2016 has been an incredible year for Chicago hip-hop. The voices we cheered for in the underground are slowly reaching the mountaintop, reaching the masses and doing so by making great music. Artists like Chance, Vic Mensa, Mick Jenkins, Noname and many others—too many to name—have made clear that there’s a new generation of artists ready to carry on Chicago’s beautiful music legacy. New voices don’t bring silence to the old; they don’t hush the ones who paved the road. As long as there’s a message left to be said, there are ears willing to listen.
Common is in his 25th year, his 11th album, and he still has much to say.
October 28 is the current date set for the release of Common’s Black America Again, his forthcoming studio album. Two years ago, he released Nobody Smiling, the well-received follow-up to his 2011 album The Dream/ The Believer. His various passions keep his music release schedule sporadic, but Common is one artist who tends to open up ears when he’s ready to rap. Reading through his new interview with The Chicago Tribune gives plenty of insight on his upcoming message.
He considers Black America Again to be "God music" and "social political music" from the black perspective. Common’s music has always been delivered from the vantage point of a black man, and he has always delivered a message that pertains to the present, but I believe he’s truly inspired by the recent tragic events plaguing Black America and channeling all those feelings and emotions.
Yes, "Black America Again" I made to speak to the times. It's God music, social political music, a perspective of blackness — all the colors we are, the love, the joy, the fears, the power. - Common still making sense in shaping hip-hop
Common hopes to follow in the footsteps of Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, James Brown and Public Enemy, who all loudly spoke up and against social issues and injustice. Being a bit older, as a seasoned emcee, Common understands the role he wants to play with this new album. Karriem Riggins and Robert Glasper are handling the production, two immensely talented musicians. When it was first announced that Common would be working on an album with these two, former Booth editor Nathan speculated we could be in for the best Common album yet. The more information that surfaces, the more I start to believe his premonition.
I love music, art, but for a while there I was a lot more interested in filmmaking, acting, producing. I'm still impassioned about acting. But when the purpose is there, when I have purpose in music, it resonates on another level - Common still making sense in shaping hip-hop
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me,” Hamilton, re-reading James Baldwin, and the current hip-hop emerging from Chicago are what Common cited as what has his batteries charged up for Black America Again. He’s promising Water For Chocolate’s musicality mixed with a touch of classic boom bap. Out of the 11 albums Common has released since 1992, many consider Water For Chocolate one of his classics, an album that was created during the Soulquarian collective union; even comparing a new album to such a project will raise anticipation.
It appears that Common is extremely focused and hopes to produce an album that will truly move people. The music video for the self-titled first single is already causing waves of emotions. The video starts with the camera phone recording of Alton Sterling’s murder. It’s a jarring opening for a video that consists of a montage of black faces full of tears and grief, along with other clips. Common touches on everything from mass incarceration to Trayvon Martin, it’s a little under three minutes, but what it lacks in length is multiplied in heaviness that’s layered throughout the lyrics.
Common might take breaks to do movies and T.V. shows and perform acts of activism, but he came into this entertainment industry as an emcee, and at his heart, he’s still an emcee.
I respect Common—I root for Common—and I hope Black America Again is a success. When it comes to rappers speaking out, I don’t expect everyone to use their voice and platform to raise awareness. Some rappers simply aren’t attuned enough to what’s happening around them. Common is very aware and truly cares enough to speak up and speak out. Hip-hop is still a very powerful medium that gives people hope, joy, and optimism. When Kendrick said we would be alright, we believed him. Common making God music could very well do the same for people. I have the highest hopes he will deliver something that’s worthwhile.
In Common I trust.
By Yoh, aka Yoh America, aka @Yoh31.
Art Credit: The Dope Man™ Donovan