When I first heard that former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin had said it was "too easy" to criticize the White House for inviting rapper Common to an event, I thought, "Of all the rappers proudly repping the most negative aspects of their backgrounds, she picked Common? Is there another rapper named Common I don’t know about? And when did she start listening to hip hop anyway?"
Although I don't get the impression that she's heard many of his lyrics outside of the song* she believes would "glorify cop killing during Police Memorial Week," while reading this book my first thought was, "Man, I hope she never gets a copy."
The problem with memoirs is when a reader, or a fan, has built up in his or her mind how an artist should be and it turns out they aren’t like that, it can be sobering.
Some of the major disappointments in Common’s book were his borderline bragging about being in a gang, leaving a boy threatening answering machine messages because he was wealthy and smart, prowling for fights with drunken friends, recalling how his clique beat up some guy in an elevator for throwing up a pitchfork (gang symbol) and being held back by his friends so he wouldn't attack someone for verbally making snide comments.
The latter individual was stomped to death and two "bloody dreadlocks" were pulled from his scalp by Common’s friends after they’d already held Common back from fighting. Common’s take: "I'm not exactly proud of what happened, but, then again, dude was asking for it."
His social circle wasn't the best either, including one of his friends who would steal calling cards, and then pay people in said calling cards to beat other people up. This is in addition to his other friends who stole credit cards and made a profit off of stolen luggage claimed as "lost."
Common also tackled his rap beef with West Coast artist Ice Cube. Ironically, "One Day It'll All Make Sense" reminded me of Ice T's "Ice: A Memoir of Gangster Life and Redemption — from South Central to Hollywood.” Both artists mention how they're against youth violence, but the conversational way their street tales are told made me wonder if they're proud of being troublemakers. I had expected all the bragging about street life from Ice T, but from Common, the perceived positive and inspirational rapper I'd built up in my head, I did not.
While Common is known for being a tame rapper in comparison to others, even he admits he's confused about his "conscious rapper" label, considering he doesn't shy away from using words such as “broad,” "bitch" and the n-word.
When I picked up this book I was prepared to read about a guy who loves his mother (she had an excessive amount of excerpts in the book), who is actively doing something positive for the community, who is proud to be from Chicago, loves hip-hop, grew up when hip-hop was still young, had some eccentric clothing choices and was the ex-boyfriend of Erykah Badu. But, after reading the book, he seems to be more of a chameleon, literally “common” instead of unique.
When he decided to rap under the name Common Sense and mentioned this to a friend named Joe, the response was: "Common Sense? Man, you have just about the least common sense of anyone I know. You can't even boil water."
When he was with Erykah Badu, he admits that he wouldn't go to the studio when he needed to. He started dressing like her and fell back on his own religious beliefs because of her “spiritual” inclinations. There were a lot of chapters about God later on in the book so clearly he went back to his roots as “unapologetically Christian” (a saying common from his childhood church, Trinity United Church of Christ), but then he goes into his relationship with Serena Williams, who is a Jehovah’s witness, and thanks Jehovah at the end of the book. One has to wonder, after countless examples of him doing what everybody else is doing, if he really wanted to thank Jehovah or if he did it because of Serena.
He had to realize how he was painting himself in the book because of the introduction letters he included at the beginning of each chapter. In one, he wrote a tough love letter to himself. He pointed out that his younger self is "trying so hard to fit in" and has "to know that fitting in is not your path" and encouraging a journey "from gangster to godly."
While the darker chapters of his earlier life made me want to close the book, it was the funnier chapters, the growing pains and relationships that pulled me into the story.
His choice to throw a microphone at an angry audience member who threw confetti at him got a laugh because of the cartoonish way it was told. Although I should be ashamed to admit it, his laced marijuana story reminded me of the movie “Friday” and got plenty of laughs, along with his boyish mistakes such as running full speed away from a girl who he found attractive. He didn’t run because she said something wrong; he wrote he didn’t know what was on his mind.
While his childhood crushes were entertaining, I counted down the pages until I could read about his relationship with neosoul artist Erykah Badu. I had no idea he dated Oscar-nominated actress Taraji Henson, too. I wondered about his relationship with Dana Owens aka Queen Latifah during the film “Just Wright" and what came of his relationship with Serena Williams. He gave an overview of Taraji Henson but went into elaborate details about his relationship with Erykah. Then he discussed some intimate details about women we don't know. I didn’t care to read about his first time giving oral sex; his description of the first time he felt a girl up was good enough.
He also talked about his later life and how he met and befriended artists such as Kanye West, Treach, Queen Latifah (before the acting gigs), Tupac, Prince, Denzel Washington and Jay Dee. He told his side of the controversy with Palin and what it was like to hang out with President Barack Obama, and there were thoughtful chapters on his father and historical icon Emmett Till.
The only thing he didn't really cover was why he kept stating he didn't have a male figure in his life to guide him. Both he and his mother mentioned his stepfather, while at the same time he bemoaned that his biological father was not around enough. But this left me wondering, "Why are you stuck on not having someone to guide you when your stepfather was around?" I get the impression that some of his thoughts on this topic were purposely left out so as not to offend his mother, especially considering the chapter-by-chapter feedback she gave on everything from why Kanye West's mother Donda West may have wanted plastic surgery to why she didn't stop Common from hanging out with certain friends to why Taraji Henson was her favorite of his girlfriends.
This book was filled with plenty about Common — flaws and all. There was some rambling about “love” that lasted too long and too much elaboration on Rashid (his real name) versus Common. I can't say I enjoyed the whole read, but I did learn quite a bit about his evolution over the years from teenager, boyfriend, father and an unapologetic mama's boy to the rapper we know of today.
One Day It'll All Make Sense
By Common and Adam Bradley
Atria Books, 320 pages, $25
* Palin was referring to Common’s song "A Letter to the Law," which protested the war in Iraq.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun