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. —Common
    common_3.30.jpg The 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 71410-Thumb.jpg  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          mary j next door.jpg 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. 7242318.jpg 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?          86152_lg.jpg  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). 66000-Full.jpg  “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.   53536-Thumb.jpg “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.    feature_common.jpg  “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.   kanye & common.jpg  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. common knits.jpg  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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12 Responses to “COMMON ft. Mary J. Blige / “Come Close””

Stephanie Renee Says:
July 31st, 2005 at 11:15 am

If you two gents are truly looking for a modern album that celebrates all of the facets of a present-day marriage/relationships, keep your ears pealed for Kindred The Family Soul’s 2nd disc, due out on September 20. I received an advance sampler last week and am really digging the spirit of my fellow Philadelphians’ sophomore effort. Not convinced that it lives up to the jubilant celebration of love witnessed on the first CD… but after the honeymoon’s over, love takes on a whole different glow, does it not?

Nesta Says:
July 31st, 2005 at 8:46 pm

Common had moved to Brooklyn for a while and I think he was living there at the time of "Come Close," hence the license plate.

I think describing "Go" as "hedonistic" is unfairly negative. It is a description of a physical relationship, but I don’t know if one should infer that’s all the relationship consisted of. Rather, that’s what he just chose to focus the song on. And perhaps I’ve forgotten something, but where does he treat the woman as an object? Unless you think that any story about sex inherently objectifies the woman. With so many songs that do make women appear to be just playthings, I’m not sure why you would call out Common on this one, unless you think he should be held to a higher standard because he _is_ Common.

"Said there was some girls that did attract her." Ok, it’s the male fantasy, but she wants the 3-way as well. I don’t see where he forces her into anything, treats her badly, or exploits her. But maybe I’m just a chauvinist myself and I’m blind to it. (And maybe, if the song is based on reality, it is exploiting whoever the woman is — assuming people who know her know it’s about her. But within the context of the song, I don’t think the character is exploited.)

Enough babbling…

     Kalamu says:    


thanks for your response. let’s be clear. i am not holding common to a higher standard—i am commenting on the trajectory of his love songs over the last three albums. if we decontextualize my comments, then yes, it may seem as though i am asking more of common than i ask of others, but, nesta, i didn’t write "the light" or "come close" and make videos of those songs. common did. the same common who seems now not so concerned about family, and again, he was the one that put out there he wanted a family. does he still want a family?

2nd thing—you ask where does he treat the woman as an object. when the woman walks in the room, what do we see. mini skirt. long legs. butt. that’s the intro. i started my comments by saying i was making a semiotic reading, i.e. looking at imagery as signs and meaning in and of themselves. no, i don’t think that "any" story about sex inherently objectifies the woman. once again, look at the images: what shot shows the woman happy about the relationship? go back and look at "the light" and "come close" and see how (happy) the women "look"!

you are not babbling. you are questioning. and that’s good. i don’t claim to have all the answers—that’s why we call BoL "a conversation" rather than a "lecture." what i’m asking is that we look at the images we put forward about ourselves. what i am asking of common is a consistency between what he says he believes and what he shows us. am i asking too much?






Castro (Jason) Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 10:21 am

What’s in a word? Common. I sometimes fear that he will give in to that definition…heads know that he is anything but what his name implies. The brother is definitely blessed with the gift of gab, and this track is evidence of that. Very few mc’s can pull this off- maintain their distinct flow, produce a clever rhyme, and deliver it in a manner that is aware of the music behind it (even when being remixed after the fact…DAT BOY IS PSYCHIC and PRESCIENT!). Another cat who is making music in this vein is Slim Kid Tre from the Pharcyde…he put out a DOPE cd….some ole grown folks hip-hop.

As far as the ‘GO’ Video, I see that as a continuation and a statement of Common’s mindset- he was in a certain place in regards to his relationship when he made ‘The Light’ and ‘Come Close’. Now, its 2005, he is ‘single’ again, at least without the high profile other half, so he is back in ‘mack’ mode. I think ‘GO’ was a simply a statement of where he is at now, as was the first single ‘The Corner’. The Corner is a throwback type of beats and rhyme, boom-bap cut, which was Common’s way of stating he had moved away from the ‘experimental’ phase he displayed in ‘Electric Circus’. If you check out the gear he wears now compared to what he was wearing when he was with Erykah, you see the same patterns. Now, he is dressing classic button downs, dockers, etc…whereas a couple of years ago, he was wearing everything but a kente cloth kilt. Its all good, cuz regardless of these changes he has gone through, the flow is intact, and for an emcee, that’s what really counts.

I would like to see him delve into a full blown jazz or even Blues album, because I think his flow could support it, and in doing so he could continue to expand and erase boundaries between Hip-Hop and its predecessors.

Nadir L. Bomani Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 10:30 am

What halts “come close” from making that rare transformation from “fleeting” ditty to “memorable” song is its calculated safeness disguised as free emotional expression.

Why is mary j. on the hook, when badu is the boo with the “green eyes” common spews about?

I understand mary was contemporary fans favorite hoopin’ and hollerin’ around the way girl at that time (as well as common’s label mate), but anyone who copped “essence”, or skimmed through any online rapzine, knew erykah was the subject of this particular hip hop song.

Common subtly referencing phrases associated with badu songs (i.e. bag lady: “put down your bags girl” was the only thing that made this song somewhat interesting. I would have preferred verses more detailed and testimonial like the one he rapped on the remix: “shit I held up signs in the street for you.”

Erykah hands and vocals are all over the “electric circus” album. Why not bless the listeners on the lead single?

Badu sautéing a dish that was cooked for her would have been really adventurous, especially if she was the sister in the video behind the window.

Mtume says:                                                        

Hey Nadir, I think the remix was intended for folk like you. That’s Erykah on the hook. And my guess on the whole ‘Mary instead of Erykah’ thing is there were some contractual hijinks going on behind the scenes. A lot of times, artists or labels or managers or producers (etc., etc.) make these deals with each other where one artist gives up a track they had the rights to in exchange for the other artist doing a cameo on their next remix or whatever. Other times, an artist just happens to be in the same studio as another artist and the shit just works itself out. Or maybe Erykah was getting her hair done. Who knows? One thing I learned from my wasted years in ‘the industry’ is a lot of stuff that seems mysterious is actually just business.

And one other thing: everybody’s commenting on the (relative) triteness of the lyrics; am I the only one in love with that Blackbeard groove? They stretched it to ten minutes and that’s cool, but they could’ve done another ten for me. I can’t lie: there’s been a few evenings around these parts where the Blackbeard remix has been on ‘repeat’ for more than an hour. (And before y’all start with the jokes, yes, I have about 3,000 other CDs I could be listening to. You do you.)

Rudy Says:
August 1st, 2005 at 4:32 pm

I trust Kalamu’s judgmnt about music, especially his writing on it. I’ve never thought very much analyzing music until BOL acan on the scene and its suggestion that we shouls learn how to converse about music.

In the past, there’s that which I like and that which I am indifferent. This piece by Common, and hip hop in general, I am rather indifferent.

The lyrics are not only syrup but shallow. Its saving grace, as noted by Kalamu is the exhibit of the developing artistry of Mary, whose looks as well as her phrasing, have over the years been refined, which I’m not certain is all together a good thing for a soul singer.

The business of semiotics, I have no idea what either of you are referring to. My knowledge of linguistics is rather shallow though I have had several courses on the subject. And I’m still in the dark.

Even if Kalamu is right in his descriptive outline of the songs, that still says little about what Common is and Common is doing. I suspect in music production promoters try to cover all the bases in gathering an audience. Thus it seems if we are to do a “semiotic interpretation,” we would have to look at the overall presentation of the rapper’s songs, in which we must conclude that this cat has no integrity–he stands for nothing more than selling albums and getting as much money out of suckers as he can.


Nesta Says:
August 2nd, 2005 at 5:27 pm

thanks for the response. i kinda forgot you were focusing on the imagery in the videos. i’ve never seen the videos for “the light” or “go,” so i was really just thinkin about the lyrics.

Kalamu Says:
August 2nd, 2005 at 10:55 pm

hey nesta,

the words in red in the common write up (in the section where i am looking at the videos, those words are links to an online source to see the videos. click on the link and it will take you to the video and then you can see the imagery i discuss and judge for yourself the appropriateness of my reading of the videos.

like i said, this is a discussion, not a lecture. it’s good to have your comments.

AumRa Frezel Says:
August 3rd, 2005 at 1:01 am

The Light, Come Close, Be, A Film Called Pimp…all that is Common. He’s every man; it’s all in him. I saw Common during the Spit Kickers Tour; he dressed as a pimp and a B-boy. But it wasn’t until he donned the dashiki and afro wig that he began to remind me of Gil Scott-Heron. Common spitting references to being in the bottle have been coming up quicker than Mad Dog on an empty stomach. In terms of writing skills and flow the Chicago mc is a lyrical gangster. In terms of knowing who he is and being comfortable within himself, Common is about as clear as mercury in retrograde. He’s mc’ing and dressing like he got stars in his eyes. Common 2005 is starting to dress like Andre 3000 took him to a J Crew outlet.

When I heard that Common, the hustler who been supplying the “underground” with potent product, was hooking up with the baking soda manufacturer, Kanye, I knew we were in for some stepped-on merch. And here I thought the collaboration with ?uestlove was a bad idea. What the hell happened to the artistic production values of Water for Chocolate? Just because Kanye and m&m get grammys doesn’t mean that’s some shit to emulate. The man who used to love her now grabs the mic with about as much passion as Spreewell felt when he grabbed PJ. That ain’t love that’s a clear sign of an abusive relationship.

The Come Close video was cool. I wish there were more like it. The remix was all right. I thought they achieved what they set out to do. But I didn’t really see the point. If you are going to remix it then twerk it on some next tip. Don’t just put the same vibe in a different bag and call it WMD. It ain’t the bomb, it’s the same shit. I thought them adding Mary to the joint was straight up marketing. I saw Mary in concert at Essence. I didn’t realize how many women worshiped her as if she were, well you get where I’m going . Live, her songs start off like any other; they reach a climax and just when you think it’s safe to release your fingernails from the arm rest she goes higher and higher. Mary does have a sound and it is unique. I couldn’t take it anymore. I left. I needed to exhale. But while I was there the women present bear witness to the sight of the Mary on the verge of levitating right off the stage. So, from a marketing aspect I guess I can understand why Mary didn’t weep and Badu didn’t worry. As a classic, Come Close does.


Ekere Says:
August 3rd, 2005 at 2:02 pm

Mtume, I like the remix. It is laid back and sweet– yeah, I like sweet every now and again and I don’t hear enough of it in our music these days. The video is gorgeous. How often do we see anything like that??? More Black love on screen please!

Kolade Says:
August 4th, 2005 at 12:51 pm

i just love these jukeboxes–they set the tone for my week…as far as Common–mmm, i’ve never been a fan of his. i find him to be a biter, always following a trend rather than setting one, or even taking the followed trend to the next level, but, i do enjoy some of his music to a certain degree. these remixes are a treat, as i just love pharell and q-tip. his videos are awesome, and in that i think lies his strength, more so than in his music. i’m really babbling… i just wanted to give some love to you guys, as like i said, these jukeboxes are the bomb!!!

Blackbeard Says:
October 19th, 2005 at 5:24 am

Mtume. Thanks for your enthusiasm over our mix. Just want to point out that Blackbeard and Yam Who? are two seperate outfits. People often seem to think we are one and the same (this drives me crazy)

Barbara Says:
December 12th, 2005 at 8:26 am


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