November 5, 2004

Hip-Hop Saviors Come to Cornell

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Even if you lived on the threshold of underground hip-hop coming out of Chicago and New York, you’d still be hard-pressed to find Common or Mos Def performing live. A severe shortage of public appearances could be blamed on numerous causes — most specifically, these stars want to maintain their low-profile, elusive status as an attempt to raise anticipation when they finally do perform in front of a crowd. Nevertheless, check their official sites and each has few shows listed, much less in upstate New York.

The opportunity to see these two revolutionary artists, therefore, is not to be missed. Common and Mos Def are innovative, intelligent, and eloquent rappers. They rhyme about love, math, and international water problems, and lament the loss of respectable hip-hop. In a market that for some reason seems to like J-Kwon and Cam’ron’s demeaning, sexist dime-a-dozen “gangster” tracks (which, by the way, hardly rhyme), these two exist amongst a small pocket of those who want to institute change, even if it’s violent.

One label the media has provided artists like Mos Def and Common is that of a “conscientious rapper.” In other words, they care about issues more important than bitches and hos. If you’ve heard either one, or similar artists like K-Os, Talib Kweli, Q-Tip, The Roots, Jurassic 5, Dead Prez, or even Kanye West, you might have an idea of where their consciences come from. They might rap about “not remembering a day when I wasn’t intoxicated” as Common does on Resurrection’s “Book of Life,” but their larger questions are still the same: How can I get out of this destructive cycle? What would mama say? Why don’t I have a regular job? I want to settle down, but is she the right one?

Listen to either one’s most recent albums and you’ll get an even stronger sense of their abilities. Unfortunately, as each has matured, they have adopted angrier, more distraught means of expression, but even the existence of artistic development is admirable in a genre which remains mostly sterile. 1994’s Resurrection is a classic hip-hop album. Fantastic beats, endless verses, and inspiring lyrics all add to a pleasurable listening experience from the first track. Taking a slightly more pessimistic overtone, Common’s most recent, Electric Circus, demonstrates one of his most prominent characteristics: spirituality. Sometimes the frequency of mentioning religion gets a little redundant or annoying, but it still seems as if Common really believes in some sort of higher order. Organs, choirs, and a sense of impending doom enhance this rapper’s criticism of modern life; throwing dice, living from woman to woman, drinking every day might not be approved of in the next life. Common instructs us to keep in mind our eternal soul. When was the last time Jadakiss asked you if there was any meaning in your life?

Mos Def is more of an underground icon — Common has, for better or for worse, become mainstream recently, appearing with Erykah Badu and Kanye West. Mos Def rarely appears anywhere in the public eye, unless he’s acting or has his trusty sidekick Talib Kweli with him (these two make quite the couple — give Black Star, their joint venture, a listen). As you might have read in the Sun a few weeks ago, Mos Def’s first album Black on Both Sides is probably the greatest representation of all that is still good in hip-hop. His newest artistic project,The New Danger, a fusion of hard rock and hip-hop, was basically panned in nearly every respectable entertainment magazine (Rolling Stone liked it), but don’t let it stop you from seeing him in concert.

The opportunity to see two men who will eventually be called legends doesn’t come to Cornell very often. Do yourself a favor and see in person what good music is.

Mos Def and Common play Barton Hall on Sunday, November 7 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are available at

Archived article by Elliot Singer
Sun Staff Writer