What can you say about Common? The dude has always been pushing the envelope for Hip-Hop. Think about it, this is a dude whose early Hip-Hop career was more pinned as a fast paced, “scatty” rhythmic emcee with Can I Borrow A Dollar. Throughout the years, he has changed his style up, made moves to more of a commercialized image, but still highly regarded among the Hip-Hop community as the rappers rapper. He has won Grammy’s, performed in both movies and television, and even written a book. For many, the multi-faceted talent of some emcees doesn’t translate well for Hip-Hop. As the artist starts to move away from music, fans often find that the emcee’s lyrics, music, and even their image becomes dumbed down, insincere, and in some cases, even irrelevant. Common is the rare exception. There have been times where you wonder where he’s going. However, Common has created his own lane and it seems like Common and his fans don’t seem to mind whatsoever.
Common left Kanye Wests G.O.O.D Music label a couple of years back and signed to No I.D.’s Atrium/Def Jam label. Common has worked with long time producer/collaborator No I.D. quite frequently, and their chemistry is apparent throughout the years (remember the classic album Resurrection, One Day It Will All Make Sense, and The Dreamer/The Believer). And with the new Common album Nobody’s Smiling, it’s apparent that they’re back at it again! This time with an underlining theme that they could both get behind: making people aware of the violence in Chicago while also bringing hope and positivity to the streets.
1) The Neighborhood – featuring Lil Herb & Cocaine 80s – This is a great idea for opening up an album. Two emcee’s growing up at different times in the south side of Chicago but both can illustrate what it was like for them. Common has the ability to tell stories when he emcee’s:
“Have you ever heard of Black Stone around Black Stones | And Four CHs, Vice Lords, Stony Island on Aces
The concrete matrix, street organizations | they gave violations, hood public relations”
Lil Herb is just as vividly clear with his past:
“Can’t Nobody stop the violence, why my city keep lying | Niggas throw up peace signs but everybody dying”
This beat has a soulful vibe to it but isn’t really up to par with some of the bangers we’ve heard out of No I.D. And I’m not the biggest fan of Cocaine 80’s. There’s nothing amazing about his voice and it seems a little too auto-tune for me. However, lyrical content is more important than the beat or the singing on this track!
2) No Fear – Common is coming in hard on this track! Again, he’s telling a story, but the purpose is to connect the problems of ongoing violence with the image of black people. The track is dirty and the 808 are hit hard! The way No I.D. sampled this too is subtle but nice! However, I really can’t get into the distorted guitar at the end of this song. Not a really big deal however, because overall this is a CRAZY track.
3) Diamonds – featuring Big Sean – This is a smooth track. Big Sean is all right on the hook, but again Common is spitting straight knowledge!
“In the Benz leaning like we biased | I’ve seen Len Bias, that shit scared me |
You can go pro and blow everything you have in a flash | The moment is to live it like your last |
Moments that we have never living in the last”
And No I.D. is so good with the filters on this track. The pianos, synths, and 808’s are always going somewhere and it just feels like energy!
4) Black Majik – feat. Jhene Aiko – This is a very electronic beat. I didn’t know what to think about it first. The beat bumps and with the title of the track, you know he’s talking about drugs. However, it goes deeper, and somehow he connects the idea of a drug to how good it feels to be black. Common is one of the best emcees of finding themes that seem to be contradictory and connecting them to each other.
5) Speak My Piece – Man, this is a nice track. And a good sample flip too! No I.D. could have just let the Biggie Sample ride, but the way he puts it through filters and flips it is nasty! And that beat is so HARD! You can tell that No I.D. loves his 808’s and the low frequencies on this album. At first, Common is reminiscing about coming up in the music industry. Again though, you don’t think Common is just going to give you a straightforward track about partying in the music industry. I can’t be sure, but it feels like he’s talking about the type of image that the music industry expected of him, the routine of the grind, and how partying got to be too much. Or, maybe I’m just reading too far into it. Anyway, great beat, good lyrics, DOPE!
6) Hustle Harder – feat. Snoh Aalegra & Dreezy – WOW! This is Hip-Hop at it’s finest! I have never heard this type of beat before and it goes SO HARD! It’s so refreshing to know No I.D. is going to bring something you have truly never heard before! The HOOK is nasty too! But really, Common is just dropping some serious gems:
“Shots of ciroc she can out drink a nigga | Niggas dig her think they can take her to the crib and break her |
mover her shake her you can’t fake her | she knows time is paper | Glaciers on her neck-uh|”
And Dreezy is straight spitting. Hadn’t heard much of her before listening to this track, but DAMN. This girl can flow!
7) Nobody’s Smiling – feat. Malik Yusef – This track is pretty good. Common did his thing but not really up to par with the rest of the album. However, Malik Yusef Spoken Word at the end is NICE! How many times you hear Spoken Word in Hip-Hop these days. The beat is nothing too crazy, but that’s okay. Again, sometimes lyrical content needs to trump the beat.
8) Real – feat. Elijah Blake – Man, I’m digging this hook! Hadn’t heard of Elijah Blake, but it’s nice to hear this type of voice on a Hip-Hop track. Common seems to be looking at himself on this track and telling everyone what it takes to be REAL. Seems like Common has had to do a lot of things to live a healthier lifestyle for him and you can tell he’s in a better place. The lyrics are nice and the beat is a smooth R&B type track.
9) Kingdom – feat. Vince Staples – WOW! This isn’t fair! No I.D. again is giving us a type of beat we’ve never heard in Hip-Hop before! This is DOPE! Nothing better than a gritty gospel type beat, but No I.D. is straight flipping it with filters, a choir, strings, and 808’s! The HOOK is just ridiculous and on point. Even Vince Staples is able to keep up with where Common is going on this song! Speaking of which, Common:
“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 |”
This right here is sincerity and realness at it’s core. Thank you Common for the breath of fresh air!
10) Rewind That – You’ve got to hand it to No I.D.! When he needs to come up with just a simple sample flip beat, he can! But he does it so smooth! It’s also the little effects he puts in the background too. This sounds like a freestyle beat and so much more! As for Common, you can honestly tell that he misses his friend Dilla! And, Dilla is still thought of as one of the best producers to ever do it! So, for Common to give him nothing but praise and dedicate a verse to him, that’s understandable. The first verse is dedicated to his come-up in the music industry and his own regrets. Great track, very reminiscent of the 90’s!
11) Out On Bond – This is a nice rock influenced beat. And those background guitars are killing it. And Vince Staples is ON POINT! I think he is actually better than Common over this beat:
“Known for C-notes, the feds confiscatin’ | back to that black with brains on the pavement |
Paid restitution, O from the lootin’ enter | cause they did it, you was influenced |”
12) 7 Deadly Sins – Looks like Common is taking some notes out of BIGGIE’s book (10 Crack Commandments). This is a good concept and it’s one of Common’s finest on the whole album!
“No the myth about the fifth: it only happens when we eat | it’s gluttony, this is how it happens on the street |
It’s a dude that’s getting paid in full, cars and jewels | so his plate is full, but the way this nigga move |
he is never full and he gon eat your food”
And the beat is so dirty! Seriously, the way No I.D. flips this is so nice! Great concept, great beat, what more yall want!
13) Young Heart Run Free – featuring Cocaine 80s – I want to like this track, but I’m not really a big fan of Cocaine 80s. The beat isn’t the best either, and the only saving grace I think is Common. But, you can’t have every track be a banger, right?
Overall this album is dope! I always thought that his last album The Dreamer, The Believer was a great idea and a pretty good album. However, it packed too many themes and ideas onto one album. That made that album sporadic, confusing, and at times too much. By focusing on one general theme of violence Common is able to stay more focused lyrically. Common also sounds hungrier over this album. I also think No I.D. stepped his game up a little on this album! I haven’t heard these types of style beats before, and that’s pushing the envelope for Hip-Hop! Definitely worth more than just listen! Buy this album and rock it!
This album gets a 4.8/5!