Spoiler Alert: 2008’s Universal Mind Control was an awkward, over-produced mess. Common seems to have understood this fact and abandoned the loud, technotronic mishmash of noises that polluted that album for something more honest and subtle. The result is The Dreamer/The Believer; Common’s best effort in years. It should come as no surprise that the album’s success arrives on the heels of a reunion with producer No I.D., who handled the entire project. The Chi-town beatmaker is responsible for the bulk of Common’s ’90s catalog, so he clearly knows a thing or two about how to bring out the rapper’s best.
Opening with “The Dreamer,” Common sets an uplifting tone with a dreamy (pun intended), lucid beat that allows Mr. Sense to wax poetic about desire and achievement. This is far from uncharted territory for the rapper, and it’s handled with a familiar style and grace that remains as endearing now as it was 10 years ago. “To be like the king that sang Billie Jean/Now it’s gold records, and I’m on silver screens/at the mountain top, you still gotta dream,” he raps. “Blue Sky” and “The Believer” follow suit to stellar results. “Sky” is one of the better tracks of 2011, one that sees Com rapping over a consuming, inspirational No I.D. beat, and “Dreamer” utilizes a John Legend hook and production chock-full of harmonizing choruses and kickdrums to end the album on a note as strong as it began with.
When turning the gaze on himself, Common is found making observation about love and relationships, whether they be romantic, platonic or paternal. Tracks like “Cloth” and “Ghetto Dreams” see the rapper talking about love and lust, the former as tender as the latter is raw. “Celebrate” is a stripped-back ode to reunions manages to keep the momentum going. “Window,” a surprisingly generic dedication to Common’s daughter, is cute enough, but you probably won’t find yourself coming back for repeated listens. And then there’s “Sweet,” a track that sees Common step in a time machine and walk out in the mid-90s. The generally laid-back MC showcases a braggadocios swag that contradicts the rest of the album’s loose feel in the name of firing shots at sing-song rappers. But a little friendly jarring never hurt anybody, eh Drake?
The C-O double M-O-N has reached a point in his career where there’s little left to prove; his legacy is already cemented, for the better. A project of this quality is a love letter to his fan-base, a message that reads “I’m still here.” From start to finish, this is his strongest effort since Be, featuring a sound that should resonate with anybody with so much as a auxiliary interest in Hip-Hop. It isn’t an album without faults, but there are more than enough highlights on display to keep fans believing in his crusade.
Label: Warner Bros./Think Common Music Inc. | Producers: No I.D.