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24 July, 2014@12:35 pm

Pretty much every album that Common has released since One Day It Will All Make Sense has been reviewed on this site, and been rated @@@@ or above. With the exception Universal Mind Control, even his critically panned Electric Circus scored highly here, despite everyone complaining that Com was under a spell of “Baduizm” at the time. Com has not really been one to repeat himself, as each of his albums have a distinct sound; even the differences between Can I Borrow A Dollar? and Resurrection were stark.

So when he announced that his new album, Nobody’s Smiling, which takes its title from a line in Eric B. & Rakim’s “The Ghetto”, would be a concept album that deals with the gang violence epidemic currently in Chicago, our interest was peaked. And when it was announced that longtime producer No I.D. would be at the helm, that interest doubled. But like Watch The Throne or Cruel Summer before it, perhaps the bar was raised too high, as Nobody’s Smiling is a bit of a let down.

Let’s begin by saying that there are some truly great moments on this LP, despite the fact that it loses its path somewhere along the way. The Curtis Mayfield-sampled “The Neighborhood”, which opens the LP, is the perfect setup for the album, instantly giving it a dark, brooding 70′s feel. Later on the hypnotic “Speak My Piece”, Common spits raw over a pared down, almost Schoolly-D “Saturday Night” style track, while elements of B.I.G.’s voice are chopped up for the hook, with your subconscious mind filling in the blanks.

Those choppy hooks are in fact a big part of the issues with Nobody’s Smiling. Common’s lyrics and flow are on point, as usual, and the beats aren’t particularly bad, yet the overall song structure is problematic. With No I.D. responsible for the classic beats on Resurrection, we didn’t necessarily expect that album all over again, but his approach is a little too off kilter this time around. Songs like “No Fear” and “Blak Majik” beat the listener over the head with repetitive, inaudible “hooks” (more like just one word, repeated over-and-over). A similar issue plagues “Diamonds”, which to put it bluntly, is destroyed by wack verse and even worse hook by Big Sean.

There’s an element here of Common trying to adapt to the sounds of the younger generations, yet despite a bad appearance from Big Sean, for the most part, it works. Lil Herb’s appearance on “The Neighborhood” fits in well with the theme of the album, as does Dreezy who offers the unique perspective of a prostitute and/or stripper on “Hustle Harder”. Both appearances make sense and fit with the theme of the record.

The album’s greatest achievement, however, finds Com in his element on “Rewind That”, a heartfelt jam true to his original sound. Here, he remembers “trading” No I.D. for J Dilla, with guilt of turning his back on a friend, as well as in turn, losing Dilla, as well. Its very well done.

Not overly preachy, Nobody’s Smiling is not a conscious rap album, and doesn’t solve the problem of Chicago’s violence. Instead it paints a picture of it, drawing awareness, which is perhaps just as important. Despite its flaws, it’s an honest effort, and all around a pretty decent LP.

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15 Responses to "Common – “Nobody’s Smiling” – @@@1/2"
  • pastido says:

    I listened to the album stream online and wasn’t feeling it…listened to it on headphones and liked it A LOT more. “The Neighborhood” is great and the second half of the album, starting with “Real” is really good. No ID’s production is great and Common, while not displaying jaw dropping flows, just seems to be having fun with it…. The RZA-ish “7 Deadly Sins” is really good….”Real” should’ve been the single…

  • illtalbeats says:

    Spot on review. Too many beats that sound like Drake should be on them, not Common. After “Be” and “Dreamer/Believer” this was a let down. Not wack, but not dope either.

  • karma says:

    “Pretty much every album that Common has released since One Day It Will All Make Sense has been reviewed on this site, and been rated @@@@ or above.”

    Well, this album should’ve been another @@@@ for the archives. I definitely agree with the review–that Big Sean verse/hook REALLY sucks–but not the rating.

    - Karma

  • Bernard says:

    I give this album a @@. I like common but the production was wack to me, he is better with kanye beats.

  • Chad says:

    I think cormega wins this month’s new classic release. mega philosophy is a masterpiece.

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