Common - The Dreamer / The Believer

Posted December 20, 2011

You met her in 1992, and what you loved most she had so much soul. The two of you related,...

The Dreamer / The Believer Album Review

You met her in 1992, and what you loved most she had so much soul. The two of you related, mentally and emotionally, and it wasn’t long before you knew that throughout your life she’d be there for you. And you’d be there for her. You got married and while she went through some weird phases, you really couldn’t ask for better. But as time passed, familiarity bred complacency. You still loved her, but now every time a hot young chick crossed your field of vision your eyes would stray. “I wish my wife was still like that,” you’d think. The sad irony was that she was so good to you, for so long, that you began to take her for granted.

And then your 20th anniversary rolled around. You made reservations at that new restaurant everyone had been talking about. A couple glasses of wine, amazing food, some reminiscing on how you first met, and suddenly you realized how stupid you’d been not to appreciate her those last few years. Not only was she as beautiful as ever, she’d seen the world, grown wiser, become kinder. In fact, she was better now than ever.

Who I'm talkin bout y'all is Common…and his new album The Dreamer / The Believer. Incredibly, it’s been 20 years since Lonnie Rashid Lynn, then known as CommonSense, dropped his debut album, and since then he’s consistently turned out albums with a level of depth and creative visions few of his peers could match. And yet since he doesn’t generate headlines like Kanye or amass power like Jay-Z, the steadily and consistently dope Chicago emcee is often overlooked in the “greatest rappers of all-time” debate. Consider The Dreamer / The Believer a wake up call then, a reminder of just how good the man is and how much respect he deserves.

Greatness is never achieved in a day, or in a year or even a decade, so it really shouldn’t be a surprise that Common’s finally found the perfect balance between his more avant garde leanings and battle rap roots. Blue Sky covers an immense amount of territory in a mere four minutes as Common opens the track with a short, chopped flow full of rewind worthy punchlines - “Stay mellow (Melo) like LaLa / Young fresh with dollars, ladies go Gaga” – and then closes with a distorted dream sequence that builds layer upon layer into a wall of sound. Similarly, (half) title track The Dreamer finds Common somehow rhyming about both cash and universal liberation with enough skill that neither feels out of place. How many rappers could include both Ferrari references and Maya Angelou on the same track?

In retrospect Common’s often maligned Electric Circus album, and to an extent the less memorable Universal Mind Control, was for the best. They taught him how to push boundaries without straying too far. With that in mind he’s careful to balance every experimental cut against a more undeniably hip-hop banger like Ghetto Dreams. The addition of fellow legendary lyricist Nas over a bass-booming beat and plenty of big booty references equal the kind of high-caliber cut that can be used as ammunition against anyone even dreaming of calling him soft. Even more aggressive is the misleadingly titled Sweet, which finds Common as angry and willing to brawl as we’ve heard him in years. I mean, I’m not saying he’s firing shots at Drake with “stop singing, la la la, you ain’t no mother**kin Frank Sinatra, little bi**h,” but I’m not not saying he’s firing shots. And then when on the very next track he flips the mood entirely for the Sunday afternoon mellow Gold, it doesn’t sound hypocritical or forced, it sounds like different sides of the same complex man.

This isn’t Common’s first one producer, one emcee album – Kanye did the vast majority of the excellent Finding Forever – but ironically the Kanye of Finding Forever was far more classic hip-hop influenced. This is as much No I.D.’s album as it is Common’s and just like the album’s emcee, Dreamer / Believer’s producer remarkably manages to display an enormous range, from the piano cinema of The Believer to the party starting Celebrate, while still maintaining a sense of cohesion. Together the two vets have created a work that’s worthy of some serious recognition. I’m not yet sure exactly where it ranks in the best albums of the year discussion, but I am sure it belongs in that discussion. Frankly, if you’ve been taking Common for granted, like so many of us have, it’s really time to stop that s**t and recognize a hip-hop legend.

Watch video of Common breaking down every track on The Dreamer / The Believer here.

DJBooth Rating - 4.5 Spins

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Posted December 20, 2011
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