Listen To: Nobody’s Smiling

Listen To: Nobody’s Smiling

Wesley MurchisonTuesday,5 August 2014

The Snap:

The census is that Common hit his artistic peak with Be and has since been sliding down. At best, Finding Forever was a sequel that captured some of the magic of Be but felt weak, by comparison. Universal Mind Control was a train wreck of an experiment with a different style. The Dreamer/The Believer tried to best recover what was lost among the debris of Universal Mind Control. However, Common’s tenth album, Nobody’s Smiling, is a solid return to form after all those twists and turns.

Get a listen on iTunes, Google Play or Amazon.

The Download:

The album tries to capture the hard life of the streets and is a change from the optimism of previous albums. In “The Neighborhood,” Common brings it home and travels back in time, either reminiscing about his block or all blocks in urban America — maybe both. “No Fear” is a classic social hip-hop track that lays truth both raw and heavy about the people struggling in a world with lots of danger to confront. “Blak Majik” is truly one of the two best songs on the album. It’s dark and foreboding. The rhymes land on the beats with precision, coalescing around the message beautifully. A sample of a distorted, deep voice speaking “black magic” is looped throughout the song. Its effect is the same feeling of a witch’s incantation. Samples of words played backward are injected randomly that add a demonic flare.

“Speak My Piece” uses clanging metal and hand drums to make the beats that accompany Common’s rhymes, which flow the most in the entire album. In “Hustle Harder,” Common crisscrosses social hip-hop and gangsta rap by marrying the African Queen tradition — think Tupac’s “blacker the berry the sweeter the juice” — with an image of a woman hustling the streets. The album hits an emotional crescendo with “Nobody’s Smiling.” Listening to this song explains why there’s so much misery around.

As is the standard in hip-hop today, Common isn’t alone on Nobody’s Smiling. On “The Neighborhood,” Lil Herb and Cocaine ’80s contribute their talents. Big Sean lends a hand on “Diamonds,” and Jhene Aiko is ever present on “Blak Majik.” Snoh Aalegra and Dreezy enliven “Hustle Harder” while Elijah Blake soothes with his voice on “Real.” And Vince Staples raps nicely on “Kingdom.” Under No I.D.’s handling, all the contributions fit together like regular members of a group.

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Hat Tips:

Pitchfork, Image Credit: Flickr*


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