Common Gets Nerdy
Gap between words and actions won’t stop fans
by Sara Brickner
Alittle part of me died when I saw Common shilling for the Gap two years back. The man who wrote “I Used To Love Her,” king of independent hip hop, in a commercial for a company that’s been repeatedly shamed by investigative journalists for using sweatshop labor in developing countries? The horror. The disappointment. If you don’t believe me, go look up The Guardian’s 2007 article on the Gap’s child labor sweatshop in India; that story was published well after Common appeared in Gap ads in 2006. For a vegan rapper who pledged to remove all the homophobic language from his music (language that continues to be prevalent in both mainstream and underground hip hop, I might add) and was willing to take on the violent misogyny of gangsta rap to turn around and advertise for a corporation like Gap couldn’t be anything but a big fat shock.
But hey, everybody’s gotta eat. Gap ads aside, Common’s been a consistent anchor in the storm in rap music. After more than 15 years of making records, he’s still one of the best poets making music today. No amount of commercial-making is gonna change that. Plus, more recently, he’s redeemed himself by shilling for one of my favorite people: Barack Obama. Yes we can, Common, yes we can. And it’s not like Common hasn’t saved up enough street cred in the bank to cash in on some of that sweet advertising moolah. I can’t say it wasn’t discouraging to see one of my first hip hop loves turn corporate. But I also can’t say he didn’t earn the right. Which is why I’m still planning to check out Common’s show, and I’ll probably cop his new album, Invincible Summer, when it drops Sept. 23 (it was actually supposed to come out on a more appropriate date in July). Outkast and Neptunes producer Mr. DJ lends his talents to this record, which I’m hoping will be an improvement from last year’s Kanye-produced Finding Forever, because while that record was decent, it was still a far cry from their last collaboration, Common’s wildly successful 2005 release Be.
Perhaps because of the production connection (and ’cause they’ve got a new record out, Seeing Sounds) Common tours with N*E*R*D, whose members, Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo and Shae Haley, have created some of the sickest beats on the globe and helped bubblegum hacks like Britney Spears and Nelly climb to the top of the charts. But I can’t help but be a little annoyed at Williams and Hugo for producing Britney Spears’ “I’m A Slave 4 U” and Nelly’s “Hot In Herre,” since it was their beat-making skills that made those songs ubiquitous on commercial radio. At the height of its popularity, I must’ve heard “Hot In Herre” at least three times a day for months. Thanks a lot, guys. Thanks a lot.
Common, N*E*R*D. 7 pm, Friday, Sept. 19. Cuthbert Amphitheatre. $32 adv., $35 door.