COMMON ft. Mary J. Blige / “Come Close”
I wanna see more of a balance in the music, lyrics and content with a little more social consciousness in it, a little more consideration for love and humanity, and little more adventure in it. —CommonThe original version of Common & Mary J. Blige’s “Come Close” is nice — it’s hard to complain about four-plus minutes of jazzy hip-hop love. Undoubtedly, MCA was hoping “Come Close” would follow the gold-certified path blazed by Common’s previous hit "The Light." The expected sales failed to happen; MCA then put out an official remix featuring Common’s lady Erykah Badu (which made sense of Common’s “Are your eyes still green?” line), Q-Tip (which explained the use of the Minnie Riperton/“Bonita Applebum” break) and Pharrell (who rapped, “I’m creative with Tourette’s, baby” — the funniest come-on line I’ve heard in a while). The official remix didn’t do the trick either. A few months later, Blackbeard decided to show the official cats how the pirates do it. Blackbeard is a underground remix crew out of the UK that specializes in making already good hip-hop songs great. And under their ‘Yam Who?’ alias they do the same for neo-soul records, a la their transcendent remix of Raphael Saadiq’s “Skyy, Can You Feel Me.” The catch is, the Blackbeard/Yam Who? crew releases nearly all of their work on 'white labels' – unauthorized vinyl-only 12” singles. (Blackbeard. Pirate. Get it?) The white labels are usually available only for a brief period of time after which purchasing them becomes a frustrating and expensive proposition. Unfortunately for my wallet, the Blackbeard/Yam Who? cats are very, very good at what they do. For the “Come Close” remix, the Blackbeard crew composed a nearly-three minute intro, stripped the Bonita break down to the bare essentials and added on a gorgeous and understated piano solo. While the Blackbeard treatment retains the sincere and playful feel of Common’s original vocals, it also adds to Mary’s bluesy vocals an ethereal, spiritual feel that adds layers of depth to lyrics. The result of all of this? Ten minutes of auditory ecstasy that belongs on the short list of best hip-hop love songs ever. You want to hear this one. —Mtume ya Salaam Come Close, the video Mtume, check out the video of Come Close By the way, don't Common be repping Chi—how come he got New York plates on his ride? Is it me, or am I reading too much into the details? —Kalamu ya Salaam Mary’s still singing the blues Watching the video made me realize how rarely we see images of Black-on-Black love. Meaning, without the gratuitous sex and without the undertones or overtones or subplots of infidelity, poverty, hustling, criminality etc. Plus, the video tells a well-plotted story and includes a nice 'twist' ending (that I, for one, didn’t see coming). I was thinking, the 'holding up cards' bit has been done before in videos (Bob Dylan, INXS, etc.) but the “Come Close” video brings a unique and heartwarming spin to the concept. I noticed also that Common was dressed in red, green and gold and I noticed that he was driving a bucket and looked like he picked up his wears from the thrift store. In other words, he's presenting himself as an ordinary (materially speaking) but 'conscious' Black man in love with an ordinary Black woman. We need more of that -- a lot more. That's what I meant when I said I don't want to spend time debating Kelis' image issues. I'd rather spend time discussing the images presented by something like "Come Close." P.S. Meanwhile, Mary's still singing the blues.... —Mtume ya Salaam The girl next door Yeah, you checked that Mary was the girl next door, unspoken for, unspoken to, peeping the sweet love going down with her neighbor, and moaning a sorrowful moan that sweetened-up Common’s beautiful love song. Except, note that this was some of the most—and I can’t believe I’m using this word in critiquing a Mary J. Blige vocal—but anyway, some of the most tastefully 'subtle' singing Mary J. has ever done. Great work from a chanteuse known more for shouting and histrionics than nuance and sensitivity, but it just goes to show you: you can’t judge the future solely based on what has happened in the past. Of the three versions, Blackbeard’s is easily the best, even though I am sure some hardcore rap fans will find it too syrupy for their tastes. It will be interesting to see what Lonnie Rashied Lynn (BKA Common) drops next. It would be hip to see him do an album tracing all phases of a relationship: meeting, dating, resolving conflicts, children/marriage or marriage/children or children/no marriage or marriage/no children (whatever, you get the point), and either divorce/moving on (if it is true to today’s statistics) or working it out/staying together—now, that would really be keeping it real. I know some folk might think such an album won’t sell, but I believe that if it is done honestly and with artistry than there’s a whole lot of folks in their late twenties to late-thirties who could, and would, definitely relate to the topic. I figure Common is the kind of cat who could cross that street, come in from the cold, fess up, and, without posturing or artifice, reveal the innards of Black male life without the hype, without the focus on outer society; just an intimate portrait of Black manhood in America. Wouldn’t that be adventurous! —Kalamu ya Salaam The morning after, what you go/be? By now any fan of Common has heard the new joint, especially “The Corner” and “Go,” probably seen the video for “Go.” Just a quick comparison of three Common videos: moving from 2000’s “The Light” with Erykah to 2005’s “Go” is an interesting trip. This is my semiotic deconstruction of the videos (meaning I am looking at the meaning and significance of visual signs rather than analyzing the lyrical/intellectual content). “The Light”—The small apartment, where it is definitely a romantic (hence the candles/the title) awakening in a urban Garden of Eden (hence all the greenery and the emphasis on eating fruit) with a green-eyed Goddess. The bed is the predominant piece of furniture but we don’t see them together in it, indeed, at the end Common sits on the floor at the foot of the bed in a worshipful position while Erykah sleeps. “Come Close”—Mtume has already provided a basic semiotic reading, but I would like to stress the physical house, the location: residential, in what Black folk refer to as a middle-class neighborhood, really it’s upper working class (but that’s another story). The two-story house suggests stability; the neighbors passing by—elders, young adult couples, children—suggest community, neo-urban village life; Common standing on the front lawn signaling his love presents a public declaration. “Go”—Where are we? Ultra-modern, hi-tech suite. Living room & bedroom with fantastic vista view. The fantasy is about sex. The images constantly morph with geographic shapes, phallic lines dominate (contrasted to the abstract images in "The Light," which were circle/spherical shapes). And of course, the ménage-a-trois (ménage-a-many lovers) ultimate male fantasy. “The Light” = finding a soul mate. “Come Close” = establishing a family. “Go” = indulging a fantasy. Some have suggested that Common’s new album (with major production by Kanye West) represents a return to hardcore hip hop values, rather than a return, I see a deviation from a celebration of social relationships to a sophisticated reveling in hedonism (pleasure for the sake of pleasure). Everybody likes to feel nice, but at what price? Love partners are not toys or mere objects to be consumed and discarded when the pleasure is done, or, then again, maybe in the 21st century that’s really the way love is. Sort of wham, bamming, without even a thank you. But then again, it’s only popular music and there’s no sense in doing a deep psychological analysis is there? —Kalamu ya Salaam Hardcore don't listen You say the new album represents a deviation for Common, but are we talking about the entire new album or one song/video? I’m asking because the only other track I’ve heard from Be is “The Corners” and nothing about that song as anything to do with “reveling in hedonism,” sophisticated or otherwise. One other thing. Re: hardcore rap fans finding the Blackbeard remix “too syrupy” – that’s a non-issue. Hardcore rap fans don’t listen to phony-sounding, alternative rock-playing, gospel-singing, whining for p----- rappers like Common. ;-) —Mtume ya Salaam
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