Common‘s tenth studio album Nobody’s Smiling is a project about Chicago told by someone who hasn’t walked the city’s streets or breathed the city’s air in a long long time. It’s a detached, misappropriation of Chicago’s violent image that fails to reveal anything other than Common’s own myopic view of a place he once called home.
The intentions are good, but instead of letting the truth speak for itself he relies on hyperbole to say things about Chicago that anyone with an internet connection already knows. Sadly, this seems like a reckless cash grab, which would explain the contrived collaborations that seem to flutter around aimlessly and go nowhere.
It’s a Common album alright, it just lacks the sense from days of old. So go five lyrics that prove Thomas Wolfe was right: you can’t go home again.
Misplaced anger makes this sour grape a hard one to digest. Common’s departure from Chicago has evidently left him feeling a bit alien in his own backyard so he resorts to senseless fervor and aggression to get his message across. The boasting and bragging work for about five seconds, and then fizzles away under pretentious motives. Big Sean murks it up a bit, but the clash of styles along with a safe, and thus boring, No I.D. beat is enough to give even the most loyal Common fan a stomach ache: [LISTEN]
Another chest-pounder that doesn’t seem to fit in with any of the things that Common has said about the album. He wants to rep Chicago, but is doing it in the laziest way possible, cosigning on styles that he really knows nothing about. It’s strange seeing him in this position – like watching a fish out of water gasping for whatever life it has left. No I.D. is no saving grace either, another mail order beat that at best sounds incomplete: [LISTEN]
As disappointing a title cut as Common has ever put out. He’s relishing in the darkness thinking that he’s being prophetic and telling the world something of value. But what does he actually know about the current state of Chicago? He’s been baking in the L.A. sun for so long he probably can’t even point you in the direction of the nearest Harold’s. It’s as far away from home as he’s ever sounded: [LISTEN]
No I.D. lays out a militant beat for Common to shape his revenge. It’s role-play of course as he uses this as an opportunity to talk about the part retaliation plays in the vicious cycle of violence. This is one of the few moments worth revisiting and analyzing a few times over, a nice return to his storytelling ways that is compelling without being overwrought. It’s narratives like this that allows Common to comment on the violence without pretending that he knows exactly what’s going on: [LISTEN]
After years of exile Common feels that his presence will somehow initiate significant change. It might have ten years ago but at this juncture not so much. In fact it seems like the only ones who’ve changed – and for the worse – is Common and No I.D. It’s nothing but crude self-promotion and glory with little in the way of genuine care and respect for the city of Chicago. A clear cut example of the messiah complex: [LISTEN]