It 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
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 his 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.