While Lonnie “Common” Lynn wasn’t the first rapper out of Chicago to make noise on a national level (Twista [then known as Tung Twista] would do it a year or so prior), he is definitely one of the early pioneers of Midwest hip-hop and a vital piece in putting Chicago on the map.
Common (then going under the alias Common Sense) got his first break when his demo was featured in the October ’91 issue of The Source’s “Unsigned Hype” column. This once coveted cosign would help land Common a deal with Relativity, where he would release his debut album Can I Borrow A Dollar? (the original pressing of the album has his moniker as “Common Sense”, which he would later be forced to change to simply Common, as a rock group already had the name Common Sense trademarked; I personally think Common sounds better anyway).
Common would stay true to his Chicago brethren that helped get him his deal, by letting Twilite Tone and Kanye West’s mentor, No ID (who when CIBAD was released was still going by the alias of Immenslope, until Twilite Tone convinced him to change it to his government name [Dion] spelled backwards, which flows off the tongue a lot better ) produce the entirety (with the exception of one song that will discuss a little later) of CIBAD.
CIBAD is the cornerstone of what would go onto be a very successful music career for Common, despite not having a huge hit record in his catalog. Not only is he still releasing music, the dude has gone onto lecture at colleges, write books, date some of the baddest chicks on the planet, star in movies and even has an Oscar under his belt. And he is still regarded as one of the greatest lyricist of all time.
And I’m willing to bet that he’s made enough money to never have to ask to borrow a dollar, again.
A Penny For My Thoughts – CIBAD opens with a jazzy No ID produced instrumental built around a loop of Eddie Kendricks’ “Intimate Connection”, and Common welding his unpolished lyrical sword and underdeveloped flow all over it. Coincidently, Common makes reference to the voice of the subject of my last post, MC Eiht, in one of his lines. Common’s flow (which was full of the stuttering style made popular by Das EFX early the same year) sounds dated, but No ID’s sick instrumental is timeless.
Charms Alarm – This is one of my favorite songs on CIBAD. No ID hooks up a smooth backdrop for Common, that he uses to call out those who make an “intentionally pop” brand of hop-hop, specifically taking shots at Kriss Kross and Rico Suave. Common’s flow on this one sounds a lot stronger than the previous song, and I still love this backdrop.
Take It EZ – This was the lead single from CIBAD. Twilite Tone and No ID hook up a sick Rasa loop (with some smooth live saxophone provided by Tony Orbach) for Common to drop more of his animated flow and punch lines over. Boy am I glad Common dropped the whole screechy thing (i.e. his very first word in the song). That shit gets annoying quick. Still love this instrumental, though.
Heidi Hoe – The Beatnuts get their only production credit of the evening and it has to be one of the more unimpressive moments in their legendary production catalog. Common uses this hot garbage to disrespect a garden tool of a woman for her promiscuous ways; which in retrospect is a clear display of the maturation of Lonnie Lynn, as he would never make a song like this during the prime years of his career. This was not good.
Breaker 1/9 – Another group that could have made a fortune off of hip-hoppers for sampling their music over the years are the Isley Brothers. Matter of fact, they could have made a fortune off of the “Between The Sheets” sample, alone. No ID would be one of the first hop-hop producers to loop it up for this ode to cock blockers, which come in all shapes, colors, genders and objects. The remix version (which was also used in the video) of this song uses the same “Between The Sheets” loop with a slightly different flip on it, and Common changes his rhymes up a bit as well. I’m more a fan of the album mix.
Two Scoops Of Raisins – No ID steps from behind the boards (but only after he produces this track) and joins Common on the mic. The two exchange underwhelming rhymes over a forgettable instrumental (that briefly uses the same Billy Cobham sample used on CMW’s “Duck Sick” suite, and gives me an excuse to mention CMW for the second time in this post). Not a fan of this song.
No Defense – Brief Interlude that marks the beginning of the second half of the album. I still remember having to flip the cassette to side b (this was before the ingenious invention of auto reverse) and this being the first song in the sequencing.
Blows To The Temple – Common comes out in battle mode over a dope up-tempo Twilite Tone produced backdrop. That’s all I got.
Just In The Nick Of Rhyme – Twilite Tone loops up Bobbi Humphrey’s “Harlem River Drive” for this wonderfully produced instrumental that Common uses to spit more freestyle rhymes over. This song exposes the holes in Common’s flow and his early tendency to over stuff his bars with words, which resulted in poor enunciation from the windy city native.
Tricks Up My Sleeve – Over a solid and slightly devious No ID instrumental, our host discusses the art of macking honies. He leaves the last verse for guest female emcee, Rayshel (whose rhymes were clearly penned by Common, as she even adapts his annoying screech during her verse) to offer a rebuttal to all Common’s game.
Puppy Chow – Twilite Tone borrows the second Isley Brothers’ loop of the night for the backdrop on this one. Common once again shows his age and immaturity, as he rejects the whole idea of being a gentleman and objectifying women in his verses. He and his crew chant “just dog the bitch” (while female vocalist Tarsha Jones sings ever so beautifully “I never been dogged like this before” over the fellas chant) on the hook. This would have been the perfect song for cameo appearances from Willie D and Too Short, both experts on misogyny.
Soul By The Pound – This is arguably the most well aged song on CIBAD. After boasting about how dope he is on mic (“I’m as bad (bad), as Leroy Brown (Brown), I’m pro (pro) without a noun (noun)”), Common than begins to call out the caucasian culture vultures that he believes are trying to steal soul music, specifically calling out Marky Mark (who I just saw along with Common in the terrible Entourage movie) and his Funky Bunch of “Uncle Thomas’s” and Anthrax (who joined PE on the rock remix of “Bring The Noise”). No ID hooks up a simple but sick backdrop (and I absolutely love the bridge that incorporates a piece of DeBarge’s “I Like It” during Common’s first verse). Like “Breaker 1/9”, this song would also be remixed and released as the single and used in the video, which ironically strips all the soul out of the song.
Pitchin’ Pennies – Twilite Tone’s instrumental teeters back and forth between sounding breezy and animated, as Common spits a quick verse before closing the song with a long piss and a Sinbad sound bite. And with that, we’re done.
It always interesting to look back at the maturation process of an artist. Common is one of emcees that I have followed since the beginning of his career, and boy has he evolved over time. On his debut Can I Borrow A Dollar?, Common shows flashes of the great lyricist he would soon become, but overall sounds like a young man looking to find his footing, voice and style, made apparent by his gimmicky stutter flow, that annoyingly animated screech, and his juvenile content.
Thankfully, while Common was still soul-searching, Twilite Tone and No ID were very much in tune with their own, which can be heard in the instrumentals throughout CIBAD, that for the most part, sound just as good (if not better) today than they did nearly 25 years ago. CIBAD is Common’s only album to date that the production work would outshine his lyrical prowess.
I was thinking the exact same thing about the production when I was listening to this two months ago. It had been a while since I listened to it so it caught me off guard how good the beats sounded. Common definitely improved his rhyme skills.