Not very many artist have long enough careers to put out nine albums, even fewer emcees are able to stay relevant in a genre that produces so many fickle and unpredictable fans. The artist formally known as Common Sense happens to be one of the lucky few artists who have kept his name afloat for almost 20 years in the hip-hop circle. The Chicago native released his debut album, Can I borrow a Dollar in late October of 1992. It was received with enormous praise and was described to have catchy word play with top notch production. The project was said to have put Chicago hip-hop on the map due in large part to the then young emcee as well as smooth sounds created by No I.D. Fast forward to the present day and Common has once again linked up with No I.D. in efforts to reconnect with his roots. However, the disappointment brought on by Lonnie’s last album Universal Mind Control has some wondering whether Common can once again capture the magic once created with albums like Like Water For Chocolate, Finding Forever and the Classic Be. It isn’t a stretch to think that Common can return to his rawest form, with his newest album The Dreamer/The Believer, but fans and critics alike wonder if the Hollywood lifestyle has affected the long time Emcee. Can Common continue to be relevant in the game, or is he better off staring in T.V. roles and films?
Lyrics – 8.5
I can honestly and proudly say that Common is in a league of his own lyrically. Very few artist today are able to be socially conscious, while at the sometime time be mainstream successful. Common not only manages to produce commercial appeal, he does so in a way that makes the listener understand; he is extremely educated in a variety of topics. He does not pretend to be someone he’s not, when he spits It’s Common, I’m high above standard, Fly ni**a, keep my feet planted, To rock the planet, I don’t stop for panic, Maybe I’m a hopeless hip-hop romantic. At times, it does sound as if Common is trying to act “hard” when he clearly has not been living the hood life in sometime. I can’t count that as a negative, however we all remember the lyrical trashing he handed out on The bitch in you. As a listener I know that his lyrics make me think and press rewind a few times with bars like I have it, supreme like mathematics… Yeah, a breath of fresh air for you asthmatic rap addicts, Pro black magic, this is semi-automatic, Rap we won’t jam in traffic… For many people the lyrics on this album will seem simple and direct and that may be the case. However it is Common’s ability to link an array of stories and issues to almost every individual listening. He puts passion and emotion into every rhyme showing his incredible range going from hood cat to proud father when he kicks As she begins the race of life and love I told her “I can’t run it for ya, but God know’s I’mma coach ya”… Now I know these aren’t the greatest lyrics, but Common not only sends love to his daughter but letting others know it’s okay to be a real man.
Production – 9
At times amazing production can elevate even the most stellar lyrics. Producers often link up with certain artist and the outcome is greater than anything either of them could do on their own. No I.D. and Common are just that, the albums smooth and mellow sounds created by some of the drum snares and piano keys electrify teach track. The hard knocking thumps sound violent while the relaxing guitar chords make the vibe of the album so diverse. Several of the sounds are infectious as many traditional No I.D. tracks are. His production just over takes the album, and it’s as though No I.D.’s foot print is all over the project in a way that just brings the very best out of Common. Their long history together makes it easy for the producer to cater to Common strengths the way Kanye West was able to do on previous albums. To me it is the perfect mix of raw and hardcore sounds with the effortless layback melodies that have become expected from a Common album. The albums sound may not be for everyone, they may not be hype tracks and they may not appeal to these young kids, but the sounds generated for this album is what Hip-hop is supposed to sound like. Hardcore and raw with a hint of soul and passion, no fillers just that real that makes your head nod and relive the golden era.
Songs – 8
I know what you’re thinking, how can this be the lowest category if there have only been praises for the album up to this point? It simple, it’s a knock I have always had with albums like this. 12 tracks, REALLY THAT’S IT? I know it keeps the listener wanting more and it eliminates the chance for a mediocre track but it just not enough for a three year hiatuses. On top of that a few songs only have two verses which seem to be just too short for my liking. Songs like “Gold,” and “Windows” end way to short and could benefit from another 16 bars or so. The Legendary Maya Angelou helps begin the album in a way that make can only be described as euphoric. There are a hand full of standout tracks most notable the lead single and high profiled feature “Ghetto Dreams” with Nas. This is a great and nostalgic track that takes the listener back to the early 90’s. “Raw (How you like it)” and “Sweet” both show the rapper in his grimy tough persona where he takes aim at the soft side of hip-hop seems to glorify right now. “Blue Sky” and “Celebrate” play as uplifting anthems that help round the album out in perfect form. True to Common’s core, he throws in a few love and female tracks, “Lovin’ I Lost,” and “Cloth” show the rappers versatility. My favorite track has to be either the first or last track where both have a great assistance from two poetic greats. On the last track Lonnie’s pops, who has become a staple throughout Common albums does another great job this time around, closing the album perfectly with a few choice words. Once again, a few more tracks or even a few more verses on a few tracks would have made the difference for me. I kept waiting to hear one more amazing song that just never seemed to come up.
Conclusion – 8.5
I absolutely love the album. There are a few small issues I have, but other than that I can’t see why anyone wouldn’t love it as well. However the issue is, when your nine albums deep and coming off a very disappointed show, is a 12 track full length project going to catch the attention of listeners new and old alike? Also, when an emcee like Common, has put out so many incredible albums, it’s hard not to measurer them side by side. It’s hard to say that this album is Common’s best work because it’s not. However it is better that the majority of albums put out this year. Working with familiar producers has given Common the ability to not only compete against the rest of hip-hop’s elite, but at the same time competing against previous projects. It’s a catch 22; there isn’t a better project out right now… Although, having said that, it isn’t the best thing to be put out by the Chicago native. I will say this though, I much rather see and hear Common spitting bars about real life issues, than seeing him play opposite of Queen Latifah in some boring movie. It makes a lot of sense to keep Common in his first and most promising role…. That as a rough and hungry emcee from Chicago Illinois.
Review by Edgar Gomez for Defsounds.com