Common has been here before. You should know the routine; after dropping an album that doesn’t resonate with the public as expected (see: Electric Circus), the Chicago rhyme veteran returns triumphantly with, yeah, a classic (think: Be). While 2008’s Universal Mind Control was coolly received, the discerning masses will surely embrace Com’s latest project, The Dreamer/The Believer. Linking up once again with No I.D., who handles all the production, Common finds himself comfortably doing what he does: Hip Hop.
Let’s get it out the way; although “G.O.O.D Music” is still fam, Kanye West is not on the album. You’re not going to miss him, anyway. In case you are blissfully ignorant about an album called Resurrection, or contemporary rap joints from Big Sean (“My Last” ) and The Throne (“Primetime”), you know No I.D. is a monster on the boards. The current Def Jam Record exec provides Common with a diverse medley of grooves to lay into with his rhymes. Shuffling drums hug a soulful groove on the reflective “Windows,” lush strings permeate the righteous ruminations of “Gold” and gentle keys anchor the happy go lucky “Celebrate.”
While No I.D.’s soundbeds hold him down, at many points it sounds like Common is spittin’ with an Everest sized chip on his shoulder. Particularly on “Sweet” where he takes shots at no one in particular, unless it applies, with pointed bars like “I’m the franchise so I rock my own chain/No I(D) said give ‘em that ’80s cocaine/Something raw something pure so I stayed in that vein.” The rhymes skills are also thoroughly on display on “Raw (How Ya Like It)” with a bluesy guitar riff assisting Com’s tales of a bachelor on the prowl: “She all couture, in her Tom Ford/Security guard let me in cause I’m lord/of finesse, the under, the rings, the dress/Code is to always stay fresh/Aware of her chest cause I stay abreast/she was extra cold, I’m here to decongest.”
Fresh rhymes are a given on Common albums and he also hits all his thematic hallmarks. There is the song about bungled love (“Lovin’ I Lost”), the ditty about hope (“The Dreamer”) and of course, Pops gets yet another album closer (“Pops Belief”). But working off a blueprint, no matter how tried and true, can lend to talk of complacency. However, the quality of the work—kept at a potent dozen tracks— relegates such a critique to nitpicking.
Every song on The Dreamer/The Believer succeeds off the strength of Common and No I.D.’s seasoned chemistry. Even the marquee features—limited to Nas (“Ghetto Dreams” ), John Legend (“The Believer” ) and Maya Angelou’s poetry on “The Dreamer”—are choice accents that bolster without getting in Common’s and No ID’s way. Also essential to the albums mix are vocals from James Fauntleroy of Cocaine 80s.
Being able to assert himself no matter who is riding shotgun is a major reason the former Common Sense is still a major Hip Hop player despite his debut, Can I Borrow a Dollar?, dropping before most college freshmen were born. As far as musical aesthetics, The Dreamer/The Believer falls somewhere between the ambitious topical themes of One Day It’ll All Make Sense and bumping beat orgy that is Be. That said, it’s best to never snooze on the talents of Lonnie Rashid Lynn.