Zilla Rocca would never ask you to borrow a dollar.
One Day It’ll All Make Sense is a terrible cassette album. I had it on CD because it’s quite skippable; as the homie Balibz noted on Twitter (which inspired this here post), it’s one of the worst arranged albums that people still think highly of.
Looking back on it for its 20th anniversary, One Day marks the beginning of a long career of Common suffering an identity crisis. His Chicago kingsmen No ID, Dug Infinite, and Y-Not produce 15 of the album’s 17 cuts spread out over…oh my god…SEVENTY MINUTES, but there’s a tug of war between keeping the backpackers satiated from Resurrection and bending towards the eventual tan cargo pants/afghan scarves of the Okayplayer/Soulquarian world that would later yield Common’s biggest hits on Like Water for Chocolate.
The original tracklisting is Harvey Dent: flip a coin and get “Rapping His Ass Off Common” or “I’m Becoming an Adult And That Kind of Sucks Common” on every other song. He’s conscious but he still wants to go bar for bar with Canibus. He regrets paying for an abortion but wants to tell wack rappers to fuck off. He believes in Louis Farrakhan about the sanctity of black families uniting but is openly homophobic and goes on a hunt to find the asshole who broke into his apartment. It’s like your first summer after graduating college when you can still hang on campus while knowing you need a fucking job.
The cover of this album shows Common as a little boy presumably hanging with his mother, and what I gather from this picture is arrested development, a young man wanting the refuge of comfort. Unlike the cover of Illmatic, where a young Nas is by himself, blended with the grim harshness of a giant city that tests his survival skills, One Day It’ll All Make Sense presumes Common’s need for security in an uncertain future. Hell, the album title openly screams that Common has no answers. He’s optimistic and isn’t hardened like Nas, who stares completely vulnerable and unshakeable as a kid. Like his choices in producers throughout his entire career, Common, with his mother next to him, yearns for a partner. That man was No ID.
In 1997, No ID was in a strange place. He wouldn’t compete with the murderers row of radio dominance by the Hitmen on Biggie’s Life After Death, the kung fu blockbuster mythology of RZA and the Wu-Elements on Wu-Tang Forever, nor was he making blatant jack moves like Trackmasters, or avant garde shit like Company Flow and Timbaland. He was just a guy in Chicago making beats for his friend. There’s no seeds planted here to predict he’d become one of the most important and influential producers of the past 10 years.
One Day doesn’t sound specifically tethered to 1997—it could’ve dropped in ’95 or ’98. Outside of Common throwing a subtle diss at the Bad Boy formula by pointing out he could’ve sampled Diana Ross a long time ago, he was the rare rapper of his peer group that didn’t make an album as a reaction to the success of Bad Boy and the “real” vs. “commercial” battles that raged on. It’s a blank canvas for repurposing.
Here’s the new theme of it: Common is riding high off of the acclaim and props from Resurrection. He comes back home to make another album, along with a couple of singles, to prove he’s no fluke. Along the way, adulthood starts rearing its head: His best friend dies, his apartment is robbed, and he gets a girl pregnant.
Meanwhile, his last album didn’t sell anything, and paying rent with props and pounds gets you homeless quick. Now he’s forced to think beyond himself…but he’s still a 25 year old that wants to get drunk with his guys and flex on the mic. He knows what he SHOULD be doing but he’s not there yet. He’s hoping one day this shit will all get sorted out…or will…make sense.
#1 “Hungry” (produced by No ID)
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve gushed about this song, online and in person. It’s still the greatest piece of rhyme writing Common has ever laid down. The sample has since been flipped by Kanye and The Weeknd, which is pretty weird, but No ID is the gawd so that’s that. Opening the album with this wipes away the pipsqueak glee of Can I Borrow a Dollar and the Large Pro/Pete Rock homages found on the beats from Resurrection. This shit is hard as fuck.
#2 “1, 2 Many” (produced by Dug Infinite)
Another head banger that was randomly thrown on the album in between “Stolen Moments Pt. 2” and “Pt. 3,” “1, 2 Many” is such an early album song: bright sample, shit talking supreme, DJ scratches on the hook.
#3 “Real N**** Quotes” (produced by Dug Infinite)
Comm and Dug Infinite always had great chemistry. This joint is bouncy. More bragging shit with cool horns. Plus the cuts of Nas on the hook is a slick touch. Comm pops shots at R&B singers, corny rappers, and that kiddie group Immature. Dug singing the hook is dope too.
#4 “Reminding Me (Of Sef) featuring Chantay Savage” (produced by Ynot)
I remember this video getting tons of burn on Rap City. This joint was like OC’s “Far From Yours” where super slept on lyrical dudes in 1997 realized they had to make at least one joint with the R&B chick to get their album out. The actual rhymes are so steeped in Chicago slang, landmarks, and neighborhood memories, I’m still trying to figure out every piece of the story as a Philly guy. This is the beginning of Common thinking about his mortality—he’s 25 reminiscing about the good ol’ days after his man died.
#5 “Food For Funk” (produced by No ID)
And now we’re back to rapping hard. Again, this album isn’t the fully realized guy who wooed coffee shop chicks and pitched the GAP and Coca-Cola to the masses. This is a guy still living in Chicago, with minimal rap fame, who doesn’t have to wake up early for a job.
#6 “Stolen Moments Pt 1” (produced by No ID)
The “Stolen Moments” trilogy is interesting because no rapper had ever talked about their normal ass apartment being broken into. Rappers talked about robbing OTHER people’s spots, or murdering anyone who even attempted to run up in their spot. “Part 1” is Common cycling through all possible suspects after seeing his shit emptied. I doubt Relativity Records was footing the bill on renter’s insurance.
#7 “Stolen Moments Pt 2 featuring Black Thought” (produced by No ID)
I remember being pissed when I saw Black Thought’s name on the credits, only for him to spit the hook. Anyway, “Part 2” is Common collecting evidence, processing potential motives for the thief, and plotting the confrontation if and when he finds the fool responsible. The first two parts of “Stolen Moments” are cinematic beats from No ID that create a certain intensity. It’s a frantic situation.
#8 “Getting Down at the Amphitheater featuring De La Soul” (produced by No ID)
Flipping the Wild Style theme and featuring the older gods, “Getting Down” is a break from the tense action of Common having no couch in the crib from “Stolen Moments.” Plus, his verse is some battle shit, so he’s still pissed off, but when De La calls to kick it and take your mind off shit, you make this song.
#9 “Making a Name for Ourselves featuring Canibus” (produced by No ID)
There’s still no resolution to the break-in, so it’s time for Common to spit with gnashed teeth alongside a guy who completely owned the mixtapes, the streets, and the industry at this time: Canibus. I’m not sure whose idea it was to get Canibus on a Common album, but this song made it to every “Best of Canibus” mixtape or every New York DJ mixtape who wanted some Canibus on their tracklisting to move those cassettes. Common got handled on this song by keeping it layered whereas Canibus was the scientific slaughterer with a superior voice. This song did more to keep Canibus’ buzz going than to level up Common beyond “slept on lyricist.” At least No ID made some hard shit for the occasion.
#10 “Stolen Moments Pt. 3 featuring Q-Tip” (produced by No ID)
By this point, Common has cooled off a bit—the beat is less tense and Q-Tip comes through for the hook. Common wants answers because according to him, “it’s hard to be patient with no VCR or Playstation, knowing your Rockports somebody may be lacing.” Shouts to Rockports, the Midwest answer to Timberlands. There’s no bloody revenge or violent retaliation when the case is solved—Common never spells out how the situation was handled when he finds out his right hand man pulled off the caper. The trilogy ends with a thud, but it’s fitting for a guy who doesn’t have power, clout, or a murderous street pedigree. It’s the anti-Biggie/Nas/Raekwon/Jay-Z approach to a crime story.
#11 “Retrospect for Life featuring Lauryn Hill” (produced by No ID and James Poyser)
I remember Chino XL once made some now “problematic” punchline about this song, saying he was driving a chick to the abortion clinic bumping this shit. That’s really fucked up. This song marked the beginning of Common as the nice guy rapper your college girlfriend secretly wanted to bag. But let’s take this for what it is: After losing all of his shit in his apartment, now he finds out he might be a father. He admits it happened “irresponsibly” and that he isn’t ready “mentally nor financially” for fatherhood. Any guy who has had a close call or an unplanned pregnancy knows how much stress and anxiety comes with it. This video got a lot of play because Lauryn Hill was huge at the time, but the concept and lyrics were too heavy to get mainstream radio play. At the end of the song, he decides he and his girl maybe should have a baby after all.
#12 “Invocation” (produced by No ID)
After the heaviness of “Retrospect For Life”, the album should end on a brighter note. He’s not a father at the moment, he’s not a husband, and now he has a sharper purpose for his album.
“At times my going forward seems like retreat”
“Growing into my britches, outgrowing the streets”
“Rappers I monitor like a chaperone, you large but haven’t grown”
“Hollering at the brothers, either you gonna be a thug or a man”
Usually, the first song on an album is one of the last songs you write. From the random lines I pulled, “Invocation” seems like that to me when I repurposed the album as a guy who still wanted more attention, more sales, and credibility but was forced to deal with grown up shit in between albums.
#13 “Pop’s Rap Part 2/Fatherhood featuring Lonnie ‘Pops’ Lynn” (produced by Karriem Riggins)
I used to always skip the “Pop’s Rap” joints on Common albums, but I’m a dad now, so I’m a sucker for this shit. I might rock, but I’m not made of stone.