The arguments between underground and mainstream rappers can get really old, really fast. Of course mainstream rappers still want street cred, and of course most underground rappers want to get paid. That's why it was nice to see Jay-Z give respect to Common on The Black Album: From one master MC to another, it was an affirmation that no matter how much money your making, lyrics are lyrics. And while Common may not have the razor-wire wit of Hova, he's got his own brand of chops, a jazzy, relaxed flow that fits his beatnik image just as well as his slouch hats. Particularly on his 2000 album Like Water for Chocolate, Common brings love, happiness and good vibrations in the Native Tongues tradition.
But don't confuse Common with the tired gang of "positive" rappers who aren't interested in moving the masses. Like Mos Def, Common isn't satisfied with just selling some vinyl to hardcore heads. His series of Coke commercials with Mya proved both his mainstream aspirations and the ability to achieve them. Now, appearing with De La Soul at the 2004 Mixx DJ Competition gives him a chance to garner fans from "the vibrant urban world of the trendsetting, multicultural smoker." Whuzzat? That's a quote from an executive at Brown & Williamson, maker of Kool cigarettes, on why the company sponsors the Mixx competition. So it won't just be turntables and mics smoking at the Pageant this Saturday. And the strange irony of positive rappers being supported by the cigarette industry is rich and complex enough that somebody could make a great underground rap album about it. Who's left to record it?
Obviously, Common can shill for whomever he pleases -- and the same goes for De La Soul (pictured), who will also be appearing at the event. In fact, it's almost refreshing to see these acts loosening up and joining the party. Through the haze, you ought to be able to see rappers positively moving the crowd.