The ninth album from artist and songwriter Common, “The Dreamer/The Believer,” released on Dec. 20 through Warner Bros. Records, delivers old school 1990s hip-hop, offering a hopeful message that the masses desperately need. Common’s new album heavily contrasts with his 2008 release “Universal Mind Control,” which was influenced by less traditional, more electronic sounds.
Debuting 18th on the Billboard charts and currently the seventh top rap album and the 11th top R&B/hip-hop album, Common reunited with acclaimed producer No I.D. for the album, effortlessly bringing back the magic the two once created in the 1990s. Common also invited Roc Nation artists Makeba Riddick and James Fauntleroy II to assist him with their soulful vocals, which blend beautifully with No I.D.’s trademark beats.
Similar to fellow artists Kanye West, Mos Def and Talib Kweli, Common focused on resurrecting and maintaining the soul sound in his hip-hop music. No I.D. helped to create backing beats that tastefully use old soul samples in refreshing ways to accompany Common’s up-to-date lyrical content, primarily on the social issues and triumphs of the past and present.
Common also included spoken word elements on the album. Quotes from the renowned American poet and author Maya Angelou were added to the opener of “The Dreamer,” and his father Lonnie “Pops” Lynn, a retired basketball player, was included on the closing track, “Pops Belief.” These influences added personal layers to Common’s inspirational theme.
In “The Dreamer,” Common combines the art of rap with the art of poetry by including an original work of Angelou’s with his own lyrics in a track that commands the next generation to go after their dreams.
Angelou initially worked with Common but became disappointed by his usage of the N-word and other forms of profanity in the final product, which seemed to contradict her poem and its power. Common, however, included them as slang terms, without intending to draw focus away from the song’s real message.
Listeners should pay attention until the end of “The Dreamer” because the message still resonates due to Angelou’s mere presence on the track: “From Africa they lay in the bilge of slave ships/From Eastern Europe they crowded in vessels overloaded with immigrants/From South America and Mexico, from Asia, they labored in sweat shops/From all over the world, they came to America/Many shivering in rags, and still they dared to dream.”
The first three singles, “Ghetto Dreams,” “Blue Sky” and “Sweet,” will catch the attention of listeners with the controversial boldness that is characteristic of Common’s style. This boldness adds an element of realism to his tracks and makes them more approachable to the listener.
The raw “Ghetto Dreams” features artist Nas and also samples Nas’ track “Hope” and The Fellows’ “Let’s Make It Last.” Common and Nas describe the perfect woman from the projects and how she will always try to live out her dreams. The track puts forth the idea that dreams can become realities, despite environments that often prevent people from having or holding onto dreams.
“Blue Sky,” the second single off the album, is one of my favorite tracks, and it cleverly samples British rock group Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky.” Mr. Blue Sky, or God, comes in and out of people’s lives, with the question repeating in the background, “Mr. Blue Sky, please tell us why you had to hide away for?”
The third single, “Sweet,” is Common’s attack against today’s popular musicians, reminiscent of the rap and hip-hop wars of the 1990s. He emphasizes how he paved the way for the artists of today who should all know who he is, mainly focusing his attack on Drake, one of the top hip-hop artists of this decade.
Common goes about this again in a profane and some might argue unnecessary manner, but his album was not meant to be squeaky clean. Leaving out all moments of negativity would not be realistic in true hip-hop music.
One of the best beats on the album is from the track “Gold,” which samples a small drum portion right in the middle of Graham Central Station’s nearly eight-minute track “The Jam.” Common talks about all the different roads that people take and says that if they just keep pushing forward, there will be hope for a better future.
A track that matches the power of “The Dreamer” would have to be “The Believer,” which features the incredible John Legend. Together, Legend and Common proclaim how they will be the legends of the present and the future and that the people “will talk about us like they talked about the kings before us,” a confident and hopeful dream.
“The Dreamer/The Believer” is a solid album that aims to uplift our generation. At just the right length, you can easily put it on and play it straight through. With two powerful title tracks, “The Dreamer” and “The Believer,” it is worthy of more than a few listens, and it will be one of the albums to keep on repeat this year.