Having rocked hip-hop for over 20 years, Common is one of the few artists who continues to challenge himself. With his 10th album, Nobody’s Smiling, released earlier this week, we decided it was time to journey back through Common’s video history. While the brother has made a lot of clips since his debut, he has always collaborated with some dope directors to bring his vision to life. Here’s a top 10 (in no particular order):
1. “I Used to Love H.E.R.” (1994)
The song that made many of us love Common’s passion for all thing hip-hop. Be it graf, breaking, spinning or rapping, the four elements were constantly on his mind. While the Windy City kid might’ve been kind of young to be so nostalgic, this was a superb rapper’s delight journey to back in the day.
2. “Resurrection” (1995)
Even when Common Sense sounded like a midwestern version of CL Smooth, one could still hear the potential that would be more forthcoming as soon as he widened his definition of B-boy. Directed by Nick Quested and shot on the streets of Chicago back when the projects still stood, Common introduces us to his city, as well as the pimps, the corner boys, and the roaring L overhead.
3. “Retrospect for Life” (1995)
Back when Lauryn Hill was just the rapping/singing female from the Fugees, she was already flexing her artistic muscles in other ways that had nothing to do with the rockin’ the mic. Directing actress N’Bushe Wright, who plays a single mother striving with her son, Hill’s video for Common’s pro-life/pro-family lyricism was as honest as it was beautiful.
4. “The Corner” ft. The Last Poets (2002)
No matter what ’hood you might stroll into, the corner is always the spot where the cool dudes gather. Directed by the track’s producer Kayne West, the video, like many of Common’s clips, is a love letter to the streets of Chicago. Highlighted by the Last Poets reciting poetry in front of a roaring bonfire, “The Corner” holds it down.
5. “The Light” (2000)
Never afraid to show his sensitive side, this Dilla-produced gem became Common’s ode to the beauty (and booty) of Erykah Badu. With an artful clip directed by Nzingha Stewart that’s visually lush and sensual, Common and Badu were the perfect imagery of Black love in those neo-soul days.
6. “The People” (2006)
One day, when all this hip-hop, movie and TV stuff is behind him, I can see Common running for office and winning. The ladies love him, the brothers respect him, and babies stop crying when he holds them. From Brooklyn to Chi Town to the folks chilling in Compton, everybody loves Common.
7. “Testify” (2005)
Starring the MC’s then girlfriend Taraji P. Henson as the ultimate femme fatale, this star-studded clip featuring Bill Duke and Wood Harris was like a Chester Himes-penned noir movie. Henson is brilliant as the deceiving wife; and though the ending rips off The Usual Suspects, it was still one of the best of 2005.
8. “I Want You” (2007)
Directed by and co-starring Kerry Washington, the creepy brilliance of this video reminds me of an urban Wong Kar-wai. Opening with Common and his fly friends sipping champagne in a pretty penthouse, things soon take a turn when his former flame slips into the crib. Washington, who usually looks completely in control, went the opposite route in this brief, brilliant role.
9. “Ghetto Dreams” (2009)
While Common grew out of his pimp daddy ways long ago, I guess he sometimes dreams about the way it used to be. Hanging out with that bad example, Queensbridge kid Nas, Common nods out in front of the telly and enters an illmatic landscape that was bugged as Belly.
10. “The 6th Sense” (1999)
Directed by African auteur Andrew Dosunmu, this is a powerful clip showing Common and singer Bilal cruising through a riot on the streets of the city. Merging 1970s images of black velvet posters with pre-millennial angst, Common’s collaboration with DJ Premier was an aural Molotov cocktail tossed from a rooftop.
Cultural critic Michael A. Gonzales has written cover stories for Vibe, Uptown, Essence, XXL, Wax Poetics and elsewhere. He’s also written for New York and The Village Voice. Read him at Blackadelic Pop and follow him on Twitter @gonzomike.