After being a huge fan of Common’s last 2 albums Be and Dreamer/Believer I was excited to hear about Nobody’s Smiling. Early reports indicated the album would be produced entirely by No ID and would focus on the the current situation (i.e. violence and hopelessness) in Chicago. I was expecting a dark, soulful, aggressive album with some glimmers of hope. Instead, I got something totally unexpected – attempts at going for a younger audience, Yeezus-esque hooks, and some of the Common I like mixed in between. Below is my track by track review.
1. The Neighborhood (feat. Cocaine 80’s) – The opening track is exactly how I anticipated this album was supposed to be. No ID flips a smooth Curtis Mayfield sample featuring Cocaine 80’s vocals while Common visits familiar topics of the struggle. On a side note, can’t believe someone named themselves Cocaine 80s lol
2. No Fear – Very confused by this one. This beat sounds like something Drake would rhyme over, not Common. Common’s lyrics are on point, but this lazy beat and annoying distorted vocal hook really ruin it for me.
3. Diamonds (feat. Big Sean) – Another song that is ruined by the chorus. Common oddly commissioned Big Sean for the hook on here. Sorry but I can’t hear an overly commercial “ay ay ay” hook with the artist formerly known as sense. This beat is actually pretty dope but Common lazily raps his verse “this broad said I was frio, that means ice cold” (sigh….) I guess when your feature is Big Sean you don’t have to try that hard.
4. Blak Majik (feat. Jhene Aiko) – Another attempt at crossover/Yeezus featuring songstress Jhene Aiko. Once again, Common raps about “hoes” and sounds lazy. The distorted “black magic” vocals replaying over and over again in the background are annoying. And no idea why they felt the need to play Aiko’s hook backwards at the end of the song. I guess it’s supposed to sound evil, but it just comes out really corny.
5. Speak My Piece – Yet another commercial-ish track where Common is rapping about his love for women. The beat is nothing more than a drum and a few extra sounds layered with a weirdly chopped Biggie sample. To make matters worse, almost half of the song is just the beat riding out. The beat is not hot enough to warrant 1:30 of instrumental.
6. Hustle Harder – The song starts off with a soulful piano intro and transitions to a militant drum pattern. However, it’s all downhill from there. The beat morphs into something that sounds similar to the “Dirt off Your Shoulder” loop. Common’s verses are weak halfway biting Kayne West’s flow. And yet again… he’s rapping about women. The female feature Snoh Aalegra is even worse with her annoying verse and laughable rhymes “I be living like I need a Lamborghini, I made it happen, I would never need a genie, when I got zucchini, threw away that fettuccine, I been going to the gym, I’m trying to get in that bikini” wtf? lol
7. Nobody’s Smiling – Someone tell Common to stop using the Amplitube plugin on every track! Another distorted vocal hook. The beat is a slow, simple drum pattern with some boring synths. Common actually decides to spit a decent verse on this.
8. Real – After a few tracks of weird electro/euro-synth tracks, Common totally flips it with a cheesy R&B track. It sounds like something Ja-Rule would have rapped on in the early 2000’s. The sang hook sounds dated and Common is rapping about women again…
9. Kingdom (feat. Vince Staples) – One of the better tracks on the album. A gospel-inspired choir hook finally brings some much needed warmth and emotion to the album. The drum loop is dope and the choir humming works well as the main loop. Newcomer Vince Staples holds his own with his southern drawl and amped verse.
10. Rewind That – Another one of the best tracks. A soul loop is chopped up while Common talks about his past. The end of the track rides out with some drums and a piano replay of the initial sample, with added strings. I wish the album sounded more like this!
11. Out on Bond (feat. Vince Staples) – The beat sounds very similar to Nas “The Black Bond” – is Common trying to say something? Common kills the verse but once again, a semi-distorted hook. Vince Staples has a pretty dope flow on this one.
12. 7 Deadly Sins – A dope Hammond B3 chop is the perfect backdrop for Common to talk about the struggles in Chicago and the 7 deadly sings. Once again, wish the album sounded like this.
13. Young Hearts Run Free (feat. Cocaine 80’s – Another track featuring vocals from Cocaine 80s. It’s another Drake-esque commercial beat that would fit better for a different type of rapper.
Overall, I’m disappointed in this release. The album is very disjointed and feels like 2 complete extremes in terms of hip-hop. The overuse of distortion on the hooks and so many tracks dedicated to “hoes and chicks” really took away from the supposed theme.
Common did get the album title right tho, because I def wasn’t smiling…