For all the youthful lyricists who have contributed to 2011 being a memorable year for Hip Hop, it has also been down to the chief rhymers whose brief appearances in the spotlight have surrounded immense projects. Whether it was Talib Kweli‘s gem from earlier this year or the empirical release from The Roots this month, the old dogs still have it in them to run rap regardless of their limited appearances in the media. For Chi-City’s Common, every release is celebrated as a victory for the genre.
From the debut Can I Borrow A Dollar to the sublime Resurrection, right up to the malfunctioned Universal Mind Control, Hip Hop warmly welcomes anything uttered to a beat by the man born Lonnie Lynn. What has got the Hip Hop pulses racing this time around (more so the early rap enthusiasts) is the fact that Common’s ninth project sees him reunite with long term friend and producer No I.D to handle all production on The Dreamer, The Believer. Some years since his last release, this project could very well steal the thunder from any album which has reigned supreme in 2011, and its late arrival may give the genre the feel good factor needed going into the new year.
With anticipation at an all time high, Common’s spiritually themed endeavour begins magnificently. “The Dreamer” is a pulse raising affair. Much like its title, the blissful No I.D. production is dreamy but is punctuated with more poignant lyrics of achieving the near impossible. If that wasn’t enough, the captivating opener then leads into a beautifully recited verse from inspirational US poet, author and Civil Rights campaigner Maya Angelou, whose whispered, uplifting message will hold the attention of even the hardest corner boy.
If many considered Common’s material to only draw the attention of the more politically and spiritually minded, the gutter like “Ghetto Dreams” captures the Windy City’s raw energy in its veins. Composed of blasting drums, scratches and ravaged delivery, Common’s unadulterated lusting over feisty ghetto chicks produces a throwback performance filled with machismo and swagger to create a much lauded moment. The highlight of “Ghetto Dreams” however comes from guest feature Nas, who conjures up a verse which channels the spirit of 94′s Nasty, delivering a venomous verse. As per usual, Chicago’s favourite son returns with the lyrical thunder – effortlessly piecing words together, whether inspiring generations, waxing poetically for the females or basking in the good life. Common’s charming expressions make the listen easing and enjoyable, as the 12-track album clearly finds the decade plus veteran in cruise control.
Common does well to somewhat shake off the ‘preacher man’ tag which has fairly and sometimes lazily attached to his name. During parts of The Dreamer, The Believer the chief rhymer hops onto more fiery instrumentals than the previous smooth, hot chocolate like richness of ?uestlove, Kanye West and the late J Dilla‘s arrangements.
“Sweet” is anything but its namesake, as the anarchic atmosphere forces Com to come armoured with heavy artillery – both in lyricism and delivery whereas the predatorial Common is on the prowess for female enjoyment on the bounce heavy “Raw (How You Like It).”
The Chi-chief does also offer some nourishing food for thought, and in a way which doesn’t feel as if it was a mandatory requirement for the album. The lead single “Blue Sky” reaches for the heavens with Mr Lynn standing in the shoes of a Dr King, Malcolm X or Barack Obama, rapping vehemently from atop of a thundering musical platform of aspirations and dreams.
“Cloth” again brings to the forefront the magnificence of Commons ability to pen a rap love song. A tale delicately describing a relationship akin to being cut from the same cloth, its mesmerising score is captivating. John Legend‘s empowerment filled chorus on “The Believer” is euphoric – a fitting crescendo to round off Common’s presidential like pleas for listeners to dig deep beyond their pains and clamour to a hope-filled future.
If straight rhyming and a No I.D. composed soundtrack weren’t enough to convince the loyal allegiance of the man formerly known as Common Sense, the recruitment yet again of Lonnie Lynn’s father to close the album on “Pop’s Belief” will most certainly have many believing that The Dreamer, The Believer is a project born rather of the mid-’90s than today’s era.
The Dreamer, The Believer will be *the* album of 2011 for Hip Hop purists. Whilst there have been a handful of dynamic, resounding bodies of work this year, many still kept a vacant slot for their definitive album of the year in the hope that Chicago’s favourite rhyming son would deliver the goods. In a spectacular, beautiful and yet somewhat simple fashion, Common did meet their expectations.
Spiritually returning home, the man left experiments, daring concepts and more outside of the studio and went back to the comfort zone of a producer who arguably gets the best out of him, a minimal number of names to assist and an incredible range of rhymes, choruses and breaks to conjure up some audio gold dust. Its magnificence comes from its simplicities – no egos, no grandeur and no pomp. Common rhymes about his passions; whether sexual or political – nothing sounds manufactured for the sake of fans, radio or sales.
Being that its the ninth recording from the rapper, a desire to solely make music out of love shouldn’t be a surprise, but its execution is what causes jaws to drop in astonishment. The Dreamer, The Believer reaches the peak of musical greatness, which a young man some 20 years ago could only dream of reaching when he first decided to offer the world more than a penny’s worth of his thoughts.