Common Isn’t Smiling, And He Isn’t Alone

The tragic story of his inner-city upbringing is the pulse of Common’s Nobody’s Smiling, his latest release since 2011. This is the South Side Chicago native’s tenth studio album, and features guest appearances by Jhené Aiko, Big Sean, supergroup Cocaine 80s, and a host of other newcomers.  Common pooled with producer and long-time studio partner No I.D. for the entirety of the project, much like his previous effort The Dreamer/The Believer.

Guest appearances leave a bit to be desired.  Big Sean does not pair well with Common’s distinct, mellifluous flow in “Diamonds”, shaping a clumsy, disorienting track.  The same disharmony arises in “Hustle Harder”, as Snoh Aalegra’s insight, while valid and genuine, is articulated in ho-hum fashion.  The collaborations feel like an opportunity wasted by most, as Common’s veteran flow functions imperviously against them.  He is best when he’s running solo, especially on “Rewind That” and “7 Deadly Sins”.

The simplistic layers and sporadic sampling feel designed for an easier listen, gearing focus towards Common’s lyrical deliverance.  The intent of Nobody’s Smiling is to furnish an illustration of the constant urban lifestyle of his origin, a world classically riddled with violence, drugs and a plethora of other toxins. Common has re-centered his focus after the scattered Universal Mind Control in 2008 and The Dreamer/The Believer, but the overall concept does not evolve and lacks destination. There is no progression or structure, and the culmination feels muddled, un-decorated and, well—boring.

Common has departed from his energetic and soulful roots for a sound that feels overproduced for his style, but under-produced for it to be commercial-friendly like Be.  Caught in a stylistic purgatory, there is no panache and the articulation of his inspiration is erratic.  “Young Hearts Run Free” and “The Neighborhood” sound like they have been taken from the last album, and the lead single “Kingdom”, as glorious as it’s invigorating chorale is, winds up being a misleading single, and does not serve as a proper preamble.  Unlike the courageous and boundary pushing Electric Circus, Nobody’s Smiling is wildly discouraging, as Common’s evolution that was hunched at with his most recent albums evidently became a protrusion, leaving room for debate if the celebrated emcee has, unfortunately, moved past his prime.


1 Comment

  1. Lauren S

    July 28, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    This review is so spot on, I expect more from Common.

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