Sunday, May 6, 2012

Today's Common Hip-Hop

“I Used to love H.E.R.” by Common relates a woman to hip-hop. Common appears to show both the woman’s and the music’s transition over time. Yet in reality, there is no woman, only hip-hop. Although in “I Used to love H.E.R.,” Common confesses his fading love for rap music, he is actually revealing the changes that rap went through, suggesting that both rappers and listeners need to return hip-hop to its original form.


In “I Used to love H.E.R.” Common confesses his fading adoration for rap music. Initially, he loves rap, “She had so much soul.” “Not about the money.” “We related, physically and mentally.” “When she was underground, original, pure untampered.” This was before hip-hop became a business. People rapped for the enjoyment, not for the money.  At this point, Common says that the music came from their soul, rather than the industry. However at some point this changed. Rap became a business. “But once the man got to her, he altered the native.” “She’s universal.” “She was really the realest before she got into showbiz.” It is no longer an underground form of art, full of soul. Instead, it is a business, the man got to her (she lost her innocence). Therefore, although more people may be involved, rap lost its pureness, and originality. Common’s love is fading because of the reasons shown above, all reasons associated with rap’s changes throughout time.

Therefore, “I Used to love H.E.R.” is actually revealing more of the changes that rap went through then it is Common’s feelings. The woman is used metaphorically throughout the entire song to represent hip-hop, and similarly, Common’s emotions for rap show the genre’s transitions: pure, getting into R&B and Jazz, and then Universal. Initially, rap is pure (verse 1). “And she was fun then…underground.” Only certain people rapped back then. It used to be underground. Back then listening to rap was enjoyable. Common suggests that rap then began to change, but not necessarily in a bad way. He personifies the genre, saying that it became well rounded by joining with other forms of black music, “Now black music is black music and it’s all good.” At this point the genre was expanding, but not at the commands of the “man,” (the decision makers telling rappers what to rap about). Furthermore, the rappers were still free styling and “having fun.” However, after this point, hip-hop became universal. Common reveals that the form lost its purity, saying, “She’s just not the same letting all those groupies do her… Once the man got to her.” It was no longer performed just for enjoyment, or in underground circles. People now were trying to be the toughest and represent a form that they (or the "man") believed or wanted hip-hop to be, a false impression of the genre.

These changes in hip-hop attempt to persuade both listeners and rappers to return to the pure form of rap. By relating hip-hop to a woman losing her purity, people can identify more readily to this change's negativity. “I see niggaz slammin her and takin her to the sewer.” Taken literally, this line refers to a girl constantly sleeping with guys that she has no feelings for (possibly against her will due to the fact that they are slamming her and taking her to the sewer, a quiet and gruesome place). Obviously, Common is referring to rap music, but due to the constant metaphor between rap and the woman, we can draw a similar connection. Many rappers tamper with the purity of hip-hop, overusing it to make money. Therefore, this song is suggesting a return to the way hip-hop was when Common was ten. Common will “take her back hopin that the shit stop.” But in addition to Common changing, other rappers must stop taking orders from “the man,” and the listeners must stop buying into the tainted music that “the man” is trying to sell them.


  1. I think that this post can be related to Kelvin’s post “Conscious Hip-Hop,” which discusses the question of whether or not conscious hip-hop artists are trying to change the issues they rap about or whether they are simply trying to make money. In “I Used to Love H.E.R.,” Common talks about how hip-hop used to be fun and full of soul, but then it became all about the money and the industry. Common believes that hip-hop needs to go back to the way that it was before “the man got to her.” To relate this to Kelvin’s post, this means that conscious hip-hop should come from a real desire to make a change in society, not from a desire to make money. The lyrics of “I Used to Love H.E.R.” show that Common truly believes in this idea and tries to apply it to his own music. At the end of this song, Common reveals that he is committed to hip-hop and promises to “take her back hopin’ that the shit stop.” Here we see that Common actually plans on trying to change the issues with hip-hop described in this song. He crafted these lyrics not to appeal to the audience and try to make money but rather because he actually believes in them. This is something that he hopes more rappers will start to do in order to bring hip-hop back to the way it was before industry took over and before money was the key force driving these artists’ rhymes.

  2. The first time I listened to this song, I realized that the first two lines of the first verse of Common's "I Used to Love H.E.R." is extraordinarily similar to the first two lines of the first verse of Kanye West's "Homecoming." After the shock wore off, I realized that both songs are remarkably alike. They both use metaphors of a woman to show disappointment, but in Common's song, it's disappointment for contemporary hip-hop, and in Kanye West's song, it's Chicago's disappointment for Kanye's actions to leave and go national. I feel as if Kanye wrote the song as a homage to Common's song to show Common that although hip-hop has changed and has been industrialized, there will always be some artists in hip-hop that will continually strive to see rap as the way it was before all the companies and the "man."

  3. Although I agree with Common that hip hop has definitely strayed from its roots, I do feel its ironic that he is still making money from the music industry and working for "the man" despite disliking the business side of hip hop. In his new song "Blue Sky, " he says "Suited in Prada, stay mellow like lala/Young, fresh, with dollars, ladies go gaga" and "SLS classic, pursuing my passion/NOVA Fashion, now I'm Oscar party crashing" emphasizing his fame and wealth. It could be Common's persona that speaks out against the industry, or continues to manipulate it for his own personal success. Either way, Common is a legend and I'm glad he is still putting out tracks.

  4. Despite the fact that I find this song to be hypocritical because of the nature of his other songs, I think that this hypocrisy is completely necessary. For art, whether it be music, films, book, etc., to become recognized and sought after, people must find interest and implications with it. Common's self contradiction between this and his other songs perpetuators the concept of rap becoming more and more commercialized. And the reality is that, if Common was never to have gone against the message of "I Used To Love H.E.R." in his past, he wouldn't have been able to reach his level of success within the "business" to publicly express not just the affect of "the man" on his music, but the affect on the entire hip-hop industry.

  5. I really like what you've brought up here. I think common's woman as a metaphor for rap music as a whole is extremely effective. People respond to sex issues and discussions of rape, and therefore by using these methods to express his point, I think he would be able to really grab the attention of his listeners. While somewhat graphic, I believe it does a great job of getting his point across.

    Further, I think it is important to note that the method Common uses here is actually something that is prevalent in a lot of music (as well as other areas of our culture). I think it is definitely culturally significant that artists often take a subject that they know generates responses from people (like sex issues and rape) and apply it to the issue they are trying to raise awareness about through a metaphor.


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