ed. note — The review below was written by Vance Brinkley, a hard-working young talent out the D.C. area (or “urrea”) who has previously contributed to AllHipHop.com among other outlets and with this video helped break the great news recently of J Dilla’s personal beat machine being added to the Smithsonian museum.
We hope to work with Vance more in the future, follow him on Facebook and on Twitter @VBrinkley513.
Our Regal Selector this week is a little late than my Monday deadline, plus it comes because of this review, it’s not standing on its own (thus the .5). It’s still pretty sweet though. A lot of people who may bump Nobody’s Smiling may not even remember when it’s artist was more commonly known as Com Sense, this selector playlist this week has some updated takes on Common classics but it takes you back to that time when he only worked with No I.D. — who produced the new album in its entirety — prior to both men being among the most revered in hip-hop and it mostly stands to showcase their immaculate, long-practiced chemistry, especially with the playlist-capper, a great mix courtesy of the good folks at UpNorthTrips.
Said Common in a recent interview with Billboard, “With No I.D., I learned about actually making music, because he was a musician. He kind of reminds you of what we’re doing this for, the purpose. His agenda is the culture of hip-hop, staying true and improving it. Like, the conversations we have — wherever they come up — it’s always a reminder. Like, ‘Hey man, we know the radio is this, we know you been to the White House. That’s cool. But you’re a hip-hop dude and this is what we do this for.'”
If Be was your earliest intro to Com, or the first time you really rocked with him, take a listen to what we got…after taking a look at what Vance has to say about the new-new.
A person’s hometown has an important impact on their personality.
Some of the sweetest moments in one’s life happen early within the city or town that they call their home and a person often takes those sweet moments along with any number of hard-earned lessons along with them as they try to conquer the greater world around them.
These ideas have always been evident in Common’s music. Resurrection, now 20 years old, wouldn’t be one of the seminal albums of the 1990s without the unique style provided by Chicago’s then-new superstar, who gave the city a new sound in hip-hop music, one that legitimized what was then a metropolis who’s legacy in the music was then woefully behind its Mecca of consciousness (New York) and its Medina (Los Angeles), which birthed a new age of gangsterism and experimentation that propelled the culture and its music into unforeseen places both positive and negative.
In 2014, Chicago is arguably the epicenter of creativity in hip-hop, consistently producing artists who grab the country’s attention while also reaching out internationally with the genre’s most visible figure (Kanye West) trying his best to conquer the world.
Common’s goals have always been more humble, even when he ran shoulder to shoulder with Kanye, he always conducted himself as if he just wanted to make his city proud even as he broadened his horizons with acting. But with Chicago in bad shape spiritually and in the eyes of the public due to a high crime rate and the label of being the country’s murder capital, the status of the city has affected him and called him to act on record both in some ways that we haven’t seen in years, or even ever before from him, all that is very evident in Common’s new album Nobody’s Smiling.
The production is very dark in comparison to Common’s past projects, his recently-reunited running partner No I.D., now president of Def Jam and in many ways the battery in Com’s back this entire project, steps in and exercises his more experimental side in track after track.
Expanding outside of the typical soul-drenched sound these two offered from Can I Borrow a Dollar to The Dreamer, The Believer, we get tracks like including tracks like “No Fear,” “Black Majik,” and “Speak My Peace.” Even though the new ideas inform these instrumentals making them more suited for the club than the lounge, they do still fit Common’s stye of rhyming and reflect a unification from two artists who are confident enough in themselves and their skills to make music that can bridge the Chicago rap music they grew up on with the rap music that the city is most aligned with today.
To that end, unlike their first re-uniting in The Dreamer, The Believer, which featured a few big name guests (Nas, Maya Angelou) and nothing else, the track list was opened up to rising Chicago talents like Lil’ Herb and Drizzy and likely future Def Jam star Vince Staples to add youthful, more immediate perspectives to Common’s alternating reflection and wide-angle current takes on what’s motivating the negative headline makers in the city and the more quiet and motivated who are pushing to get more while surviving.
With that said, Common’s lyrical content in Nobody’s Smiling is dedicated to providing a first person perspective of the South Side of Chicago, doing so mostly by telling various stories of hustling in the Windy City. Some of the content for the album will give you chills down your spine, while still being able to send home a point that is universal, allowing the listener some greater understanding that was lacking before putting on the album.
To add it all up, Nobody’s Smiling is a project that isn’t about Common so much as it is about the city he loves. One song in particular, “Rewind That” provides completely revealing insights into the rapper’s estrangement with No I.D. and the creative relationship that defined that time away from his Chi homeboy — that with J Dilla — and how the creative bond he had with Detroit’s finest producer led to their living together in L.A. and Common being one of the closest people to the terminally sick Dilla as he dealt with the Lupus that overtook him early in 2006.
Yes, Common has songs that on the album that talks about his own obstacles, but those are few and far. The true spirit of Chicago lives and flourishes in Nobody’s Smiling in order to give the listener a much more realistic perspective of the would-be Chiraq as it has been reflected through the media prism. The rise of the city’s drill music scene has its place and its not going away, but where it lacks in portraying the humanity of those on either end of the gun, Common has always been there to try to show people a better way, a way without the gun at all.
But while the way of the gun still pervades his hometown, you have to have someone who can show you what is really going on without judgement or compete dispair. Nobody’s Smiling does that and with a slight change of soundtrack there’s a chance Chicago may play out some new scenes in the future than the ones we’ve unfortunately gotten used to.
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