This is a prescient yet sad time to really talk about Common and his latest album considering Chicago just had another awful weekend. This is the kind of stuff that has inspired the latest release of music from the rapper/actor who used to go by Common Sense. One of the unique things about this is how Common is reaching back and connecting the new generation of Chicago rappers by featuring them on his album cover. It's the theme overall for the people who grew up fans of Common to try and connect them in a way to the trials of today's urban youth. But with all of that said, let's talk about the music, here is my review of Common's new album, "Nobody's Smiling".
The album starts off super strong with "The Neighborhood" which features singer Cocaine 80's and Lil' Herb, one of the new generation of Chicago rappers who are coming straight out of the trap and struggle and I will admit, if he has this kind of skill I will have to check out more from Herb because he fits in seamlessly with the theme of the life in the Chi right now with Comm who is known as one of the supreme wordsmith's in the game. The momentum stalls a bit for me on "Diamonds" which has the unfortunate reality of featuring Big Sean and his garbage. Common does his thing though and I like the production but the hook is mediocre and then Sean gets to spit some actual bars.
Chanting drums that channel an African Tribal nature drive "Blak Majik" with Jhene Aiko but I disdain the hook which reminds me of something from Yeezus. "Hustle Harder" with Snoh Alaegra and Dreezy is alright as Common talks about a woman who is holding it down and going to get it herself. Dreezy finishes up for the ladies and it's cool. The title track "Nobody's Smiling" has a heavy bass with synthesizer element to it with a simple but effective hook and it's fire. Malik Yusef gets his chance to shine with his poetry at the end of this song but I really wanted to hear more bars from Common over this track.
"Speak My Piece" which uses a sample from the late great Notorious BIG, is vintage Common and while it has a retro sound to it, it still transitions from "Blak Majik" easily in what could be seen as a traditional single that can get radio and club spins. It somehow reminds me of a house party with it's energy and rhymes that sound almost freestyled enough that you know it was an intentional delivery. Elijah Blake sings the hook on "Real which is just a run of the mill song to me. Album filler, but after that comes the fire single that features Vince Staples, "Kingdom". Common spits a verse first from the perspective of a killer and what his story was and how he ends up in jail, while the second is from the viewpoint of a victim as he ascends after his death. Vince Staples comes through with the reality right now raw perspective of youth. Everything on this track works well from the bars to the choir chorus and the track.
"Rewind That" is a trip into the past and history of Common musically and also what happened in his career with his questions in his life and the results. He talks about regrets with No I.D. whom he has reunited with at DefJam and on this album. He also talks about dealing with J. Dilla and some of the sort of regrets he has as well as how he will keep his name and history alive. Vince Staples joins Common again on "Out on Bond" a decent song where they end up spitting and it is like an older song from the late 90's for modern times. Then there is "7 Deadly Sins" where Common gets a bit gritty talking about what can get you killed in the streets. "Young Hearts Run Free" with Cocaine 80's is about growing up overall in multiple ways.
Honestly this is probably the best album of the year so far. While I don't think it is Common's best overall work it isn't a detriment to his catalog either. It emphasizes his ability to truly spit and also remain poetic and true to himself. As a bridge to the younger generation it works because I'm now interested in Vince Staples and Lil' Herb thanks to their appearances on this album. While it doesn't break new ground, this is a solid, and mature hip-hop album. Not full of pop music and not too esoteric or spiritual in a way that becomes off putting, it's very grounded in reality and the production throughout is solid with varied sounds that all feel like they belong together.