For his tenth studio album, Common finally reunites with No I.D. — handing over the entirety of production duties to the man who was arguably the most instrumental in establishing him as the face of socially-conscious Chicago rap. Although that might sound like a godsend to fans of hip-hop’s golden age, the results are unfortunately fairly lackluster. As much as we want this album to turn the tide of rap coming from Chi-Town, it definitely won’t.
We do applaud the contrarian approach here, though. With The Windy City’s current roster of ambassadors consisting of emcees like Kanye West and Chief Keef, you could say it’s not a high point for Chicago’s soulful, intellectual rap scene. At this point it’s redundant to speak on Kanye’s big head, but you could easily argue that Keef (and the street scene he represents) are representative of what’s happening in Chicago right now — unprecedented violence. Nobody’s Smiling is a reflection of the city’s state, rightfully dreary and somber at most points (the title itself is meant to be a call to action), but the album just doesn’t click like most of Common and No I.D.’s work.
As much as we want this album to turn the tide of rap coming from Chi-Town, it definitely won’t.
The production and flows are easily recognizable as their work, but it frankly doesn’t seem like much effort was put into either. No one will ever be able to erase the legacy of Common’s breakthrough Resurrection (or his classic work with J Dilla for that matter), but it’s certainly depressing to listen to one of our favorites sink into blandness on this record. Guest spots don’t help much either, although thankfully they are mostly given to up-and-coming artists from Chi that will benefit from the exposure. (Big Sean is the only one who doesn’t seem to belong here. Let’s not try that again, boys.)
Overall, it seems like Common has certainly entered a bit of a slump here, although we’re hoping it’s only transitional. He seems caught between reliving past glory with No I.D., and attempting to move his sound forward — with results that are less than compelling. Here’s hoping for a return to more moving lyrical content on the next studio album – or conversely – something entirely radical. How awesome would a fully ignorant “street” album from Common be? Even if only delivered sarcastically? Ok – if that idea sounds ridiculous, how about an album exclusively dedicated to exploring Common’s past female relationships, in depth? There’s definitely enough material to fill more than 10 tracks there.
We’re not just here to hate, though (we almost felt sacrilegious writing a negative review like this). Have a listen below, and let us know what you think.
Best Beat: “Blak Majik” – Jhene Aiko actually complements this one well.
Best Verse: Sense kinda goes in on “No Fear”.
Greatest Miss: “Diamonds” … was this meant to appeal to a younger audience?
For fans of: Resurrection, other Common X No I.D. work, Afrocentricity