Though I’m a fan of Common, let’s be honest…the problem that has plagued his career and consideration among top MCs is his inconsistency. Though it’s unrealistic to expect an artist to keep doing the same things for twenty years, a problem can arise when you stray so far into outer space that you lose your core audience (Electric Circus, anyone?). Common is, however, an MC who will always be welcomed back warmly. The Dreamer/The Believer marks a triumphant return for the Chi-town giant. After two relatively (in this writer’s opinion) forgettable albums (Finding Forever and Universal Mind Control), Com is back to the balance and inspiration found on the stellar Be.
Production was placed entirely in the very capable hands of No I.D., giving the album a sense of cohesion you don’t hear too much nowadays when guys are splurging for one or two tracks from a “hot” producer and delegate the rest to various unknowns, which can make for too many cooks in the kitchen spoiling the sauce.
Common seemed to apply some of the formula used on Be to craft a well-rounded album with something for everybody. While the conscious Common is of course present and accounted for, Com also brings some edge on certain joints that’s just hard enough without contradicting himself. On “Sweet”, Com goes directly for soft rappers’ jugulars, which can be viewed as a shot at a few specific people if you decide to take it that way. It could also be general commentary on the current state of mainstream hip-hop. “Ghetto Dreams” boasts a Nas feature and dropped this past summer, which would have probably been a better time for this album to drop, judging by the summertime vibe I get from a lot of it. “Raw (How You Like It)” is just dope rhymes and no pretense.
While the familiar boom-bap of hip-hop’s roots is there, Common is also known for making beautiful music with depth, such as classics like “Retrospect For Life” or “G.O.D. (Gaining One’s Definition)”. That, to me, has always been the appeal of Common’s music: still being able to spit with edge when necessary but to also be able to show spirit and free thought and put positive energy into the music as well. “The Believer” with John Legend serves up some Black pride for the masses, while “The Dreamer” is a work of art that features the legendary Maya Angelou finishing with some spoken word. I could really go through every track pointing out the artistry, but I’ll just say the album is worth a listen of your own. “Gold”, “Cloth”, “Lovin’ I Lost” and “Windows” all make for an album that can be played front to back without a thought to skipping.
I could even see the art in the one song I didn’t like, which was “Celebrate”. My beef with it lies solely in its syrupy hook, which does an injustice to the soulful loop and keys reminiscent of a Naughty By Nature party joint, namely “Uptown Anthem”. Regardless, between choruses, the block-party feel of the song is still well-accomplished. Common’s father, Lonnie “Pops” Lynn appears on the final track “Pops’ Belief” to drop some jewels.
In short, Common won. So in addition to getting busy on the acting tip in AMC’s Hell On Wheels, Common may very well have dropped one of the top five albums of the year. Common’s an MC that more up and coming MCs should study. He’s not an artist who has had to pander to mainstream audiences and dumb his art down in order to receive recognition. He has put the work in over time to perfect his craft to a point that the product can’t be ignored and, though there have been some minor missteps, few can real argue against the influence and relevance of Common in the rap game now and in the long term. Respect due.
Video: “Sweet” x Common