(Common’s “Sweet” video)
After taking a hiatus from the music game to secure a couple of new acting roles and release a New York Times best-selling memoir, Common is back with his ninth studio album The Dreamer/The Believer, which was officially released on December 20. The album has created plenty of buzz thus far–especially the single “Sweet,” with its subliminal jabs–and the critics have already weighed in in. Check out a review roundup after the jump.
Los Angeles Times: “The Dreamer, The Believer” reunites him with producer No. I.D., who produced the rapper’s most acclaimed CDs, and together they make an album that sounds fantastic. Robust tracks revere and update the past, such as the retro-soul, Curtis Mayfield-inflected “Lovin’ I Lost” and tremulously beautiful “Gold.” Grooves paired with grimy beats underscore Common’s combativeness (the aptly titled “Raw”). But lyrically, Common is still stuck in the tug of war between street cred and a more nuanced worldview. “Gold” contains a line that partially summarizes that struggle: “I am the voice of the meek and underprivileged / The smell of success, I want y’all to get a whiff of this ….”
Chicago Tribune: Perhaps no other MC would frame an album with cameos from the poet Maya Angelou and his own worldly wise father, as Common does on “The Dreamer/The Believer.” No I.D. is an equally important element in Common’s attempt to get back on course. His style owes to the expansiveness of ’70s “dusties” soul, placing a premium on pleading vocals, horns, and stepping grooves that glide rather than stomp. The producer arrays gauzy female backing vocals and softly ringing keyboards over a big, steady snare beat on album-opener “The Dreamer,” while Common free-associates vague encouragement: “Maybe I’m a hopeless hip-hop romantic … thought about my daughter for a second … the world is at my fingers … at the mountaintop ya still gotta dream to the dreamers.” Angelou bats clean-up, closing the song with a poetic history lesson. Set against the more flamboyant stylists of the last decade, Common sounds almost quaint. He’s so ’90s, but he sounds at home there.
Time: Produced by long-time collaborator No ID (who also worked on Common’s first three albums), The Dreamer/The Believer’s 51 minutes of fuzzed-out beats, soulful samples and reflective proselytizing contains two messages: its important to follow your dreams and its essential to have faith in God. It would make a nice soundtrack to a motivational speaker’s presentation to high school students. It’s not the kind of bangin’, blinged-out stuff that gets extensive radio airtime, but that’s never been Common’s style. No, The Dreamer/The Believer is the kind of album you can groove to slowly – a stellar effort by a veteran artist and one of hip-hop (if not popular music’s) best wordsmiths. After all, not everyone can convince Maya Angelou to drop a verse on their album.
Rolling Stone: 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.
HipHopDX: While No I.D.’s soundbeds hold him down, at many points it sounds like Common is spittin’ with an Everest sized chip on his shoulder. Particularly on “Sweet” where he takes shots at no one in particular, unless it applies, with pointed bars like “I’m the franchise so I rock my own chain/No I(D) said give ’em that ’80s cocaine/Something raw something pure so I stayed in that vein.” The rhymes skills are also thoroughly on display on “Raw (How Ya Like It)” with a bluesy guitar riff assisting Com’s tales of a bachelor on the prowl. Fresh rhymes are a given on Common albums and he also hits all his thematic hallmarks. There is the song about bungled love (“Lovin’ I Lost”), the ditty about hope (“The Dreamer”) and of course, Pops gets yet another album closer (“Pops Belief”).