Contributed by: Vivian ‘Skye’ Huang.
Album: Nobody’s Smiling.
Release Date: July 22, 2014.
When Common announced that he was working on his tenth studio album, aptly titled Nobody’s Smiling, many were happy to hear the MC-turned-actor would finally be returning to the booth. His first LP since 2011’s The Dreamer, The Believer, was also entirely produced by super-producer No I.D. Going in for another round, he proves that the old formula of an artist locking in with one producer can be a magical musical experience that pleases listeners, fans, and critics alike.
It helps that No I.D. and Common have been best friends since the fourth grade. With both of the native Chicagoans in full creative rap mode, Common went back to his roots with this album, taking on the dark cloud that has loomed over the Windy City for the last several years. Chicago has sadly become the new murder capital in the United States. A city that is rooted in music and the early jazz scene is also rooted in a strong gang culture that has spiraled out of control due to weak leadership and harsh socio-economic conditions.
The album features the new school stars of Chicago’s rap scene including King Louie, Lil Bibby, Dreezy and Lil Herb. Herb who dropped his first mixtape, Welcome to Fazoland (a personal favorite of mine), delivers coming-of-age verse on the very first track “The Neighborhood”, which features a soulful Curtis Mayfield sample where both Herb and Common take you around their neighborhoods during different eras. As Herb raps “Can’t nobody stop the violence, Why my city keep lying/ Ni**as throw up peace signs, but everybody keep dying/ Used to post up on that strip, I look like a street sign/ I been out for three days and I got shot at three times”, one feels the full impact of violence and the hopelessness of those residents who encounter this on a daily basis. The album progresses to a lighter tone with the second single off the album “Diamonds” with Big Sean as well as an impressive hook that reflects on being able to shine. No I.D. flips a lyric from the late great Biggie Smalls on a futuristic beat which Common seems to handle with ease. This is done with a carefully curated flow that at times pays homage to a trick that he previously done on Universal Mind Control. The title track features a grimy synthesizer-driven beat, enjoyable as it is dark as Common and spoken word poet, Malik Yusef, do a great job of placing you into the mindset of someone who calls Chicago home and sees the violence first hand.
While the final track “Rewind That” finds Common looking back introspectively on his relationship with two super producers No I.D. and the late great J.Dilla and brings us into the personal relationships and his thoughts on their relationships. Common even makes the claim that he and No I.D. were Chi-town’s Gangstarr. New labelmates Jhene Aiko & Vince Staples also contributed to this quality project.
Though this has been a relatively slow year for rap, this opens up the opportunity for an older veteran to reach a younger audience and deliver some gems and knowledge without having to sacrifice his style and sound. This is definitely a must-add to your iTunes: with the message behind the music and the execution of the album artwork, it’s a welcome addition to an already great overall body of work by the Chicago veteran.
Recommended if you like: Kanye West, J. Dilla.
Soundtrack to your life: riding through Brooklyn and Chicago.
Receives airplay on: Kino and Skye on Thursdays 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM.