COMMON – Nobody’s Smiling

common-nobodys-smiling-deluxe-coverIt is kinda ironic how an album title can mean so much. We the Hip Hop World were ecstatic of the news that Common would once again work with producer NO I.D. exclusively for his follow-up from The Dreamer, the Believer. RePPiN4U named it as Album of the Year when it was released right at the tail end of 2011. We were ‘Smiling’ because we were sure that another classic is on its way, just like it was in 2005 when Common released the stunning ‘Be’, exclusively produced by Kanye West and J.Dilla and then followed up by the quality that is ‘Finding Forever’… can lightning strike twice for the man who has decided to put Chicago on his back with this most anticipated album?

With this, Common wastes NO TIME in addressing The Neighborhood. assisted by Lil Herb and The Cocaine 80s, the album kicks off to a promising start, and before you know it, you are instantly zoned out, picture yourself in Chicago projects, even if you’re not from there, they can’t see you like you’re transparent and you are powerless like Patrick Swayze in Ghost to do anything about it physically. The people who grow up in these situations eventually have ‘No Fear’. Even the priest don’t want none of the hostility. Props to No I.D. for letting the beat ride out like that as well. Nice.

On first hearing of ‘Diamonds’, if your ears or head are developing aches… that is NORMAL. Big Sean’s voice is a major let down on this…. I would have even preferred Rihanna on the hook… the track itself is really not that bad, it’s just that Papoose must be in his crib hearing this and he must feel upset along with a lot of us knowing that he slayed Big Sean with his First Chain and then he finds himself on this album.

Blak Majik featuring Jhene Aiko is a haunting track, full of intensity. This will introduce the unknowing heads to this Japanese/African/Native

JHENE AIKO

JHENE AIKO

American singer/songwriter who has worked with artists and groups like B2K, Drake and the Cocaine 80s. Without a doubt, she is one to watch. This should have been released as the next single/video, but I already seen the science behind Diamonds. Let’s just let Common ‘Speak His Piece’. Using the classic sample from Notorious B.I.G.’s Hypnotize, Common simply states who and what he’s most proud of… unfortunately the power of Big Poppa doesn’t seem to make this a standout track on the album.

If Common stated in Blak Majik that he’s just doing this for fun, and he’s a black actor, then why does he need to ‘Hustle Harder’??? He’s actually not talking about himself here, he’s talking about the single women who have got it made so much their hustle is harder than that of the guys. Dreezy comes in to confirm that point, it’s just a shame that No I.D.s production sounds like he was originally going to give the track to Jay-Z – it would have suited him better, Jay would have run away with that track.

The album’s title track comes to its single form here featuring Malik Yusef. The pair is calling out the law and celebrities who claim they are loyal to the city of Chicago. Common has already shown that he’s not talk and no action: “Dig into my pockets, see a profit/Where the money and the bitches is where the guys is/Godfathers in the lodges, at the spot holding money like a hostage/She went ostrich, from the projects with posture/I draw with the goddess like an artist/Getting paper with no margins, money gods/I do it for Hadiya and Trayvon Martin…” We know about Trayvon, but Hadiya Pendleton was a teenage girl who was accidentally shot and killed in a drive-by shooting on the South Side.

Once again eyebrows are raised with Common’s choice of feature for the hook on ‘Real’. He and Elijah Blake expose the fakes and what will happen if they continue to front… at least Common tells it like it is and has no need to hide anything, and at least Elijah doesn’t over saturate the track like Big Sean did.

The album’s first single – ‘Kingdom’ is as epic as it gets. This is Common’s tribute to these murders and to call for a change. As soon as the tune start, Common’s first few bars shows you that the traditional wearing of suits to a memorial are not so traditional any more… “Second row of the church with my hood on/My homie used to rap, he was about to get put on/At his funeral, listening to this church song/His family yelling and screaming, I hurt for ‘em…” I can say this: Unless it was specified by the family that was the dress code, wearing hoods was a NO-NO in church. Wearing all-black at funerals is so old-fashioned now. The last funeral I attended, the dress code were the colours of the Arsenal football team.

If you have the standard copy of the album, then you will know that ‘Rewind That’ is an amazing outro… Listen to Common as he unzips his feelings and pours it out to No I.D. and then goes into a stunning, heart-stopping, reflection on J Dilla. Absolutely phenomenal. Usually Common ends his albums with his father speaking knowledge, but it’s not necessary here. Rewind That will make you do just that – rewind the track and listen again. What a shame we can’t say the same for the whole album.

Now we turn our attention to those who purchased the deluxe version of the album that features an extra three tracks. Vince Staples believes his impact on ‘Kingdom’ isn’t enough, so he returns on ‘Out of Bond’. Common speaks on how women want to know about him as soon as he’s ballin, and cops looking for ‘brothers’ that dress nice. Lyrics aside, it just seems bland and forgettable. Next, Common breaks down the ‘7 Deadly Sins’: Pride, Wrath, Envy, Sloth, Gluttony, Lust, and Greed. We all have it… it’s all about dealing with them.

The deluxe version ends with another stunning track. ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ is Common’s account on his ‘summertime girl’ but NOBODY'S SMILING GRANThis loyalty remains with H.E.R. Seriously, anytime Cocaine 80s connect with Common and No I.D. it is a guaranteed winner of a track. Common also shows how he has become wiser, has faith in love but no longer naïve.

Like Wade Barrett in WWE would say: “I’m afraid I’ve got some BAD NEWS…” It would be completely unfair to compare this to ‘Be’ or ‘Like Water For Chocolate. But since Common went on record and said this album IS up there with those albums, I’m afraid I have to disagree. The TRUE album to compare this to is it’s predecessor, The Dreamer, the Believer, and questionable features (Big Sean, Elijah Blake) and certain beats that sound like they were made for somebody else (Hustle Harder, Nobody’s Smiling) instantly let the album down. If it’s not better than Dreamer/Believer, that means it’s definitely not better than Be, …Chocolate or even Finding Forever. Don’t get it twisted, Common’s message comes across in the album strong along with some amazing tracks…but was it Common’s experimenting or was it that he’s now signed to Def Jam who may insist on putting these artists on to sell more records to its younger audience? I believe is more of the latter, because two hard hitting tracks (War, and Made In Black America Ft. Ab Soul) fits the album’s concept a lot more but they were omitted in favor of tracks like Diamonds and Real… It’s a good album, but it’s not that classic heads were hoping for, and that’s why Nobody’s Smiling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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GHOSTFACE KILLAH & SHEEK LOUCH @SCALA, LONDON July 13, 2014

Ghostface Killah scala“I’m a One-man-army – ASON, I’ve never been tooken out, I got MCs looking out…” (Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Brooklyn Zoo, 1995)

One this night July 13, 2014, those words had a brand new meaning to me. It was a night where I had to expect the unexpected. When it comes to Wu gigs, whether group or solo, I usually travel with the Wu-nited Kingdom street team. On this day my crew had transportation problems, leaving me to go out and represent alone. Admittedly, I felt on edge, but I had faith and said to my cousin who I stayed with some words that were said by the man himself:

“GOD IS MY BODYGUARD…” (Ghostface Killah, The Pretty Toney Album Intro, 2004)

The first time I saw the Wallabee Champ he was accompanied by his Theodore Unit, Killah Priest and MF DOOM. When they were all on stage performing ‘Triumph’ it was a surreal experience (particularly in the case of MF DOOM. He also paid homage to Amy Winehouse who passed away in that year. (Side note – Ghost appeared on the remix of Winehouse’s hit ‘You Know I’m No Good’).

This time around he would be accompanied by his D-Block partner – Sheek Louch of The LOX. The pair released the Wu-Block album last year and there are already rumblings of a sequel in the works, unfortunately none of those tracks were performed on this night. Disappointing? Maybe, but can you forgive them? A resounding YES.

Massive props go out to the supporting act Dope D.O.D. who performed like they WERE the main event and could have went an extra half an hour with their set. It was a great feeling to see these guys appreciated by the audience instead of them taking group selfies and uploading them to instagram.

Watching Dope D.O.D. on stage reminded me of Onyx and their demeanor. These guys have worked with the Snowgoons, ASAP Mob, Sean Price and Redman to name a few. Their new video ‘Ridiculous is out now. Great booking by the promoters, the crowd found themselves sweating well before the main event. Special shout out to the DJ who catered for the ‘trapped in the 90s ninjas’ hitting them with the head nod ‘ish to make the crowd break their neck!

At 2130 hours I maintained my position and did what I do best: RePPiN4U!!!! It’s not just a slogan, it’s not just a Black Milk track I named this brand after,  it’s my way of life. The way Tony Starks entered the Scala validated my debates with my fellow Wu family: Supreme Clientele is simply the finest Ghostface solo album. He did it the first time and he does it again here, using the Ironman intro skit used in the album and Ghost bursting on the stage performing ‘Nutmeg’. It’s not long before Starks introduces his co-host – Sheek Louch and the pair go on a back to back plethora of hits from ‘All about the Benjamins’ to ‘Ice Cream’, from ‘Mighty D-Block’ to ‘Mighty Healthy’, supporting each other as hype men.  I didn’t know whether to film, or go crazy! So I decided to do both!

Highlights included the ‘Proteck Ya Neck’ performance. Ghost & Sheek asked for brave volunteers to go up and stage and perform Method Man & ODB’s verse. I will hold my hands up and brand myself a coward because I didn’t have the grapefruits to live the dream and perform among greatness…on the flip side, if I did, where’s the evidence? Considering I was all alone, and Ghostface claiming that if the guys mess up their lines, the crowd are entitled to BOO them off the stage!!! So yes I could have went up, god forbid I messed up my lines and get booed without anyone seeing but it would be on the off-chance that you would find the video on YouTube uploaded by somebody else entirely.

I give mad props to the two volunteers who did what I couldn’t do… and even adopting the characters of Method Man & ODB respectively.  They gave it 110% in all that!! I bet the adrenaline rush they had been off the scale. Looking back, if the track was ‘Triumph’, and my Wu-nited Kingdom brethren were there, I would have definitely done it.

“Shoulda Woulda Coulda…” (Brian McKnight, 2003)

This would be followed by the traditional tributes of Ol’ Dirty Bastard and The Notorious B.I.G. by Wu-Block respectively. Since both fallen soldiers were very soulful and Motown influenced, this would be Wu-Block’s moment to call on the ladies to jump on stage and partake in a little dance and make the music tell the story. At this point I knew what was coming up next as did most Wu fans who attend many Wu shows. Since I’m in the mood of clarity, I admit that I didn’t like ‘Cherchez LaGhost’ at first… but I never saw the 360! Why did some women run off the stage though? They should know by now that Ghost will always say ‘shake that @$$ girl, make that pu$$y wet’? Or was it because they feared they were gonna become the latest groupies?

Special shout out going out to Sun God who made an impact. Ghostface’s son’s performance showed that when Wu-Tang said they are forever they meant it.

“I’m raw, I’m rugged and raw, I repeat, if I die
My seed’ll be ill like me…” (Ghostface Killah, Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber, 1993)

Mosh Pit moment of the night was one that the crowd can take credit for. Ghost continues his interaction when he asks the fans what tune they wanna hear. He got a unanimous response when the crowd screamed – RUN!!!!! Shout out to a real head in the building when he shouted – ‘BATMAN’!!!!! That caught Ghost and Sheek’s attention while the DJ was searching for that vinyl! Another fan shouted ‘Triumph’ and Ghost ribbed him: “Triumph? Nah we ain’t got that n!**@!”

When the DJ dropped that ‘RUN!’ track…. Scala became a full-scale riot. That frantic RZA production had a capacity crowd fighting like a shot at the title at WrestleMania was on the line! Bouncers would be damned fools to break that up!

My personal highlights were when Sheek drew for tracks like ‘Money, Power Respect’, ‘Wild Out’ and the DJ Premier banger ‘Recognize’… Sheek reminded me that I got that ‘We Are The Streets’ album in my collection. Ghost had me going insane when he performed ‘One’, ‘Fish’ and ‘Holla’… on those tracks, particularly Holla and ‘I Can’t Go To Sleep’, Ghost’s emotions were spilled out on stage like the oil in the Gulf War in ’91. These moments had shown that this show was radically different from the show I saw two years ago. It also showed that Sheek & Ghost have hits for decades… just like Method Man, Redman & Busta Rhymes in November,  a 90 minute set is simply NOT ENOUGH. Heads hoping for selection from 12 Reasons to Die would also be disappointed as no tracks were performed from that album. In the last 5 minutes Ghost & Sheek were teasing the fans with 15 second clips of tracks they didn’t perform, yes it was frustrating but understanding.

But what would follow after the show was something I wasn’t prepared for. The story of how Ghostface Killah became my all time favourite MC is well documented, and it comes to a shock to those who don’t know me well, scratching their heads and probably thinking ‘Why not Nas, Jay, Pac, BIG or Eminem’? While those guys are a favourite to many, and I like em all, they don’t impact my life personally like Ghostface did. The Supreme Clientele album came at a time when people tried to tell me to STOP listening to Wu-Tang, Wu-Tang have fell off, that type of thing, touching a nerve so to speak but then the Apollo Kids video came out and it had Ghost & Raekwon with Championship belts, claiming that Wu-Tang are the TRUE champions. That video, along with the album had the same people who doubted the Wu start believing again. It’s one thing to be star struck when I discovered Ghostface was following me on twitter but to have a photo taken with the Supreme Clientele Champion himself was an outer body experience. That picture of him with the belt was in my head when I refered him as ‘MY CHAMPION…Big up yourself Ghostface, A Better Tomorrow!’ and his reply was ‘Thanks a lot B, that’s appreciated’. That moment, PRICELESS.

GRANTFACE KILLAH