So let's rewind to 1992. Hip hop was rapidly growing after the late 80s boom period, triggered by the imperial dominance of Def Jam Records in New York. But the winds of change became a hurricane when the west coast began their side of the rap boom, led by gangsta rap. The true 90s boom of hip hop began to slowly creep in 1993 and was on all cylinders in 1994, so a lot of the work from fresh faces on the east coast scene, from 1991 and 1992, is often forgotten even by the purest fans. A big chunk of those same hardcores believed Common began his career with 1994's Resurrection, many never hearing or hearing OF Can I Borrow A Dollar?. Almost entirely produced by No I.D. (then known as Immenslope), Common planned to become a force in the industry... but it wasn't his time yet.
Still, Common shot for the moon. The album's lead single, "Take It EZ", is reminiscent of another famous rapper's 1992 entry into the world: Redman's "Time 4 Sum Aktion", with hungry rhymes backed by a potent sax medley. "Breaker 1/9" is the second single from the record and probably the most famous song on it. This track is head and shoulders above the majority of the record as far as not only rhyming ability, but DRKs use of "Between the Sheets" to create a smooth bounce. If you like that early 90s Tribe Called Quest sound - this is right up your alley. The album's third and final single "Soul By The Pound" features a booming bassline and Common stepping it up lyrically; if a bit juvenile. Okay, maybe VERY juvenile.
But from the album's opener "A Penny for My Thoughts" sounds absolutely NOTHING like the Common from future albums, both 90s and 00s. Common's rhymes were laced with braggadocio, a much faster paced flow, and early-90s slang tem. Yeah, it's the same guy with the same voice, but much like Eminem on Infinite, Jay-Z on his Jaz-O collaborations, it's more raw. The production is also incredibly 90s - breakbeats, heavy drums, light samples, etc. In fact, there are samples all over the record from a wide selection of folks like the Isley Brothers, Bobbi Humphrey, The Honeydrippers, as well as rap acts BDP, ATCQ, and Ultramagnetic MCs.
Besides just the fact that Common's vocal cadence and rhyming delivery is a complete 180 from ANY of his albums following this one, some of the subject matter is... well... uncharacteristic. "Heidi Hoe" for example finds Common verbally abusing a hoodrat. For being the soft, kufi-rocking soulquarian, Common was pretty pissed here, and really for no good reason (unless maybe this girl had him pissing peppers, but we'll never really know). Then on "Tricks Up My Sleeve", Common spits rhymes about using dirty game to trick women into sleeping with him. WHAT THE SHIT? THIS IS COMMON!???????? "Puppy Chow" is the same misogynistic Lonnie! Did Common not have sex until 93? What's the deal? "Two Scoops of Raisins" is a VERBAL collab with Immenslope. This is the first time I ever heard him rap and very likely the last and there's a good reason why - he's horrendous. No, not just bad at rhyming and delivery, but there's times I can barely understand him. Then there's "Blows to the Temple" which I GUESS is Common going gangsta and making threats to his foes, except for the fact that his rhymes don't make almost any sense, with random references to Goldylocks and the Three Bears and The Three Little Pigs, and with downright BIZARRE lines like "Cause I'm weird they call me Lemonhead, but I'm a Jawbreaker". You're right about one thing bro, you ARE weird. Sorry Common fans, but this is weaksauce!
Even if you take away the fact that the record is unbelievably dated, Can I Borrow A Dollar? is pretty damn boring. The stripped down, jazzy rap sound is lackluster for the most part and doesn't hold a torch to the work Premier and Large Professor did at the time. Common's rhyming quality was also JUST a fraction of his potential, and for a guy named Common Sense, a lot of the vocals here made little sense. To be blunt, Can I Borrow A Dollar? is sleep inducing, and even the most avid Common followers should skip this one (unless they find it for 89 cents and are completists). As far as critical and commercial success goes, the album's singles did well, but Common really didn't become a force in the game until 1994's Resurrection. THAT is when we all discovered that Common Sense ain't that Common...
Track List & Ratings
1. A Penny for My Thoughts (****)
2. Charms Alarm (***)
3. Take It EZ (****)
4. Heidi Hoe (****)
5. Breaker 1/9 (*****)
6. Two Scoops of Raisins f/ Immenslope (**)
7. No Defense
8. Blows to the Temple (**)
9. Just in the Nick of Rhyme (***)
10. Tricks Up My Sleeve (***)
11. Puppy Chow (***)
12. Soul by the Pound (***)
13. Pitchin' Pennies (***)
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