Common’s latest album The Dreamer, The Believer left me divided. I was impressed with the subject matter and by some of the alternative beats used à la Stones Throw Records (“Gold”). High intellect, philosophy, perspective, and word play are the pillars of Common’s success and they are as steady and confident on this release as any. Like each album prior (except for the 1992 debut) his father Lonnie “Pops” Lynn Sr. closes with a piece of spoken word poetry, offering wisdom to a younger generation of listeners. If you listen closely to these aspects of The Dreamer, The Believer, you will probably be satisfied. On these grounds, the album is yet another confident release from one of hip hop’s most eloquent voices.
There is no stand out climax on this album; it occupies a lot of the same space throughout.
I must say that I was very disappointed by “Sweet.” Lines like “You ain’t the type of nigga to go against me/You get in my presence you gon’ feel like a little hoe” are completely devoid of the voice that sets Common apart. In order to engage in the adversarial rhetoric that dominates modern hip hop, he leaves behind his strengths and combats other rappers by ‘sinking to their level.’ However, the beat of “Sweet” is very catchy and there are many poignant lines like: “my name is synonymous with prominence/I’m to hip hop what Obama is to politics.” In the act of self affirming, lowbrow, competitive argument, he performs (at some points) in such a way that communicates his intellect. Although, when the later track “Raw (How You Like It)” started off with police sirens and the god forsaken “hip hop air horn” that have been on bland, worthless, mixtapes time after time for far too long, I had to throw my hands in the air in frustration.
With The Dreamer, The Believer, I couldn’t help but feel that Common is tired of not being the most popular rapper alive. There has never been any serious affront to his lyrical talent, his flow is mature, and his rhymes are fluid, yet he feels like he must conform to conventions that end up diluting the work. I can’t help but like this album somewhat, because it’s by Common.
Is it my favourite?
Far from it.
Do I like more than his other releases?
Maybe in some parts, but overall not a chance.
I can see this being a very popular album, and rightly so. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good album. With “Windows,” in a deep discourse into the modern status of women and family, Common draws from his own experience of raising a daughter. “Cloth” is a well focused progression of a tender, but strong relationship surviving adversity that relies on deft imagery to paint a vivid picture.
There is a lot of drive to this album, a lot of angst in the first part, and reflection/grounding in the last. Three years since Common’s last album Universal Mind Control, this is the first full length release produced by the collaboration of Warner Bros. Records and the artist’s own label Think Common. At times, I think that Common is simply paying his dues in giving WB (which, like any major musical corporation, is known for keeping a strong focus on its bureaucratic pursuits) what they want. However, Common’s approach is astute. He uses the new found production support to produce a large scale record that holds a few deep, dark moments of sheer realism intact.