Release Date: Dec 20, 2011
Record label: Warner Bros.
Genre(s): Rap, Pop/Rock, Alternative Rap, Midwest Rap
Common has unshakable faith in rap as inspiration: as a party-starter, a spirit-raiser, a consciousness-transformer. A great hip-hop record can be all those things, especially when the beats are right, and No I.D., who produced all of Common’s ninth album, grounds the songs with a steady bass and drums rumble, adding dashes of color like the Kenny Loggins sample in "Celebrate." But Common can be too, well, common: a nice guy, whose boasts and bromides are too predictable to really inspire. Listen To "Celebrate": Related• Rolling Stone Live: Common .
Common has been here before. You should know the routine; after dropping an album that doesn’t resonate with the public as expected (see: Electric Circus), the Chicago rhyme veteran returns triumphantly with, yeah, a classic (think: Be). While 2008’s Universal Mind Control was coolly received, the discerning masses will surely embrace Com’s latest project, The Dreamer/The Believer.
Common has been making hip hop for nearly two decades now, and even though he’s responsible for a handful of good-to-great albums, as well as one of the genre’s most notorious screeds, “I Used to Love H.E.R.,” he lacks the lauded-veteran status he probably deserves. That’s partially due to the fact that two of Common’s most high profile albums were flops – 2002’s neo-soul opus Electric Circus and 2008’s club-inspired Universal Mind Control. Plus, the Chicagoan has recently gone from moonlighting thespian to full-fledged working actor, starring in the Queen Latifah rom-com Just Wright and the AMC Western series Hell on Wheels.
2011 has been a banner year for experimental hip-hop. OFWGKTA, Das Racist and Big K.R.I.T. brought mixtape hip-hop to the mainstream, The Roots made a concept album based around a Sufjan Stevens song, The Weeknd and Frank Ocean played with the boundaries of what could be done in rap production, and Jay-Z and Kanye West decided to sample Blades of Glory and rap about fish fillets.
P.O.S. :: Chill, dummyDoomtree RecordsAuthor: Patrick TaylorI've been a fan of Stefon "P.O.S." Alexander since his debut nearly 10 years ago. On "Audition" and 2009's "Never Better," he proved himself to be one of the few artists who could successfully meld punk rock and hip-hop. Fellow Minnesotans ….
Common is confused, and who can blame him? His career has stumbled in so many directions that confusion is kind of unavoidable. He's gone from being a troubled, semi-alcoholic underground rapper, to a knit-cap, Soulquarian prince, to Kanye West's older, less-cool cousin, to now, just a friendly-looking guy who occasionally appears in Gap ads. At this point, it's anyone's guess who the "Common" on Common's records might be.
CommonThe Dreamer/The Believer[Warner Bros. / Think Common; 2011]By John Ulmer; January 26, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGWe’re entering an interesting era for hip-hop. A form of music that was once met with such hostility and dismissal from society has now thrived successfully for generations. Relatively young figures are suddenly starting to show their age, becoming icons of the genre, and we realize that there are middle-aged people who literally grew up listening to this music.
Most artists release disappointing albums at some point, but they’re usually not subjected to the kind of concerted public shaming by critics and fans that Common endured following his last release, Universal Mind Control. Proportionally, more of the album sucked than didn’t, but what made it such a universal mind-fuck was the fact that none of the many individual decisions that led to its creation made sense. It was an outright contradiction for Common, the street-level philosopher who once played the gadfly to rap’s moguls and mafiosos, to reinvent himself as a pussy-profiteering club don.
On his ninth studio album, Common reunites with old partner and fellow Chicagoan No I.D., which ensures that the sound will be much different than that of the MC's previous set, the Neptunes-dominated Universal Mind Control. Indeed, compounds of dusty soul samples and organic instrumentation are in place of candy-coated synthesizers and pattering hand percussion. That change naturally pushes Common into deeper, more contemplative, and wistful frames of mind, and he takes an extra step by bookending the album with typically purposeful appearances from Maya Angelou and his father (the latter of which is absolutely riveting).
Common’s a rapper rap fans can’t help but root for. Over his career he’s consistently been one of the most introspective, insightful presences on a beat, whether he was deconstructing hip-hop’s transition into gangsterism, questioning his own homophobia or breaking down the relationships between white America and black icons like Afeni Shakur and Mumia Abu-Jamal. Like Water for Chocolate remains a touchstone release, both for Common’s self-examinations and the Soulquarians’ (?uestlove, J Dilla, James Poyser et al.) ability to create a rap album that was at times equal parts afrobeat, soul and something entirely unique to that collective.
If you hated Common's last album, Universal Mind Control, you'll be happy to hear that he's ditched that failed attempt at modernity and returns to his 90s backpacker roots in The Dreamer/The Believer. This of course means loops cribbed from old soul tunes, dusty boom-bap beats, cameos by Maya Angelou and Nas and lyrics full of vague notions of positivity. He's back to working within his comfort zone, which makes for a more consistent album, but in the year 2011 it's hard to get excited about a retread of the 90s.
Full disclosure: I go back and forth on Common. Some days I feel like he was an essential cornerstone to the infamously posh neo-soul Solquarians and remains a Chi-town mainstay. Other days, though, I turn my nose at his fledgling acting career (Happy Feet Two, anyone?) and a slew of tracks from his back catalogue that lyrically read like self-help books.
Review Summary: The voice of the people returns; addresses the wrong crowd in the processSo here we are in 2011 with another Common album to reflect upon, and while that might be a rather poor way of looking at things, barring his Neptunes-assisted Universal Mind Control that tried oh-so-hard to make Common a dominating force within the bright lights of the club scene, a new Common album is really nothing more than the same story re-dressed in more fashionable threads. The same stories are finding themselves being addressed yet again, and with that arises the problem that at this point in Common’s career he’s not really preaching to anyone who hasn’t subscribed to his semi-passive gospel already. All tales revolve around a central theme of positivity: those who dare to dream also dare to believe (notice a theme here?), and all black clouds come pre-packaged with the proverbial silver lining.
Common’s in a great place. Initially perceived as a boisterous, 40 oz-drinking MC on his first two LPs in the early ‘90s, he evolved into the poster boy for conscious rap during the next decade. His last LP, the disappointing Universal Mind Control, was unusually stripped of substance, but fairly reflected what the Chicago MC had become—a mainstream rap star with Hollywood success.
Production takes precedence over Common’s rhymes on the rapper’s ninth studio LP. Marcus J. Moore 2011 The last time Common led a full-length album, the result was 2008’s Universal Mind Control, a recording so woefully inadequate that many of his fans don't even acknowledge its existence. Rather, when discussing the MC's robust discography, fans often dismiss the project as a glossy aberration on which the Chicago native trifled with electro-pop and skeletal dance music with dismal results.