July 20, 2009

Reader Review: Common - Like Water For Chocolate (March 28, 2000)

(Skipping ahead in time with Common's discography, today FLX provides his thoughts on his fourth opus, Like Water For Chocolate. Be sure to leave your thoughts below, and you can also visit FLX himself at his MySpace site when you're finished here. Enjoy!)

Like Water For Chocolate is Common Sense's fourth and, at that point in his career, his most successful album (around 750,000 copies sold). It's the first in a one-two punch of Common albums produced by the Soulquarians, a producion team starring the Roots drummer/standout afro/tuxedo man ?uestlove, R&B singer/(guy getting blown in the “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” video)/'caine slinger D'Angelo, James Poyser and, most importantly for this album, Jay Dee. (Other people also played a role, but these guys were the main players.) Both Common and Dilla (as he would later change his moniker to) hail from the Midwest, and they had an incredible chemistry together. I had heard material from both of these guys before, from Resurrection (a part of Lonnie's No I.D.-produced period) to Jay Dee's work with the Pharcyde, Slum Village, and Janet Jackson. But I wasn't prepared for this.

To be honest, after a first quick listen in the shop, I almost didn't buy Like Water For Chocolate. Why? Because it didn't fit the formula used by other good albums: hot beats + tight rhymes = great rap album. But Like Water For Chocolate is much more. It's produced by real musicians (most of them geniuses) and you can tell that by the sound, the variations, and the feeling. It's a million miles away from standard rap albums with rhymes about living the hard life in the ghetto (while rollin' on 24s) and is produced by the 5 most sought after producers of the moment. This CD doesn't only contain hot beats, it also has great songs. It's not jut great rap music, it's great music. And it sounds cohesive as an album. If you don't know what i mean, listen to Be or Finding Forever (or Universal Mind Control?) and then listen to this. As good as Com and Kanye West sound together, Like Water For Chocolate is on a whole other level artistically.

One last thing before we get into the track by track-write up: Jay Dee was the greatest producer of all time. and to this day he is an inspiration for me as well as anybody else studying the art of rap music and hip hop. Rest in peace!

Common, along with his guests (Femi Kuti is Fela Kuti's son), takes us to the beach for the start. Sounds almost like world music, which is a logical step considering that it's a tribute to the godfather of Afrobeat music. This one has been in my car for the last 8 summers and will probably stay there for some more.

That's exactly what Com and Dilla bring on here. This is one of the greatest, funkiest rap songs of all time. And it's responsible for me ultimately picking this album up, despite my previous misconception, because I instantly realized that this is the shit. I even asked the salesman behind the counter in the music shop to repeat this one, please! (There was only a pair of headphones and a glowing red skip button on the counter.)

This is what rap music would sound like if we still listened to music on gramophones. It's as funky (maybe more so) as any super-polished Dr. Dre beat, but sounds like its polar opposite. That sentence will tell you whether or not this is something you'll be interested in.

Compared to the first three songs, this is quite reduced musically. It's almost mellow with its sparse (save for the chorus) arrangement. Com does manage to goes berserk over the cool (and I'm talking Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction-type-cool) instrumental, though.

You probably already know this one, as it was the second single and brought Common his long-deserved shine. Its a beautiful song with heartfelt lyrics and a sampled chorus that's just made for this beat like white bikinis are made for Jessica Alba. (Seriously, those pictures are like five years old. Alba isn't all that anymore. Honey and Idle Hands are still guilty pleasures, though.) Like that woman, everybody loves this song and, though I'm not usually into rap love songs, I'm no exception. Maybe Max is? (I'm withholding my opinion until Like Water For Chocolate is in my review pile.)

To describe this song, let me recite its chorus: "As long as it's funky, alright, ok!"

Despite the appearance of the then-great Mos Def (in the days of Black On Both Sides, which is my second favorite rap album) and its cool concept with Lonnie and Dante posing questions, I never really felt this song. It's not bad, and it would probably be cool background music to whatever daily household activity is your preferred one, but it's just not as John Blazin' as Mos thinks it is.

Short slightly alternative (almost) instrumental version of the album's first track. I always liked it, maybe because of Femi Kuti's cool vocals. By the way, Common and Mos Def were both featured on his album Fight To Win, which you should really track down - it's great!

Anybody can sound good over a DJ Premier beat, though not automatically as good as Common does on here. I wont waste too many words on it, since you all know this fantastic song. This is rap for real, something you feel.

After a hilarious skit featuring Common the Pimp giving a female employee of his physical advice on how to maximize their profits effectively by using public exposure of her goods, we're lead into the actual song. Once again, it's not bad, but in my mind, it falls back behind the rest of the album. Maybe this and "The Questions" are just too slow, I don't know.

This is one of these songs that make me believe this album is not only great rap music, but great music in general. You could swim in the melodies; Dilla plays with the beat's arrangements and Common flows on the tracks like he's on a water slide. Perfect material for your a walk through the city at night with your headphones on or in the car while riding into the sunset. The short instrumental interlude after the actual song was later used by Raekwon, by the way, but I forget what that song was called.

This is just a rather normal rap song, which makes it a bit misplaced here. I like it much more when played solo or on Slum Village's Fantastic Vol.2 (it was included as a bonus track in later pressings) than sequenced in here. Common trades rhymes with the original line up of Slum Village (Dilla, Baatin, & T3) and and they can't hold a match, let alone a candle to him, but I suppose Dilla had to bring his crew along to the studio, lest they start chasing him around several Detroit blocks in his socks in the winter once he would have gotten back home (this album was recorded in New York).

Over a sparse, but damn good, Godfather of Soul-sampling beat (one guess which James Brown song is being sampled), Common reverts back to his earlier storytelling days as Common Sense. On One Day It'll All Make Sense (Common's third album, which I have yet to get to), he had this trilogy of tracks describing, in detail, a theft in his house. Maybe that was a bit too much then. Here, he tells just one hilarious story of his Granny getting robbed but no spoilers here on who did it. After the song is over, there's another interlude here like before “A Song Called (Pimp)”, but I always felt it was out of place with its drama and violence, because the next song is...

And if you ever are in desperate need to find a rap song that you could get your baby girl in the mood to, pick this one, my friend. It's nothing but precious, with the D'Angelo-sang chorus and the extra soulful instrumental. I will admit that I love this track as well, though that might damage my street cred, but i don't give the slightest bit of a fuck.

Despite “I Used To Love H.E.R.”, this is probably the greatest song Common ever made. Over a out-of-this-world instrumental by James Poyser, Com tells the story of black activist Assata Shakur. This is the dopest history lesson ever given, and Cee-Lo Green's crooning on the hook is just the extra icing on the cake. At the end of the song they even let Assata Shakur speak for herself, albeit in sampled form. Touching is the least I could say.

As you can tell by the "III" in the song's title, it became a tradition on Common's that his pops did the last track in spoken word style. Sorry Pops, but this is actually the most disposable song here, despite the cool jazzy vibe. The album would just have ended on a so much higher note if it would have stopped after “A Song for Assata”.

FINAL THOUGHTS: As I wrote above, Like Water For Chocolate is a million miles away from standard rap material - after hearing this again, I even resist to call today's contemporary shit rap music. It's the finest moment for both Common and the Soulquarians, which says a lot regarding how good these musicians are or used to be. Unfortunately, Common never reached the level of this album again, not even with his Soulquarians-produced follow-up Electric Circus - although I don't think that album is as bad as people usually say. If you only know Common from his Kanye-assisted days (I won't even acknowledge that Universal Mind Control exists) (good man) and you think that shit's good, listen to this and you'll discover something beyond dope. The only bad thing i could say about this album is that its title draws inspiration from a horrible Mexican film - even the three girls I watched that with thought it was more tragically comical than romantic. As a result, not one of them wanted to have sex - which means the movie didn't meet the only goal a man could pursue by watching a romantic movie, and it failed miserably. (I actually like the movie enough, but it's based on a book that I understand is much better, even though the author's husband is the person who directed the film version. The book opinion is all secondhand info from my wife, although I didn't have the same problem that FLX had after watching it, so maybe that's why my opinion is different. You just need better female friends.)

BUY OR BURN?: Buy one for everyone you really love that is open minded enough to listen to rap songs, even if they normally prefer library jazz or Uzbekistan traditional music. This is not only stellar music starring a fantastic rapper (who really has something to say) on top of his game, it's also a complete package - even the booklet artwork is really superb and its paper has a unique natural feeling and smell (!) to it. If you ain't got enough money to be such a musical Good Samaritan, go at least cop one for yourself. If you're a good person you deserve to hear this and if you'd burn or download this, you're actually a bad person.

BEST TRACKS: If you have only 15 minutes to live, listen to "Heat", "The 6th Sense" and "A Song for Assata". If you're going to be around for a while, this album features 12 very good to incredible songs out of 16 total. Not a bad ratio, especially for a rap album.


(Be sure to leave your comments for FLX below. Even if you have nothing to say about the album, say something anyway.)


  1. this is my favorite common album and one of my favorite albums of all time

  2. protoman muthafukkaJuly 20, 2009

    boo common!

  3. Yo big up Max for postin my review! And thanks especially for the link to my myspace... everybody feel free to check my shit! Peace, FLX

  4. AnonymousJuly 20, 2009

    hip hop isn't dead its above ground. Ground in a coffee house that is.

    "(who really has something to say)" just made me cringe. But its a fair review, I agree its a good album 'cause Jay Dee/?uestlove were at their PEAK.

  5. Scotty MacJuly 20, 2009

    Great review! Really well written. Definitely a dope album.

    "Thelonius" has gradually become one of my favourites from this album. Classic Dilla.

    My international version of LW4C has the Geto Heaven remix featuring the godawful Macy Gray, and it's easily the worst song on the album. I'll have to track down the D'angelo version, hopefully that's a better version.

  6. Awesome review of a hip hop CLASSIC - great to see this revisited. Too often the classics of old get left behind.

    I'm a hip hop blogger myself looking to get some exposure - hit me up if I can get the honor of writing a guest review for your blog too.

  7. AnonymousJuly 21, 2009

    Album prety boring. Be>> Any other Common album.

  8. The executive producer of UMC were the Neptunes. Not 'Ye, he produced Be and Finding forever (both great albums)

  9. There is actually also an alternate release to this album... only difference is that Geto Heaven is a different version,it's:

    Geto Heaven (Remix) T.S.O.I. (The Sound Of Illadelph)

    And it features Macy Gray

  10. I'd put this in my top 25.
    @Anon: LWFC is better, but Be > the rest.

  11. Instrumental version of LP is also amazing, and 6th Sense and Heat seems to me the weakest beats here. Also on instrumental LP Time Travellin Reprise is an uncut almost 4 minute track. Great album.

  12. Muchisimas gracias por subir este album... agradecido

  13. AnonymousMay 17, 2013

    Would love to read Max's comments about this, one of the greatest albums ever.

  14. Love it...but how the hell doesn't this have a parental advisory sticker on it?!

  15. For a guy who was more into hardcore rap than 'positive shit', The 6th Sense singlehandedly made me a Com fan back in 2003.

  16. This Albums is on fire and Redman couldn't have said it better