and put on a show" scenarios like this one there are TelePrompTers with lyrics ready to assist the under-rehearsed. Despite the breaks and assists, though, this taping didn't have the hermetically sealed feeling of ones I attended during the pre-social-media era—people were encouraged to tweet and Foursquare check-in and let their pals on social media know what they were experiencing via corporately provided hashtag. In the 21st century, after all, all publicity is.

The night's bent toward soul meant that most of the acts on the bill had pipes and cred—Chaka Khan, Mavis Staples, Martha Reeves, and Wanda Jackson represented for the pre-music-video era, while the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Ledisi, Jill Scott, and Jennifer Hudson were among the new-schoolers. Jessie J's tireless, apparently unending promotional campaign also continued here; her new party trick involves her stuttering out words instead of singing them in toto, a tic that serves to both illuminate the bleatiness of her voice and make her seem even more malleable and annoying. She's the opposite of a diva, her jet-black-dyed artifice doing a miserable job of covering up the void within; I expect either a turn to Christian rock or the "mysterious" leak of a sex tape within the next 12 months.

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Live: Common Serves Up Fresh Nostalgia On The Dreamer/The Believer

Catch, NYC
Monday, December 12

Better than: Waiting until 12/20/2011.

Common has always been a bit of a rap conundrum to me. There's no denying he's talented—"I Used to Love H.E.R." is arguably the greatest ode to/about/inspired by hip-hop of all time—but somewhere between the snoozer Finding Forever and the polarizing genre-bender Universal Mind Control, the rapper kind of lost me. He didn't fall off; he just seemed to sputter. Maybe it was the natural evolution of the backpack rapper growing up, or the aftereffects of gaining Tinseltown fame. Either way, there appeared to be a schism between "classic" and "nouveau" Common.

Last night, the rapper previewed his ninth studio album and reconciled those halves, appealing to O.G. sensibilities while staying fresh. Com and his DJ gave a throng of journalists, record label types and open-bar guzzlers a sneak peek of The Dreamer/The Believer—out December 20—and shuffled between between album cuts, acapella verses and fun, impromptu freestyles. Commentary was kept to a minimum, but the music spoke for itself.

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The 10 Most Overplayed Party Jams

This should probably not be how you do it.
It's a common dilemma of the booty club: You're buzzing off the overpriced drinks, two-stepping with the opposite sex. The lighting is right and you're getting closer and closer to each other... and then DJ Lack-of-Direction throws on some bullshit. You know, one of those songs that wack DJs use as crutches to hold up their mediocre-at-best sets.

The song being spun might not have been bad on first, second, or even 20th listen. But when you've heard it at every party you went to that week and it's not even new, being subjected to it again can throw a monkey wrench in your flow. And then, to further kill the mood, cornballs start singing along in unison. "Here we go yo! Here we go yo! So what, so what, so what's the scenario?!" Cool out, dude—we know you know the whole song by heart (though you mumble your way through most of Dinco D's verse). We know every word, too, and have since it came out in 1991.

Buzzkills like this aren't the patrons' fault, though. I blame the DJ and his/her lack of crate digging, lethargic mixing, and desire to get cheap thrills out of the crowd. (The DJ's probably the least intoxicated individual in the building, so it's not like they can blame their predictable choices on the a-a-a-a-a-alcohol like the rest of us partygoers.) Below, and just in time for the long weekend, a list of 10 songs that any DJ in the know should already have banned from their sets, and any DJ with sense should probably get to swapping out soon.

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Common Goes To The White House: In Which Okayplayer Hater Sarah Palin Gets A-Moralizing

Categories: Common, Politics

In case you haven't been paying attention to Sarah Palin's antics lately (in which case: good for you), she recently got mad on the Facebook and the Twitters about noted rapper Common Sense performing at a White House poetry event. Like everything Palin says, this is gross and wrong. She apparently missed Common hosting the White House Christmas tree-lighting ceremony last year, and she was particularly incensed about his presence at an official event during Police Memorial Week even though he's not exactly NWA or anything. (Common is a supporter of Assata Shakur, which makes him exactly like every other rapper in existence.) Rap fans will be relieved to hear that Jon Stewart is going to debate Bill O'Reilly on this topic later today, since no debate about the morality of rap lyrics is really settled until two elderly men have yelled at each other on a cable news channel.

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Reason Number 358 To Sort Of Dislike KiD CuDi


We're going to go ahead and say we can't at this moment think of a worse, more painfully graphic song title in the history of dumb, brain-punning song titles than "I Poke Her Face." Kanye can't save this. [h/t 2DopeBoyz]

The Slightly Wayward Sexual Advances of Common

Categories: Common, Featured

And now, the latest installment in Stuff Rob Forgot to Assign, a series that should reoccur way more often than it actually does, considering.

Universal Mind Control

So Common is insisting that Obama's ascension will "change hip-hop for the better" -- hopefully our new president will start with Common himself. I journeyed to a Midtown label office the morning after Election Day to sample Universal Mind Control, still a bit giddy, which alas only fueled my zeal in writing down all the super-doofy pickup lines our hero employs therein -- "Seen her ass/Crack a smile," etc. ("My dick is like a Blow-Pop baby," adds Pharrell, who handles most of the bright, snappy, actually quite enjoyable production, but with just seven words lands on my imminent Worst Lyrics of 2008 tournament bracket.) The above "Sex 4 Sugar" best underscores the issue with this record: It's knuckleheaded and junior-high-oriented in its prurience at the exact moment Common is calling for a renaissance. "I want to be at Will Smith's level," the actor/rapper adds in that piece, but I assume he means in terms of acting, not rapping -- it is not exactly a compliment to say that this song is basically Flight of the Conchords + the Fresh Prince's "Boom! Shake the Room" + "Jizz in My Pants." Kindly step back into the light.