Although Common Sense’s first album arrived around the same time as Arrested Development’s and introduces a similarly laid-back and melodic rapper with more on his mind than blunts and gats, the conscious avoidance of gunplay and death in his rhymes doesn’t exactly make the Chicago MC a wholesome positivist. Sounding like a belated Midwest echo of the East Coast’s Native Tongues pumped with testosterone, Can I Borrow a Dollar? is a laid-back crib in which Common Sense slings endless pop/consumer culture references and enough crude desire (see “Charms Alarm” and “Tricks Up My Sleeve” for instant proof) to fully earn his parental advisory sticker. The gentle soul bounce of “Take It EZ” alludes to a modest, placid center for his individualism, and indeed Common Sense runs with a minimum of free-standing belligerence: even when he rips apart a woman in “Heidi Hoe” (the one track here produced by the Beatnuts), the rapper doesn’t generalize the put-down. Promising in sensibility but short of thought, the debut introduces a smart young guy who still needs to find himself.
Fortunately, he did. Resurrection is all good, a considered and evocative reflection on growing up African-American in Chi-town. The outlook expressed in “Thisisme” is emblematic of a hardcore album free of violence and gratuitous vulgarity: the only kind of gangsta Common Sense wants to be in the song is the “gangsta of love.” (Does that make Steve Miller a hip-hop pioneer?) Maturity hasn’t cost Common Sense anything: the record is chockablock with mesmerizingly hyperactive rhymes, an uncommon vocabulary (how often do rappers “rebuke” people or compare MC styles to computer languages?) and ear-tickling citations of records, bands, TV shows, products and other pop ephemera. (“My style is too developed to be arrested,” and “I didn’t learn the facts of life by watching Tootie” are typical.) Wrapped in burnished soul beats by producer No I.D., Common Sense demonstrates his ingenuity by personalizing a chronicle of the hip-hop nation’s chameleon style shifts (“I Used to Love H.E.R.”), sketching an outline of racial economics in “Chapter 13 (Rich Man vs. Poor Man)” and summarizing his position in the modestly titled “Sum Shit I Wrote.” He even gets his dad to offer some pacific wisdom of his own (“Pop’s Rap”). But while the inclusion of a track called “Communism” suggests a resurgent left-wing orthodoxy in rap politics, the track is just a play on the rapper’s name — a litany of words that begin with “com.”