Album review: Common, ‘The Dreamer/The Believer’ (Warner Bros.)
Long undervalued for his freestyle skills, his musical experimentation (there’s no Kanye and cohorts without him), and an uplifiting attitude all too often dissed as hippie-backpacker positivity, Chicago-bred Lonnie Rashid Lynn, better known as Common, dropped the biggest turd of his career with his last outing, the thug-pandering and unflatteringly desperate Universal Mind Control (2008), and things weren’t looking good as he prepared his ninth studio disc amid the distractions of celebrity dating and trying to launch a career in Hollywood. (Hard to imagine he could be more stiff than he was in American Gangster, but his role in the awful Deadwood-wannabe Hell on Wheels is even worse.)
Thankfully, though, Common is back to being Common here, working with his old pal No I.D. (who hasn’t been behind the board since One Day It’ll All Make Sense in 1997) and, while espousing faith, community, and respect, confessing with honesty and humor that he is, after all, human, just like you and me, and capable of following a snippet of inspirational Maya Angelou poetry with yearning for a woman “buck naked in the kitchen flippin’ pancakes,” and imagining himself as an adulterous player heading “back to the Sybaris [with] hats from liquor stores to avoid syphilis.”
The rapper stumbles from time to time, especially when he’s boasting about his non-sexual accomplishments (“I am to hip-hop what Obama is to politics”—ack!). But his charisma and that amazing flow carry the day as Common spins his way through No I.D.’s entrancing mix of dusty soul samples and unexpected pop grabs, among them hooks from ELO and Kenny Loggins. By the time you get to the closing tribute to Gil Scott-Heron and his father in “Pops Belief,” Common has pulled off one of the rarest feats in hip-hop, launching a third decade in strong form, and making you a believer when you were just about to write him off.
Rating on the four-star scale: 3.5 stars.