The name Common has become synonymous with lyrical, progressive hip-hop. Not many emcees have been able to stay relevant as long as the Chicago native, and his newest album proves why his music will not be soon forgotten. I got hooked on Common Sense with the far-out album, Electric Circus, promptly following up with the earlier work, Like Water for Chocolate. With this being his 7th album, Common again turns to super producer/rapper and long time collaborator Kanye West to provide a consistent sonic landscape.
The album opens with the mellow instrumental “intro“, complete with smooth keys and an angelic harp. Listeners are snapped out of this laid back vibe by Kanye exclaiming “Lets start the Show!” for the second cut appropriately named “The Show” The chorus on this track completely changes the vibe of the song, and not particularly for the better. Next up is the lead single, “The People”. Here, Kanye channels the late great producer J. Dilla, to construct his own rendition of the Dilla’s compositions. Sporting a sample that’s also used on Dilla’s Donuts album, Common spits ferocious lines about “beats and breaks” and “tryin to stay legal”, while soul man Dwele croons on the chorus, “The People” is a solid single laced with societal commentary. Although Kanye gets an E for effort, his need for epic production limits his ability to emulate Jay Dee’s rough and raw sound. Next is the upbeat almost dancehall "Drivin’ Me Wild“ featuring English songtress Lily Allen. Com. rhymes around the rudimentary snare drum of the track , speaking on what people do for love. Here, his lyrics paint portraits of a wannabe rapper and a fame-jockin female that, “Had a body that you can’t pay fo/Which means she had some D’s on her but they weren’t fake tho”. I personally love this line, the ability to take a played out pop rap hook and reinterpret it is the mark of a true MC.
We stroll into my fav thus far, the Will.I.Am produced “I Want You“. This smooth jam utilizes a simple drum loop and layered Wurlitzer keys that aid Common and Will tell a tale of love lost. Some people hate on Will.I.Am because of his ties with pop act Black Eyed Peas, but the fact is the guy is a musical mastermind, and this track adds to his already stout production resume. With so much Kanye, this track provides a change of pace, while perfectly fitting the mood of the album. Check out the breakdown and Dilla Donut at the end of this track…its just so chill!.
The second single, “Southside”features Kanye and Common trading battle rhymes every 8 bars. This is the rawest sounding track of the album, complete with a sampled electric guitar, rolling bass line, and Ye’s signature drums . This track has another ill breakdown despite some questionable singing by Mr. West. The b-boy beats continue with “The Game” featuring DJ Premier scratching like none other. Common provides a societal concept with the melancholy “U Black Maybe” which features the eccentric Bilal. With a Stevie Wonder sample and smooth trumpets, Common delves into a narrative about the obstacles a black man/woman can face from their own race.
Time for a Kanye break, as J Dilla and label mate Devo Springsteen step in for the next two tracks. This recycled Dilla track features the infamous D’angelo, who shows he can still lay down memorable hooks. Devo chops up Nina Simone for “Break my Heart“, in which Common lightheartedly raps about the dating game . Although both are decent, neither does much to add new dimension to the album. “Misunderstood” uses a blues vocal sample chopped to sound like an old Negro spiritual. Complete with gloomy piano chords and heavy boom bap, Common makes you feel the anguish of his hood stories. The album concludes with “Forever Begins” where Common provides inspired lyrics for the future. As the uplifting piano plays, Common “wonders when the role call for heaven will come.”, and reflects of the news of Dilla’s death. No Common is complete without a last word from Common’s father, as the song breaks down so "Pops" can speak about the idea of Finding Forever. This album is right on par with the Be album, not really gaining or losing any ground.
As you can see I didn't mention the lyrics much because Com Sense never disappoints on the mic. One thing is certain, he is at his best as a storyteller, observing the world around him and the constructing conscious narratives.
With Kanye at the helm again, Common is able to maintain a similar sound throughout , even with a few guest producers.
Replay Value: 3
Like most Common albums, the superiority of his lyrics can go over some hip hop novices heads, making tons of spins hard to come by. Rainy days and late night smoking sessions will be the main arena for this melancholy album.
I’ve really enjoyed Commons growth over the years. He’s been able to join with Kanye to stay newsworthy while not sacrificing his image. Always an emcee first, Common continues to remind the world what classic hip hop is.
Album Gems: “Southside“ ,“I Want You”, “U Black Maybe”