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BWW Review: COMMON's 'Nobody's Smiling' Balances Old School Mentality with New Edgy Sound
Chicago, disturbingly known as Chi'Raq amongst rappers, needs a champion. The past few years have seen a significant increase in Black on Black violence, greed and corruption. With 'Nobody's Smiling', Common hopes to illuminate and solve the problems facing Chicago. What results is his best, most unique, material since his resurgence with 2005's Kanye West produced Be.
Common finds a balance between his old school conscious mentality and a new school edgy sound. The deep political consciousness of his earlier albums are here in spades, with lyrics like, "In the Chi ain't a damn thing funny/Thinking of ways to get money/Drive down Lake Shore, scheming how to make more/If we ain't eating together what's this cake for/Ain't nobody giving it, that's what we take for." This example of lyrics from the album's title track showcases both how Common returns to form, while doing something he has never done before.
The bars provide a politically charged commentary on the motivations behind the rampant criminal activity in Chicago, but do so with a subtlety that accompanies all of the album's lyrics. The dark, distorted beats pair very well with the grim picture Common paints, but he never once beats listeners over the head with the politics charging his beliefs. Instead, he lays out Chicago's problems and potential solutions with a finesse and sophistication that many conscious rappers lack. Another critical difference is Common's flow. The typical smooth, lavish flow often gives way too a grittier, more fragmented one.
Though not produced by Yeezus himself, the album's sonic palette has many commonalities with Kanye West's recent album, which fits the message very well. The album, fittingly, serves as a showcase of young artists from Chicago and other areas plagued with crime. These include Chicago's Lil Herb and Dreezy, and Los Angeles' Vince Staples. Similar to Kanye West's "Yeezus," "Nobody's Smiling" is a maelstrom of dark, gritty synths paired with often uncomfortable lyrics. However, unlike Yeezus, Nobody's Smiling never dies down. Instead, Common provides a fragmented jolt of urgent energy that fits perfectly with his grim tale of urban unrest in Chicago.