Common brings it back to the voice of the streets in his street-inspired project Nobody’s Smiling. The Chicago-native returns a socio-politico enlightenment to listeners that has been missing in his previous installments with his 10th studio album. Common returns to his roots in content and production by teaming up with long-time collaborator No I.D. and speaking on the strife that has plagued his hometown of Chicago’s streets. Common’s Nobody’s Smiling is a bold move from the legendary emcee that mixes great production with some enlightening rap bars, but still holds some entertainment for listeners not familiar with the daily Chiraq (Chicago) struggle.
In today’s world of radio-friendly, dumbed down lyrics and repetitive club anthems, Common has separated himself from the norm by staying true to his aesthetic of delivering conscious bars with a message that the community can do better. With the classic 2005 project Be, Common collaborated with fellow Chitown (Chicago)-native Kanye West to deliver an 11-track project that uplifted listeners to do more, be more, and achieve more with the light-hearted motivational voice of a father pushing his child. Somewhere along the following releases, that voice got muffled with the attempt to remain a mainstream success and sustain radio play. With Nobody’s Smiling, Common trades in his usual light-hearted vibe for a more aggressive, antithesis to the voice of Be and sets a new tone for the mainstream market to enlighten listeners.
From the start of the album, the 42 year-old rapper’s new attitude is blatantly apparent. Wasting no time to go in on the state of the youth in today’s society, the opening track The Neighborhood (featuring Lil Herb and Cocaine 80s) finds the emcee speaking on the problem with giving up morals to chase after the material. The follow-up Hustle Harder (featuring newcomer Snoh Aalegra and Dreezy) offers a different perspective to the grinding and handwork concept by finding Common spitting on the growing role of a woman achieving more than her male counterpart over a knocking, grimy backdrop.
More often on Nobody’s Smiling, Common’s words find a balance between the darker production that almost draws similar rhythms to Kanye West’s experimental Yeezus. Tracks like Blak Majik (featuring Jhene Aiko) and Nobody’s Smiling blend a trap, synth, and gritty sound bites with some street bars from the Chitown emcee. The latter and title track could have done without the over a minute long, spoken word outro, but sustain the serious element that this album is centered around. One of the standout tracks and most experimental and progressive, Speak My Piece, loops a Notorious BIG sample mixed with a 808-driven production and finds Common spitting a signature complex yet simplistic rhyme. Although the tone is dark, there is still a playful sophistication in his bars that makes it such an interesting and memorable listen.
It is not all seriousness and dark elements on the latest project. Common takes sometime from enlightening to show a little softer-side for listeners on Nobody’s Smiling. Kingdom shows a humility in Common’s words as he asks God for guidance on how to make it into heaven, while putting a darker past behind him. The choir on the hook and the Vince Staples make this one of the better listens with a message. Real is a softer, R&B-driven track that channels a 90’s vibe with Elijah Blake delivering an infectious hook. The closing track Rewind That brings everything full circle as Common does some self-reflection and thanks his mentor, the late-J.Dilla for his guidance and No I.D. for some provocatively mesmerizing production.
Ten albums into the game, Common has achieved more than many rappers have yet to come close to reaching. His work on Nobody’s Smiling further laments his place in the rap game. Fans of his previous work may find it difficult to fully enjoy this full concept album, but the infectious production from No I.D. and well laced lyrics make it hard to overlook this album as one of Common’s strongest projects in many years. Although there are some mishaps with Diamonds (Big Sean’s out-of-place feature) and No Fear, Common accomplishes enlightening listeners on the mindset of a Chicago-native on Nobody’s Smiling.
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Opinion By Tyler Cole