Music — 20 December 2011
What’s Beef: Common vs Maya Angelou

This is a no-win situation.

If you take a side, you’re either against a grandmotherly, revered poet and national treasure or an intelligent, cultured hip-hop artist and actor who gives back to his community.

But take a side we must…

Because Maya Angelou and Common — two of my favorite interviewees of all time– are in the midst of a beef. It appears the South Side rapper featured original prose from Angelou in a song from his upcoming “The Dreamer, The Believer” that also contains him saying n-bombs– a practice Angelou vehemently opposes.

Angelou, who talked to the New York Post, claims when Common asked to use her in the song he did not make it clear that the salty language would be used.  She told the Post:

“I’m surprised and disappointed. I don’t know why he chose to do that. I had never heard him use that [word] before. I admired him so because he wasn’t singing the line of least resistance.”

Common’s defense is that while he didn’t mention he would specifically use the term in the song, Angelou knows he has used it in the past.

Full disclosure, I do not like the n-word and never have.  I find it to be a horrible, racially loaded term that causes much more trouble than it’s worth, no matter who is saying it or how they pronounce it.  At the same time, I don’t begrudge Common his poetic license, particularly when he is among the most informed and enlightened MCs.

Yep, this is a hard one.  But here goes:

Sure, Angelou could have asked to hear the song in advance before lending her vocals. She could have requested the text and had her people review it.   But I think it was more pressing on Common to be mindful of her preferences than it was for her to screen his song.  After all, this is a collaboration for his album and the buck begins and stops with him. Additionally, so many elders are scornful of hip-hop culture and music that it would seem if you could get one of the most respected writers of these times to work with you that you’d proceed with extreme caution.

I think the judgement here is clear.

The Kyles Files finds for the poet laureate plaintiff and urges Common to apologize to Angelou and send her a radio edit version of the track she can pump in her North Carolina digs.  He should also acknowledge that he could have been more prudent with his use of her vocals and send her a tasteful tea set from Pier 1 import.

But no matter what.  Make it right.  Please don’t let this become a thing.  There is so little cross-generational respect these days, that it would blow to watch a beautiful friendship sour over a song. M’kay?

Your turn: Was Common wrong to use Angelou’s vocals on a track with an n-bomb?  Or is it on Angelou to vet the song before offering use of her prose?






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