Common - Nobody's Smiling (Review)

Common - Nobody's Smiling (Essence of Hip-Hop)

"Nobody's Smiling" is the latest album from Chicago emcee Common. The album features guest appearances from Vince Staples, Lil Herb, Jhené Aiko, Cocaine 80s and others and is fully produced by veteran hip-hop producer No I.D. It is set to be released on July 22, 2014 via Def Jam Recordings and ARTium Records.

1) The Neighborhood (featuring Lil Herb and Cocaine 80s) - The album kicks off with James Fauntleroy II singing a bit before No I.D's beat hits and once it does, it's real dope. The instrumental features some soulful backing vocals and swirling violins and both Common and Lil Herb come correct over it, kicking some rhymes about the violent streets of Chicago. Nice way to start off the album. - 4/5

2) No Fear - Common spits some violent street bars about "living life with no fear" over an uneasy instrumental with an ambient backing sample and hard drums. The lyrics are vivid and the beat is pretty good, but not quite as good as the first in my opinion. Still, not bad by any means. - 3/5

3) Diamonds (featuring Big Sean) - No I.D. comes through with an energetic instrumental on this one, full of a chopped up backing sample and some synths over lively drums. Lyrically Common sounds really good and flows effortlessly over the beat, but I'm not really feelin' Big Sean's contribution to the song at all. Despite that, this is still pretty good. - 3/5

4) Blak Majik (featuring Jhené Aiko) - So far some of No I.D.'s beats on this album have had a sort of "Yeezus" feel to them, which is very evident on this song. The beat has an industrial vibe to it, with a distorted sample over upbeat drums, and doesn't really sound like something I'd expect Com to be rapping over. Despite that, Common sounds really dope on here and Jhené Aiko's does the same, but the chorus is a bit too repetitive for me. With that small criticism out of the way, this is nice. - 3/5

5) Speak My Piece - The beat on this cut is really just a distorted Biggie sample layered over bouncing drums and other ambient sounds and percussion, but it's not really hittin' for me. Lyrically the song just finds Common kicking some braggadocios bars and while straying from the bleak "violence in Chicago" theme of the album. Eh, not really feelin' this one though. - 2/5

6) Hustle Harder (featuring Snoh Aalegra and Dreezy) - Common links up with fellow Chicago hip-hop artist Dreezy as well as singer Snoh Aalegra over a drum heavy instrumental with a minimalistic feel until the strings come in during the chorus. Both Com and Dreezy rip their verses and rap about women who have to hustle to survive while Snoh Aalegra just provides some subtle vocals on the chorus. This one's dope. - 3.5/5

7) Nobody’s Smiling (featuring Malik Yusef) - The albums title track features another darker "Yeezus"-ish beat, this time with almost ominous synths and bass as well as a distorted vocal sample on the chorus. As far as the rhymes go, Common comes through and kicks some more violent street rhymes about Chi-town while spoken word artist Malik Yusef closes out the track by doing the same. - 3.5/5

8) Real (featuring Elijah Blake) - In sharp contrast to the rest of the album, this song has a much lighter vibe to it and finds Common spitting some good-natured rhymes about how real he is over an almost cheerful instrumental. The beat is real smooth and Com comes correct over it while Elijah Blake provides some soulful vocals on the chorus. - 3.5/5

9) Kingdom (featuring Vince Staples) - This was the first single released from the album and it's real dope. The beat is mainly centered around a gospel sample over head nodding drums and both Common and Cutthroat Boyz emcee Vince Staples rip it as they spit rhymes full of violence and religious references. I'm especially feelin' Com's verse when he raps
"My money ain't straight, my fam ain't straight
Ain't wanna push ki's, Heaven couldn't wait
I was hurtin', couldn't get no work
You created me from dust, that's why I did dirt"
This one is fire. - 4.5/5

10) Rewind That - The final song on the album is easily one of my favorites on here, with Common reminiscing about the old days over a mellow No I.D. instrumental. The beat is dope, but the rhymes are what really makes the song great as Common touches on meeting (an eventually distancing himself from) No I.D. as well as spitting some moving rhymes about J Dilla and his passing. This one is a banger. - 5/5

*Deluxe edition bonus tracks*

11) Out On Bond (featuring Vince Staples) - The first bonus track finds Common teaming back up with Vince Staples over a crazy guitar and string instrumental that has definitely got my head nodding. Lyrically the song is just as good as the beat, as both emcees kick stories about a man who is fresh out of jail. Dope track. - 4/5

12) 7 Deadly Sins - Common relates the seven deadly sins to the street life (similar to Biggie's "Ten Crack Commandments" in a way) over a chopped up vocal and guitar sample. The beat is blazing and Common rips it. This one is fire. - 4.5/5

13) Young Hearts Run Free (featuring Cocaine 80s) - The final bonus track features a crazy No I.D. instrumental with somber distorted strings or synths over interesting percussion and other ambient sounds. The production is real dope and Common bodies it as he contemplates the "state of the art, state of the mind, state of the city." Nice. - 3.75/5

I'm going to rate the album

3.5 / 5

because there is some really good material on here. This is by far Common's darkest album, with the Chicago veteran sticking to the albums theme almost the entire time and spitting vivid rhymes about the violence and grim conditions of his home city. Com has always been a real great lyricist and he shows it on here by coming up with different ways to get his point across without any of the songs sounding like rehashes of a previous track. No I.D. also comes through nicely with the production on the album, with many of the beats having a gloomy and almost industrial feel. I must admit that I prefer to hear Common rapping over more soulful production, but I'm not sure how that would have worked out given the depressing concept of the album. All in all, the album is dope and is another good entry into Common's discography.


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