Grammy Award winner and actor Common – real name Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr. – is back with new material! After a 3-year hiatus, the rap veteran released his tenth studio album Nobody’s Smiling a few days ago on producer No I.D.’s Artium Records and Def Jam Recordings. The project was inspired by the recent violence in his hometown Chicago, Illinois; and Common being the great narrator that he is, shares stories and experiences on the album making listeners socially aware while still putting out great music.
Nobody’s Smiling was produced solely by his longtime friend No I.D and features a number of known and upcoming acts such as Lil Herb, Big Sean, Jhene Aiko, Snoh Aalegra, Elijah Blake, Vince Staples and Cocaine 80s. As one of Chi-town’s Hip-Gop ambassadors Common certainly needs no further introduction.
“Speak My Piece”:
Jumping right in to the music, “The Neighborhood” and “No Fear” offer a dark introduction to the socially unstable city of Chicago. While on “Diamonds“, guest feature Big Sean delivers a catchy chorus and a solid verse over a riveting beat, providing the albums first commercially sounding track. “Speak My Piece” starts off with a familiar voice spun and mashed over-and-over on a bold and almost borderline club sound.
Yes, it’s none other than a sample of Notorious B.I.G from his 1997 hit “Hypnotize“. No I.D delivers a hard Hip-Hop beat fully backed by percussions, which Common lyrically matches with his word play. You also can’t miss him acknowledging Chicago’s other rap superstar Kanye West with the bars “Ye that’s my nigga from back in the day / All that woop-ty wah woo, man f*ck what they say”. His delivery is different than the previous songs on the album, coming off more playful on the track. With Common, it always comes back full circle to the central theme as he raps “I lay it for the world, for Chicago I stand”.
More than halfway through Nobody’s Smiling hides the album’s rare gem. “Real” featuring Chicago native and Roc Nation artist Elijah Blake (who oddly sounds similar to Frank Ocean on the first listen) is an irresistible smooth mid-tempo track. Elijah Blake’s rich and soulful voice meshes perfectly on the 90’s style R&B infused instrumental. Common as expected delivers punch line after punch line on the song that in very plain words, addresses pretentious people. “Real” makes for good listening pleasure and is that one track on the album that would appeal to a wider audience than just rap lovers.
On the albums official first single “Kingdom“, Common features California native Vince Staples on the single that consciously zeros in on religion and violence in Chicago. “My money ain’t straight, my fam ain’t straight / Ain’t wanna push keys, heaven couldn’t wait […] My whole life I had to worry about eating / I ain’t have time to think about what I believe in” are a few bars depicting Common expressing an internal battle with knowing what’s right but turning to violence instead. Reminiscent of Kanye’s “Jesus Walks“; “Kingdom” samples a triumphant gospel like instrumental complete with assisted choir backing vocals. Check out the 6-minute Hype Williams directed video below.
With a number of successful albums under his belt Common is certainly not worried about proving himself as he confidently chose to center most of the album on Chicago’s brutal state. A stand out track that digresses from the albums theme is “Rewind That“. On the song, the Chicago MC touches on a more personal subject, reminiscing on the past including his time with friend and producer, the late J. Dilla. I imagine you wonder how Nobody’s Smiling compares to favorites like Be and Finding Forever. Common has always been a socially conscious rapper and this album is no different; and with No I.D delivering versatile instrumentals, Nobody’s Smiling is beyond any doubt worth the listen.
Purchase: Common – Nobody’s Smiling (iTunes)
Words by Temi Yembra