Common has established himself as one of the premier lyricists of his generation, carving quite a niche with socially conscious themes. He’s become a movie star, existing far away from his earlier incarnation of Common Sense, where he resided closer to the Chicago streets. He attempts to reconnect with his Stony Isle profile on his latest release, The Dreamer the Believer.
Pounding drums and an ethereal track back Common on opening song “the Dreamer” as he speaks on Grammy aspirations, career advancement and mainstream recognition. A guest appearance from poetess Maya Angelou closes out the song after an extended, spaced-out instrumental section. Nasty Nas appears on the hard-charging “Ghetto Dreams,” a song whose charm lies in its rough, no frills execution. Dames are the name of this game and Nas closes the track out with a murderous verse that will force you to hide your girl.
“Blue Sky” follows with its reggae bass undertones and flowing vocal sample accents. It’s flow is infectious, with most of the pull coming from the beat, something that happens more on this album than on previous Common works, where the emphasis is usually on his lyricism. The song “Sweet” which was recently released as a video single, finds Common almost awkward with the macho posturing and tough talk. While it sounds good, I don’t think it’s buyable. After the aforementioned “Sweet” comes “Gold” a song framed around a commonly used sample from Larry Graham’s “The Jam.” Here Common settles into a zone where his lyrical skill comes to the forefront and his delivery is fluid enough for you to truly appreciate it.
Curtis Mayfield is conjured on “Lovin I Lost,” along with some husky drums. Common gives all kinds of reasons why he needed space, and now he’s ready to come back but she moved on. He jumps head first into the reggae realm with “Raw (How I Like It).” It’s Common’s attempt at a club song and it is solid in many places and awkward at times including lines like “I saw that ass call it hindsight” and “She said you wrap? I said yeah mummy.” That’s beneath Common.
“Cloth” is yet another song with an R&B singer on the chorus, which again clashes with the increased street flavor, but it’s not overwhelming. He’s back on that lost love shit, talking about his issues and the walls he used to have up. On a twelve track album, we don’t need two of these records, but it was probably done to satisfy his considerable female fan base. “Anywhere we can bear so let’s have some cubs” Ugh. The feel good “Celebrate” is a song that doesn’t really sound like Common, but it works. The beat is infectious with the piano accents and the female vocal sample in the background. It’s not deep lyrically but it conveys mood in a way that those love songs earlier fail to accomplish.
The pace slows with “Windows,” yet another R&B flavored hook-packing song. Common raps about parental love between a father and his daughter after the baby momma breakup, seeing how fast she grows up and how much you can miss when you’re not involved. It’s a beautiful and necessary song especially in the face of how many people are living that life of single parenthood, whether they are custodial parents or not. John Legend’s overly dramatic crooning on “The Believer” isn’t really needed on this triumphant finale, as Common kicks that gripping social commentary:
The Lord lives among us, the youngest hunger a means to get it by any means nece-ssary under pressure, children of a lesser children feeling lesser with the steel upon the dresser kill at will aggressives/ destiny’s children, survivors, soldiers in front of buildings they eyes look older/ hard to see blessings in a violent culture faced against weapons sirens, holsters…
This is a Common in rare form talking that Chicago street shit with a purpose. More of this would have definitely pushed the album higher. As always the true close comes with words from his dad on “Pop’s Belief.” The added synth and sound effects detract from his normally potent delivery.
The Dreamer The Believer finds Common trying to reconnect with his fans after the abysmal Universal Mind Control. He shows brief moments of lyrical slippage but nothing major. The album does just enough to get him right, maybe get him in the club once or twice and return him to a viable form.
3.75 Out of 5
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