In 1984, rap's first theorist, T La Rock, declared the universality of hiphop. The music and culture was not his, nor the Bronx's, nor New York City's. Whose was it? "People of the universe, this is yours!" As far as T La Rock was concerned, if you liked it, desired it, and promised to fun/funk it, it was yours to have. From the luminous center of this universality, its openness to all who desire to use the music, hiphop radiated to L.A., Rio de Janeiro, Paris, Stuttgart, Dakar, Seoul, and Cape Town. Hiphop not only radiated globally but also culturally. House of Pain connected hiphop to the narratives of working-class Irish Americans, the great Mountain Brothers connected it to the inner-city realities of Asian Americans, and K'naan to the difficulties that confront African immigrants in big North American and European cities.

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Enter Seattle's Common Market. The last two CDs (Black Patch War and Tobacco Road) by rapper RA Scion and beat-maker Sabzi have gone all the way back to the rural regions of Kentucky, connecting hiphop to the history and hardships of white tobacco farmers. This is the greatness of hiphop: It can go to any social situation and give that situation a powerful voice. If the music was limited to the content of, say, one group (black Americans), in one specific class and geographic position (the Bronx), then the album Tobacco Road could not be what it is: a convincing work of hiphop.

"Yeah, some people look at the CD cover," says RA Scion over lunch, "they see these white farmers and tractor and shit and they think something's wrong. But that's family. Those are my uncles and aunts. Those are the people I grew up with in Kentucky."

On Common Market's first album, RA Scion focused on the state of the local hiphop scene, the history of hiphop (recognizing the Bronx as the point of origin), radical/socialist politics, and a global humanism directed by his spiritual commitment to the Baha'i faith, a metareligion that has as its basis the same kind of universalism found in the words "It's yours."

Tobacco Road turns away from the global to look back at the family and early experiences that shaped the core of RA Scion's being. Like the words of the old church hymn, "this is my story, this is my song," on Tobacco Road, RA Scion is telling his story in song. The story is about his parents, uncles and aunts, their rural community, and the economic and emotional pressures that challenged the everyday life of this community. Often the challenges were too much, people gave up, lost control of their property and minds, lost all hope, went to jail, dissolved into alcoholism, or committed suicide as did three members of RA Scion's family.

Though he describes the class struggle between small farmers and big tobacco, the album is more personal than political. "Why did I do this record? Because I worked in the tobacco fields," explains RA Scion. "I grew it, set it, cut it, housed it, pressed it, and took it to auction. That's me. That's who you are looking at. And it was in Kentucky, in this community, that I started listening to hiphop and writing rhymes."

When one thinks of Kentucky, one instantly pictures the sort of people who are bitter, racist, and "cling to their guns and religion." Tobacco Road gives expression to the other side of that world, the side that's exploited, oppressed by the law, and frequently suffers from bouts of bad luck. "Last year drought took the crops, now facin' floods/Staples on the table ain't enough, what we scrapin' up will/Go to pay the bank back, partial payment—take that/Life in dire straits will make a stark-raving maniac/Tapped a fifth of vodka, kicked her hard enough to break a rib/Shhh—keep quiet, too much cryin' she gon' wake the kids," raps RA Scion on "Weather Vane." Tobacco Road, in short, is a salvaging project. It wants to salvage the important and good moments of a way of life that is by no means easy.

DJ Sabzi provides the song for RA Scion's story. For this project, Sabzi's beats are not heavy or slamming but spaced out, giving RA Scion all the room he needs to reach the right emotional register for his long walks down memory lane—the old tobacco road. Above and below these spare and spacious beats, Sabzi conjures melodic atmospheres and jazzy vibes, mellow and often melancholy piano loops. The music recalls hiphop's most aesthetic moment, the mid '90s, a period dominated by the beautiful beats of Mic Geronimo ("Masta I.C."), Diamond D ("Sally Got a One Track Mind"), and MC Solaar ("Message de l'Ange"). It's also an aesthetic (a beauty) that defined Seattle's post–Sir Mix-A-Lot/pre–Blue Scholars hiphop—the music produced by Source of Labor, Black Anger, Silent Lambs Project, and the Ghetto Children aspired to a kind of vibraphonic ethereality; the beats were slow because the rappers needed space to expresses difficult or complex ideas.

On "Doors," the last track of Common Market's self-titled debut album, RA Scion took us back to hiphop's home, the "South Bronx, the South, South Bronx," the very place from which T La Rock declared to the people of the universe, "This is yours." On the last track of Common Market's new album, "Tobacco Road," RA Scion takes us all the way back to his actual home in Kentucky. "Doors" is a celebration of hiphop history; "Tobacco Road" is a "remembrance of things past."

"You know, my mother used to listen to my music just to hear my voice, because I was far away from her," says RA Scion. "But now she listens because of the things I have to say. Her brother, my uncle, is a racist. I know that. It's all conditioning. But, you know, maybe one day he will start listening to the things I'm saying on the record, and that might change him." recommended