Study Guide

I Used to Love H.E.R. Lyrics

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And what I loved most, she had so much soul

Quick Thought

Early hip-hop from the 1970s drew its sound from soul and funk.

Deep Thought

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, DJs like Afrika Bambaataa and DJ Kool Herc played loops of James Brown, Grand Funk Railroad, and San Francisco soul band Sly and the Family Stone. 

Common was born in 1972, so it wouldn't be surprising if he was first introduced to hip-hop at the age of ten, as he says in the song; 1982 was the year that Afrika Bambaataa released "Planet Rock," one of the most frequently sampled songs hip-sop songs of all time. 

1982 was also a strong year for Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, who scored hits with "The Message" and "Scorpio."

Not a church girl, she was secular
Not about the money

Quick Thought

DJ Afrika Bambaataa's leave-your-colors-at-home block parties brought hip-hop into the world, not as an enterprise, but as the former gang-member's means of attaining peace between Bronx gangs.

Deep Thought

When Black Spades member Afrika Bambaataa used his people skills, vast record collection, and sound system to throw some of the first hip-hop parties, he wasn't in it for the money, and he wasn't there because of religion. 

Instead, Bam sought to create a better community. Out of his gang, he formed the Zulu Nation, with the motto "Peace, Love, Unity and Having Fun." He sent his promoters out to advertise free jams—"Come one come all, leave your colors at home! Come in peace and unity!"—that would work to erode the Bronx gang structure.

A few New York n-----s had did her in the park

Quick Thought

Backtrack to the 1970s, and you'll find the beginnings of hip-hop in Cedar Park in the violence-ridden South Bronx.

Deep Thought

DJ Kool Herc, one of the three fathers of hip-hop along with Grandmaster Funk and Afrika Bambaataa, turned hip-hop loose on the world in the 1970s with his dance parties. As Herc moved from high school parties and rec rooms to block parties and parks with his records and ever-expanding sound system, he hit upon one of the defining features of hip-hop: looping. 

In an interview with Jeff Chang for the book, Can't Stop Won't Stop, he described how he "noticed that people was waiting for certain parts of the record." He realized that dance breakdowns in songs like James Brown's "Give It Up, Turn It Loose" were what got the crowd going, so he set up a system he called "the Merry Go Round," in which he'd "work two copies of the same record...extending a five-second breakdown into a five-minute loop of fury." (Source)

With that innovation, DJ Kool Herc helped create to hip-hop and define its basic production. From that point on, producing hip-hop was all about making a mean beat with old records. Most hip-hop songs today work from a loop. "I Used to Love H.E.R." loops a two-second cut of George Benson's "The Changing World" throughout its four-minute length.

Did a couple of videos

Quick Thought

The mid-1980s hip-hop movies came in like a flash flood.

Deep Thought

With hip-hop life—graffiti, breakdancing, and rapping—becoming more and more popular in the early 1980s, Hollywood decided to go for broke with a slew of hip-hop themed teen movies. Previously, mainstream America had been shielded from hip-hop by doubting studio executives. 

After the success of movies like Flashdance and Wild Style, though, Hollywood decided to cash in on hip-hop with films like Beat Street, Body Rock, Fast Forward, and Rappin', Breakin', and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo. What moviegoers got was watered down and simplified (not to mention simply bad), but these movies ran alongside Michael Jackson and Prince's storming of MTV with the network's first Black music and opened many doors. 

Soon enough, hip-hop acts like Run-DMC, LL Cool J, and the Beastie Boys would have their own video presence on MTV.

Became Afrocentric
Out goes the weave, in goes the braids, beads, medallions
She was on that tip about stoppin' the violence

Quick Thought

Afrocentricity was an intellectual response to the Eurocentric American world that seemed to suppress African and African-American culture. It sought to connect Blacks to the rich and influential cultures and innovations of native Africans.

Deep Thought

Afrocentric thought was advocated during the 1980s when anger over the broken promises of the Civil Rights Movement began to boil over. Deep racial issues were still prevalent in housing segregation, police brutality toward Blacks, and America's divided reaction to apartheid in South Africa. 

What blossomed from this new generation's frustration was an opportunity to challenge the status quo. This new movement for equality found a leader in activist Jesse Jackson, who was well on his way to becoming the Democratic presidential candidate for 1984 when he was accused of anti-Semitism. He ran again in 1988, but this time, his campaign was plagued by questions about a relative's criminal activity. Jackson's fall created a leadership gap.

America's Black youth filled that vacuum with culture and intellect. Out went the giant gold chains and in went the medallions, as Common said. The major player in this new black renaissance was hip-hop. Artists like Public Enemy had already taken the reigns with politically charged songs like "Rebel Without a Pause" and "Fight the Power." 

But this movement always had a problem with violence. Gangs infamously disrupted Run-DMC concerts, and Public Enemy's Black advocacy used violence and threats as a way of creating a space for Blacks in mainstream society. Some people even called for the banning of rap concerts.

But then she broke to the West Coast

Quick Thought

The largely West Coast hip-hop offshoot of gangsta rap broke into public consciousness in the mid-1980s.

Deep Thought

West Coast rap was hugely successful. Era-defining hits like "F--k Tha Police" off of N.W.A.'s album Straight Outta Compton and artists like Ice T turned mainstream hip-hop towards gangsta rap. 

It also didn’t hurt that some of the West Coast scene's biggest stars were also getting breaking out in Hollywood. Rappers like Tupac Shakur (Juice, Poetic Justice) and Ice Cube (Boyz n the Hood, Trespass) brought the gangsta rap scene to the big screen.

I went away to school

Quick Thought

He's not lying; Common received a scholarship to study business at Florida A&M University.

Deep Thought

Common left Chicago in 1989 to go to college in Florida. 

In an interview for Check the Technique with Brian Coleman, Common said, "I wanted to go to a black college and they had a good business program. I was in business administration and writing raps on the side. I used to get drunk and then just rap out in this place on campus where people hung out. I went there for two years, then I got signed and I left." (Source, 108)

Now I see her in commercials, she's universal

Quick Thought

In commercials, you say?

Deep Thought

Here, Common expresses his disappointment that hip-hop was being used in advertising. Two decades later, in 2006, he himself appeared in an ad for Gap, the clothing chain. Make of that what you will.

She used to only swing it with the inner-city circle
Now she be in the burbs lookin' rock and dressin' hip

Quick Thought

Hip-hop spread to the masses to the sound of Straight Outta Compton, the NWA debut that made West Coast hip-hop synonymous with its rebellious gangsta rap.

Deep Thought

Gangsta rap, like the punk revolution a decade earlier, inspired millions to take to the street and get their own peace of mind. 

Just as with the punk revolution, "the white kids in the [suburban] Valley picked it up and they decided they wanted to live vicariously through this music. Kids were just waiting for it," according to NWA signer Brian Turner. (Source

Before long, it had sold two million copies, and gangsta rap was seemingly everywhere.

Talkin' about poppin' glocks, servin' rocks, and hittin' switches
Now she's a gangsta rollin' with gangsta b-----s
Always smokin' blunts and getting' drunk
Tellin' me sad stories, now she only f---s with the funk
Stressin' how hardcore and real she is

Quick Thought

Ice Cube took Common's description of the emerging prominence of gangsta rap as a diss and responded with his own diss on the song "Westside Slaughterhouse."

Deep Thought

Ironically, Ice Cube manages to reinforce Common's criticism of West Coast gangsta rap in his diss. Ice Cube raps about poppin' glocks ("Pull the heat knock you off yo' feet"), killing women, and how hardcore he is ("Hip-hop started in the west / Ice Cube ballin' through the east without a vest"). 

Gangsta rap celebrated the violence, hate, and substance abuse of inner-city life. As it turned out, it would also be the bestselling type of hip-hop in the late 1980s and 1990s. Common's more lyrically and politically conscious style of rap was critically acclaimed, but it wasn't as big of a hit with fans.

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