August Greene - August Greene
The cluster of songs that open August Greene’s debut album offer a precious glimpse into how a 40-something rapper can continue to sound modern and, more importantly, dignified. The MC in question is Common, who heads up the trio alongside pianist Robert Glasper and drummer Karriem Riggins, two longtime collaborators who share his interest in the places where jazz meets hip-hop. The first track, “Meditation,” is, simply, a beautiful rap song. Over nothing more than gently wavering Mellotron synth lines, droplets of acoustic piano, and a shuffling, clipped drum pattern, Common recites sage lyrics, even twisting a rowdy party-starting anthem made by Redman in the ’90s into rap-referential commentary on the mental health of the world: “They body-snatching black girls in D.C./Politics and propaganda on the TV/Distractions distracting us from action/It’s time for some, time for some passion.” The song is a testament to economy: It’s impressive to hear experienced musicians like Common, Glasper, and Riggins let the emotional essence of a song glow rather than swaddle it with unnecessary trinkets.
This restrained, compassionate tone makes the first part of August Greene a poignant listen. On “Black Kennedy,” Common connects families and dynasties through a simple but emotional hook that moves from institutional politics to a warm memory of hanging in Detroit with the departed hip-hop icon J Dilla. “Let Go” performs a similar trick, linking political movements to introspective thoughts as Common invokes a Michelle Obama speech to confess, “I’m supposed to go high when they go low/I forget the big picture and snap like a photo.” He’s left dealing with the ensuing “clouds of doubt and gloom” that form in his head before hollering, “I yell freedom ‘cause I’m free to be dumb.”
At this point, you’re struck by the feeling that you’re listening to three wizened souls taking a step back to reflect on the world around them while younger generations buzz by chasing after trends. Experience is being channeled through music. In Common’s case, this involves the maturity to develop from someone who rapped some of hip-hop’s most misogynistic lyrics in the early ’90s to landing philosophical observations like “forgiveness is a synonym for live and live again,” as he does on the melancholic “Practice.”
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