Release Date: Dec 9, 2008
Record label: Geffen
The more things change for Lonnie Rashid Lynn, the more they stay the same. A 1980s disco sheen - courtesy of a rejuvenated Neptunes - makes this the 36-year-old rapper's pop album. Yet Common seems keen to prove he is still an all-time rap great, a hip-hop intellectual - and a ladies' man. His eighth LP is most compelling where these themes collide, such as on Punch Drunk Love, where the salacious production meets its match in imaginative innuendos.
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 ….
Universal Mind Control, Common's eighth album, is a Neptunes-produced, '80s-electro-inspired jaunt that left me wondering what happened to Lonnie Lynn, the MC behind Be and Like Water for Chocolate. The street philosopher who so effortlessly showed us his slice of Chicago has left the building. In his place we have a nondescript voice from the future, nearly as indefinable as the bizarre headless torso that graces the album cover.
Brain drainOn Universal Mind Control, his eighth studio album, Common opts for a frustrating fusion of Daft Punk-lite electronica and sexually-charged fluff. Social awareness is shelved in favor of dopey wordplay that’s palpably mismatched with Pharrell-produced dance tracks like the ribald "Announcement": “Broads say ‘Are you a philosopher?’ / Yeah yeah, I’ll philosophize on top of ya. ” The Neptunes’ beats are anemic compared to the hyper-soul chic that Kanye West conjured on 2005’s Be.
On Common’s eighth effort, the Chicago rapper rhymes and sings — mostly about sexual and lyrical prowess — over marching-band stomps provided by the Neptunes. Though known for his keen insight and smart wordplay, here Common seems to have traded his wit for dull and unimaginative narratives, and the 39-minute album has too much filler and only a few head-nodding jams (like the swaying ”Make My Day,” featuring Cee-Lo’s gut-grunting vocals). Universal Mind Control seems to move Common backward instead of forward, which for a lyricist of his caliber is truly disappointing.
The eighth Common album was originally titled "Invincible Summer," but delays slid its release back to December. Though Mortal Winter might've been more apt, Universal Mind Control does correctly point toward a lighter, less cerebral set relative to the MC's discography from The Resurrection onward. The glinting "Change" is a track filled with hope and optimism about younger generations and the rise of Obama, and "Inhale," another standout, carries a surplus of uplift and urgency.
Common could really use a massive hit to help shift a few units, so he's putting the conscious crooner ruse on the back burner and going all out for the club bangers on Universal Mind Control. The way Common sees it, the idea is to get back to the basics, avoid getting too cerebral while bringing some of the sexy back. To assist him he's got Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo of the Neptunes co-writing songs and producing tracks along with cameos from Kanye West and Cee-Lo.
Review Summary: Common should permanently stick to acting.Let's take a moment to shed a tear for the fall of Chicago hip-hop. Kanye West may have just released his strongest album in years, but calling it hip-hop is a stretch. Lupe Fiasco has consistently failed to deliver on the hype and now Common has put out an album so bad that I'm actually almost at a loss for words.
It’s during the refrain of the title track on Common’s latest release, Universal Mind Control, that one hears Pharrell rap, “This is that new shit and it don’t feel the same”. It succinctly captures the feeling of the album as a whole, however euphemistically. To say the album is new and different is an understatement. Lyrically, Universal Mind Control is a departure from the involved, conscience-provoking rap Common has built his name and reputation around.