The Dreamer, The Believer
sees Common reunited with No ID, his childhood friend who also produced most of the tracks on his first three albums Can I Borrow A Dollar?
(1994) and One Day It’ll All Make Sense
(1997). The duo’s work together gives the album an organic sound rare to find in this era of overproduction. Dipped in soul and funk grooves with hard-hitting beats and hard-spitting flows, The Dreamer, The Believer
sets a course for hip-hop’s future without ever forgetting its past. Featuring vocals by John Legend, ‘The Believer’ is a musical reimagining of the lyrics Common controversially recited before the President and Mrs. Obama at a White House poetry slam in May 2011. The song is a call to conscience and community, and like the other title track ‘The Dreamer’, it’s a song of celebration. Together, the two songs show the natural progression and expansion of an artist who always finds a way to blend consciousness with cool. Other highlights of the album include ‘Ghetto Dreams’, a fantasy of everyday life from a ‘hood perspective on which Common trades verses with Nas, and ‘Blue Sky’, a celebration of how far he’s come and what’s yet to follow.
The last time Common led a full-length album, the result was 2008’s Universal Mind Control, a recording so woefully inadequate that many of his fans don't even acknowledge its existence. Rather, when discussing the MC's robust discography, fans often dismiss the project as a glossy aberration on which the Chicago native trifled with electro-pop and skeletal dance music with dismal results. Nonetheless, the man born Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr has made sweeping strides since its release: he's a regular in movies, having appeared in Just Wright and Terminator Salvation, among other pictures. Common's recent biography, One Day It’ll All Make Sense, generated some decent press, and he’s recited poetry for US President Barack Obama at the White House.
So Common is, today, far removed from his days as a humble backpacker with an overwhelming affinity for jazz breaks and atmospheric soul loops. Life is glamorous, and he appreciates the long ascension to prominence. At least that's the tone of his new album, The Dreamer/The Believer, on which he merges his raw lyrical roots with No I.D.'s voluminous soundtrack, resulting in a decent album far more celebratory than his previous work. "Now it’s gold records and I’m on silver screens / At the mountaintop, but still got a dream," he rhymes on the album’s opening song. Still, the music clearly dominates this set, with thumping, sample-heavy beats that outshine Common’s nostalgic delivery in places.
Elsewhere, he is more festive than usual: the word "b****" is heard more often and he speaks freely about international trysts. On Sweet, Common chastises singing in hip hop although he sang on Jimi Was a Rock Star, a centrepiece cut from 2002’s Electric Circus. To that end, the MC sounds somewhat conflicted at times, toeing the line between his conscious foundations and his new lifestyle. That’s not to say he shouldn’t embrace his newfound fame, however. Celebrate, backed by choral moans and a piano sample, sounds like 2005 Common until he rhymes about a night on the town.
In some ways, The Dreamer/The Believer feels like a concept album, moving fluidly from bright-eyed reflection to despondent conviction, giving it a triumphant feel. Overall, the recording presents its protagonist as a multifaceted artist, capable of navigating Hollywood and the urban block with comfort, confident enough to enjoy his successes while encouraging his listeners to do the same.
--Marcus J. Moore
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