|Posted by doktakra on December 30, 2011 at 11:15 AM|
A year-and-a-half ago, after the disaster that was Universal Mind Control and Common's starring role in the perhaps equally awful Just Wright, I criticized Common, my favorite musician growing up, for trying to "become an aspiring Hollywood actor who's now irrelevant in hip-hop and no longer cares about putting out quality music."
Despite the fact that Common was reuniting with producer No I.D. for the first time since 1997's One Day It'll All Make Sense (which was my high school year book quote, by the way), I was still skeptical about buying his ninth album, The Dreamer/The Believer. U.M.C. was just that bad, a cacophonous mess so poorly considered and executed, which so desperately tried to appeal to the pop charts and accompanying video crossover circuit, that it made me reevaluate Common's place in hip-hop history as one of the most introspective and thought-provoking "conscious" rappers ever.
Still, I couldn't deny the fact the first two singles off Dreamer/Believer, "Ghetto Dreams" and "Sweet" sounded infinitely closer to the Common I used to know. After a week-and-a-half of debating whether it was worth my $12, I decided to give him another chance.
As the album title would suggest, Common mainly sticks to preaching about (spoiler alert) dreaming and believing, whether it's about the type of woman he wants or about his aspirations to make the world around him a better place. No I.D.'s production, full of soulful vocal samples and grooves, perfectly accompanies Common's uplifting vibe. The beats do get a little repetitive, and the choruses rarely stand out, but the nostalgic sound is unquestionably a step in the right direction.
On the intro track, “The Dreamer,” Common sets the tone with inspirational and uplifting rhymes over beautiful bass and drum kicks, before a spoken word piece by Dr. Maya Angelou. Common manages to use his own mainstream success as an example of striving to achieve goals in a way that surprisingly comes off as endearing and genuine.
“Kinda took me back to when I first had a dream / To be like the king that sang "Billie Jean" / Now it's gold records, and I'm on silver screens / At the mountaintop, you still gotta dream."
It's not exactly new and unchartered territory for him, but when Common is back to waxing poetic on tracks about love and relationships, such as "Cloth," a touching ode to women, and "Windows," a heartfelt song dedicated to his daughter, few can do it better. “Lovin’ I Lost,” on which he reminisces about a break-up over a melancholy Curtis Mayfield sample, and "The Believer," which features John Legend, are his two best songs I've heard since Be.
At the same time, it's still hard to take Common all that seriously now when he fires shots at "sing-song" rappers (hi, Drake) on "Sweet," and plays up his street cred by boasting “’You Hollywood’/ Nah, n****, I’m Chicago / So I cracked his head with a motherf***ing bottle" on "Raw." At times, it seems like he's trying too hard to convince the listener to believe, fittingly enough, that he's still an underground legend rather than a commercial star. The later track also includes two unforgivably bad puns -- “aware of her chest because I stay abreast” and “what’s in front of me is this great behind." Ugh.
Billed as Common’s return to making socially conscious hip-hop, the album as a whole has a familiar '90's style and recognizable flow. It's not the second coming of Resurrection by any means, but it has enough going for it to at least not make me wish that the gifted MC would become a full-time actor (plus, there's no way I'm watching Just Wright II or even Hell on Wheels).