The Following was written on by Slava P (@slavap) on behalf of slavap.com for CAVE
It’s been a hectic few years for Common since he came out with his last album, the failed techo-inspired experiment known as Universal Mind Control. He took an unofficial sabbatical from music that saw him write a memoir, star on the silver screen and, briefly, become the political target of FOX news. Now, with his ninth studio album The Dreamer/The Believer Common sets out to prove that he hasn’t lost the lyrical mastery that has made him a favorite of conscious rap connoisseurs. Produced entirely by Kanye West’s mentor No I.D., the album shines with enough positive energy to highlight Common’s love for hip-hop while not hiding any of the darker and more aggressive tones that take aim at the softer (and sweeter) side of the game.
From the opening track, Common shows off his poetic use of punchlines and clever similes that stretch beyond bars and need to be taken at more than just face value. ‘Ghetto Dreams’ is a hungry and raw display of lyrical gymnastics that paints a picture of a relationship born in the streets with the help of a verse from the newly-improved Nas. ‘Raw’ has Common demonstrating his bravado in punchy battle rhymes about picking up women and getting into bar fights while ‘Blue Sky’, arguably one of the best rap songs of the year, is sure to make Common some new fans with it’s stadium-ready sound while his older listener will appreciate Common’s varying flows.
Sweet is an unexpectedly aggressive turn in the album that sets out to remind everyone of Common’s place in the hip-hop hierarchy while taking shots at an unknown foe with vicious levels of syncopation, making Common sound like he’s either really on edge or a really good actor. Based on Just Wright, we’ll go with the former. It’s hard to point out exactly who the shots are aimed at; the mention of ‘asthmatic rappers’ might allude to Tyler the Creator, but the overall message seems to be aimed at rappers who prematurely think they’ve ‘made it’. So…Drake.
Overall, this may be Common’s best work since Be. The production is tight and precise, the rhymes are clever and sharp, and the content falls somewhere between ‘backpacker’ and ‘battle rapper’.