Published Apr 01, 2000"I wanted that sound; that funk and soul food," says Common, stressing the f-word. "Something that could sound like it ain't no hip-hop song." While the continuing growth and maturity of Common's dextrous grasp is present on his fourth album, Like Water For Chocolate, the most significant change is the sound overhaul, courtesy of the Chicago MC aligning himself with ?uestlove of the Roots, D'Angelo and Slum Village producer Jaydee, all members of the formidable Soulquarians crew. Collectively, they address the lacking execution that Common freely admits scuppered 1997's One Day It'll All Make Sense.
Although Like Water For Chocolate adds to a long list of food references in his career, it was meant as both a literary and culinary allusion. "I named the album because I felt it was metaphoric to the way I cook up songs. I want people to feel what I am feeling when I create this music" Coming from another artist this sentiment could sound trite, but since 1994's Resurrection, Common's appeal has stemmed from his ability to intimately convey his vulnerability, frustrations and wit through his distinctive voice, versatile flows and marinated lyrics. Traversing diasporic traditions in vibrant and organic fashion, Like Water For Chocolate is inspired by Fela Kuti, enlisting the legendary Nigerian musician's son Femi as a guest artist. At the core of the music is soul, a word that elicits an animated response.
"Soul is a beautiful word, soul is so undefinable," says Common. "D'Angelo is soul. The Roots are soul artists, too. But what makes them soul? You feel their spirit. There ain't nothing technical or comprehensible about it."
Common felt a similar spiritual connection upon reading the stunning autobiography of former Black Panther Assata Shakur. He sought her out in Cuba, where she gained political asylum after escaping incarceration, to flesh out the vivid narrative "A Song For Assata." While he is more than capable of handing out damning indictments of rap materialism, as he did on buzz track "Dooinit," the experience has clearly represented an evolutionary step in Common's own spiritual growth. But he is also quick to acknowledge his own contradictions.
"I'm always striving towards perfection," says Common, humbly. "But I like watching pimp documentaries. I got a sense of humour too. It's not like everyday, 'Oh man, I'm all about this and nothing else.' That ain't realistic and that ain't me, so I ain't gonna try and portray that."