It is rare in today’s music scene for an artist to maintain relevance over decades, as seemingly one-hit wonders come and go with reckless abandon. The hip-hop game is littered with one-and-dones, momentarily propped up by radio hits from Souljah Boy and Cali Swag District. Common, however, is the epitome of the hip-hop lifer, still going strong nearly two decades after his 1992 debut album, Can I Borrow A Dollar? In December 2011, hip-hop heads were treated to Common’s newest release,The Dreamer, The Believer.
For many, Common came to prominence recently with 2005’s Be, a seminal and award-winning album that showcased his lyrical dexterity and smooth flow over soulful and melodic beats provided by J Dilla and Kanye West at their finest. In this installment, Com brings back longtime partner No I.D., who produced two of his earliest albums in the 90s. This project has all of the trademark soul that has become associated with the Chicago MC, but has a harder edge that brings him to previously unseen territory. He calls it, rather presciently, “hood elegance”.
No track epitomizes this new stance better than “Ghetto Dreams”, which is the Com’s finest street banger to date. He enlists Nas for a standout guest feature, and spits on his dreams of a ghetto woman who can “look good and cook good, Cinderella fancy but she still look hood”. The rougher edges of Common’s braggadocio are evident for all to see, but they are backed by his nearly unmatched lyrical skill, as seen in “Sweet”, where he calls out soft autotune singer-rappers (Drake, where you at?).
The album is not all bass and aggression, however. Common’s introspection is in full effect on the title tracks, featuring poet Maya Angelou and John Legend, who provide copious helpings of cultural consciousness and soul, respectively. No ID’s production is stellar; we are left with an album that is cohesive but varied. Common’s theme of dream and belief is evident throughout the album, and the sonic landscape flows from triumphant (“Celebrate”) to morose (“Lovin’ I Lost”) without a hint of discontinuity. Common finest album in years will give hip-hop dreamers the belief that the torch is being carried strong into the future.
By: Max Milder