I didn’t think I was going to like Common Sense at all when I first sat down to put it on. I’d heard a few J Hus tunes in the past, and hadn’t thought much of any of them. So it was surprising when I listened the whole way through and realised that I did, in fact, quite like it. More surprisingly, there were a few tunes on it that I really liked. And the most surprising thing about it is that I was still jamming to it a month after it came out, whereas other recent releases (read: ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$) had totally fallen off my radar. (Except ‘Babylon’, obviously.)
It’s not that any of the songs on it are particularly good in the traditional sense, or that Hus’ lyricism is up to snuff. In fact, some of these songs are really quite bad, and some of his bars and flows are pretty ghastly. But on the other hand, there are some really nicely produced tunes on this record, and there are some hilarious lines. Mostly, though, I like this album so much because it’s really, really fun.
Take the fantastic, eponymous opening track. I went in thinking it was going to be nothing but afrobeat, and instead I was given a beautifully produced, impenitently catchy hip hop roller. Aside from that, I’ve been asking all my mates if they ‘skkrr round like it’s too easy’ because the line makes me laugh so much.
‘Now me and him got beef and we don’t never speak/Still walk his nan across the street/Still put that motherfucker in a body bag/Still help his mother with her shopping bags’. So reads potentially my favourite lines on the album—J Hus trying to convince the listener, and possibly himself, that he’s still a good man, despite being a prospective murderer. ‘Leave Me’ deals with the conflicts Hus has experienced over the years with various other thuggin’ types in London; indeed, Hus was, like, proper thuggin’ (not in the Freddie Gibbs ‘rockin’ mics and stealin’ microphones, cookin ‘caine’ sense, but in the ‘stabbed a few man’ sense).
‘Closed Doors’ has some of the best couplets and one-liners of any hip hop track since Big L’s ‘All Black’. Take almost any two lines and they’ll make you laugh. A few gems:
‘I’ll beat the box while I’m beat boxing’
‘Know what they say about n—s with big feet’
‘Put my finger in your coochie, then I put it in your mouth/That’s a taste of your own medicine’
‘Is it strange if I sit back and just pree you?’ (Which, of course, conjures the image of Hus sitting back in an armchair while she lies awkwardly on the bed, staring at her before he starts, you know, playing hide the canelloni.)
The list is inexhaustible, so let’s move on to ‘Goodies’, easily the biggest tune in terms of beats on this record. A traditionally self-absorbed ‘I’m badder than you’ hip hop track, it features poverty, crime, murder, musings on betrayal and family, as well as—running theme—some properly funny lines. My favourite, because the last line seemingly comes out of nowhere: ‘How we gonna maintain? Born in the fast lane/Where your best friend will probably shoot you then snitch on you/Where your own flesh and blood will put a hit on you/Dirty gal, I ain’t trying to hit on you’.
The hip hop tracks on this record are in general better than the afrobeat-style ones, but that’s not to say there isn’t some reggaeton-style goodness to get down to. ‘Did You See’ is the track that’s been ubiquitous over the last couple of months, and oddly enough it’s not terrible. While driving around in the sun with a few of your mates it would be impossible to not enjoy (unless you really have no sense of fun (me, circa 2013)). That’s the same as ‘Like Your Style’, not one of the best tracks on the record, but with a sufficiently large drop to save itself from my scorn (also enjoyable for the line ‘Skinny man take on BBW/You know the big girls need loving too/And I’m the one they keep coming to’).
That’s not to say there aren’t some really bad things about this album. One such thing is the song ‘Clartin’, a horrible grime track, and one in which absolutely no thought seems to have gone into how the lyrics link through line after line. Add to that the awful sounds of automatic weapons reverberating in the background and the cringes are swiftly forthcoming.
Then there’s how long this record is—an extremely healthy 17 tracks. Hip hop and grime albums are usually quite long, but this seems especially excessive. The record, in similar vein to Drake’s More Life, has a bunch of filler (‘Plottin’, ‘Who You Are’, ‘Good Time’) and would be much more cohesive and listenable if four or five tracks had been cut. Unfortunately, artists these days are judged commercially on the volume of streams they get, meaning they’re obliged to make longer albums. This inevitably affects quality.
J Hus is partly saved from this because he’s managed to blend a healthy range of styles on this record, as well as being able to self-consciously write some really funny bars. There’s no way he could come up with lines like ‘I’d be a genius if I didn’t think with my penis’ without chuckling to himself. (A line, I’d theorise, plenty of men can relate to.) There’s a lot of excellent production for him to work with, and not many features for him to fall back on. It’s fun, summery, and if the bars don’t elicit plenty of laughs, you need to realise that 80% of the lines on this album are written with Hus’ tongue stuck firmly in his cheek.