Common vs. Maya Angelou: Why I Think Maya Was Wrong

December 28, 2011  |  

Man, Common can’t catch a break these days.

I’m thrilled that Common is finally getting some mainstream national publicity after raking and scraping it in the underground rapper niche for the better part of two decades.  He’s a talented man (if not actor), and I think he finally deserves his due in the national spotlight. But not like this, man.

First, there was that drama a few months back with the White House invite and Fox News, and then the alleged beef with emo-rapper Drake over their admiration for Serena Williams. But let’s not forget about the recent kerfuffle: the so-called “beef” between the rapper and renowned poet laureate Maya Angelou. The first track on his new album, The Dreamer/The Believer, is titled “The Dreamer” and features a speech written and read by Angelou at the song’s conclusion. A sweet touch sure…except in the song itself, Common spends an ample amount of time flouting around the N-Word. This apparently offended Ms. Angelou’s sensibilities, considering that she’s a living beacon of why one would decide NOT to use the word under any capacity. This makes perfect sense to me, however, my issue is with what she had to say about it.

“I’m surprised and disappointed. I don’t know why he chose to do that. I had never heard him use that [word] before,” she said in an interview. “I admired him so because he wasn’t singing the line of least resistance.”

Hol’ up. We’re talking about the same Common, correct? Dude that’s been rapping explicit lyrics and peddling them to the public for about 19 years, right? The same cat who spit some of my favorite two bars in all of hip-hop way back in 1994?!?: “I stand out like a n**** on a hockey team/ I got goals, and I can like a pop machine – “Watermelon”

See, through her smoke-blowing, Maya Angelou has revealed that she probably never actually listened to the music of a man she claims to admire. She can’t possibly have ever listened to one full song of his on any of his eight albums before delivering the “singing the line of least resistance” bit. I get Angelou’s disdain for the word, but this is not Common’s fault.

Also, she didn’t seem to make much ado over the rest of the lyrics from “The Dreamer,” like “Tried to f*** the world, she only let me finger” and “Rock Rolls like a Phantom/Mad hoes like they throwing tantrums/I tell them I need space like Richard Branson.” I’m willing to bet she never even made it that far into the track. If one is 243 years old and woefully out of touch with the contemporary music of one’s people, so be it. But perhaps Ms. Angelou needed more people to explain to her that she would be laying down a poem on the album of a rapper who, despite his reputation as a “soft” rapper, has lyrics laden with misogyny and thinly-veiled homophobia. Let us not be too enamored by Maya Angelou’s status of reverence to ignore that this is an issue that didn’t have to be an issue if she’d simply understood and acknowledged Common’s artistry beforehand. I guess this is an example of why it pays to do a little research.

And this is just an aside, but “The Dreamer” is one of the best songs on an already solid album. Just saying.

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