I’m a big fan of Common, I have been since first hearing “Be” thanks to my mom putting me on (thanks, Mom) and “Like Water For Chocolate” is one of my top 10 hip-hop albums of all time. So I’ve been eagerly anticipating a new album and to hear that his next album would be a reflection on many of the problems facing black America was music to my ears.
If you don’t know who Common is, allow me to enlighten you a little… that guy who got killed by the Joker in Suicide Squad for feeling on Harley, yep him is a pioneer of the conscious hip-hop movement, the guy who laid the blueprint for Chicago hip-hop so you could have a Kanye, Twista, Lupe, Chance etc. This is the same guy who’s been dropping albums since 1992 and now with his 11th album, he’s really gone back to his roots somewhat with politically charged, jazzy vibes that make you just wanna throw up a fist and two-step.
Now we’re all by now aware of the problems and injustices being perpetuated just across the pond and there is constantly a call for hip-hop artists to speak out on this subject and in the wake of that incredibly disappointing Lil Wayne video this is a welcome opposite. Common has never been one to shy away from issues such as gang violence (being from the south side of Chicago) or respecting women more and often that’s what’s led to his best work. So it stands to reason that times like this should lead to some incredible work from him and he hasn’t fallen short.
The production on this album is staggering, Kareem Riggins’ jazz background plays out beautifully against all Common’s flows and cadences. He manages to balance militant, stand to action, driving drums against two-step, shoulder bounce vibes effortlessly. This coupled with contribution from Robert Glasper (who’s coming to Birmingham, by the way, …you’re welcome) makes for another album where Common struts his stuff as one of hip-hop’s preeminent jazz rappers.
The collaborations on this album are typical of what you might expect by this point with a few new surprises in the inclusion of Syd Tha Kid (of The Internet), BJ The Chicago Kid and someone I’m not aware of as yet PJ (I’m gonna be digging a little more for her). With room for Bilal to come back and drape his usual dopeness wherever required Common still pulled in the living legend that is Stevie Wonder for a quick hook on the title track “Black America Again”.
Onto the main man himself…Common might have just dropped his best work in quite some time for me. This isn’t to say I thought the last albums were lacking, they were good but they were just that. I enjoy all his projects and “Nobody Smiles” was a nice commentary on what was happening in Chicago at that time but this has surpassed that project so much. Common is never off point lyrically but he really shines with some of the stories told in the song.
I’m particularly a fan of “The Day Women Took Over” and for me that’s the kind of power anthem for women I can get behind, no contradictory references to being a “bad b*tch” or in turn belittling men, just simply a beautiful piece of music that does nothing other than uplift and celebrate women for being just that. “Red Wine” and “Unfamiliar” really hit me in the core and remind me of why Common is and was such a primary influence on my own writing.
“Little Chicago Boy” really brings a cycle to a close by giving a brief bio of his father who all fans came to know as “Pops”. Those who’ve been listening to Common for a while know his father would usually get a time at the end to speak directly to us and drop a few gems, unfortunately, “Pops” passed on September 12th 2014 and the albums will forever sound a little emptier without him so this track holds a special place in my heart next to “I Used To Love H.E.R”, “Rewind” and “Go”.
This alongside possibly his best closing track in “Letter To The Free” rounds out a lyrical journey that is comparable to “Like Water For Chocolate” I mean he drops the line “Will the U.S ever be us…” how do you deal with that? I won’t even give u any more gems from it just listen…
This is an incredible project, and for me personally and I know there’s been some serious contenders this year in Dilla’s posthumous “The Diary”, Aesop’s “The Impossible Kid” and De La’s “And The Anonymous Nobody” this is maybe, most likely, really edging it to be the best hip-hop album of 2016, I hold total judgement until I hear ATCQ’s new album but as it stands now Common you got it. I really want to say this might be you finally giving us another classic and for me this is definitely now one of my favourite albums of yours.
I’ve been in awe since catching a taste in the Tiny Desk Concert in the White House and you have delivered, so thank you.
Let me know what you guys think, until next time homies…